Monday, August 16, 2010

A big thank you and a nod to simplicity

I want to first say that I was extremely touched by everybody's show of support to my Notes From Underground post last week. Our lovely-hearted assistant Becca has informed us that we got about forty entries since that post. That, along with the earlier entries we got, will make for some great competition and some exciting results. It means so much to me that people would jump in and show how much you care upon seeing me distressed. The idea that such a thing could happen on the internet still boggles my mind. I sincerely thank you!

Today, I just wanted to give a shout out to simplicity. For those of you who have been following the progression of my cannibal story, I finished it last Friday. (I believe Scott's words were, "It's about damn time.") It's a novella, weighing in at about 21,000 words, and I've been working on it for about three years. I read through it all yesterday morning, and to my surprise the parts that had me most engaged were also the parts with the simplest POV, the simplest time line, and the simplest prose style.

In a way, this is a relief. Over the last year I've been working to make my prose style more complex because I thought the richness would be more interesting to readers. And, as a reader, I still do very much admire complex prose. But, in this case, in this story, simple was definitely better.


  1. Hey! Congratulations on both successes! I'm glad you got such a huge response to Notes and also scored a personal victory.

    At a snail's pace, through the fog of "pregnant brain," I am working on simplifying the first chapter of my book. It's hard to tell when simple or complex will work better sometimes. In many cases, simple is harder for me to write.

  2. P.S. Any idea how soon we will find out whether we made it in?

  3. Congratulations on finishing - I'm intrigued. Also congrats on getting more entries and for dreaming up the idea. I like simple prose that creates interesting imagery.

  4. Davin, regarding the simplicity, all I have to say is "I TOLD YOU SO"


  5. I always get envious when I read a review where someone's given credit for, "spare prose" or "crisp, clean writing."

    I try to fend off the purple and the unnecessary, but I know I don't make it very often.

    Congratulations on persisting through the three year grind. I'm sure that's incredibly rewarding!

  6. Well done on finishing your novella!

    And I'm delighted that you received so many entries for Notes from Underground!

  7. Congrats on finishing. I can't wait till I can say that..
    Also..super excited to find out the finalists.. :)
    thank you

  8. Jeannie, thanks. Good luck with your simplification. I find that for me whether or not simple or complex is harder often depends on how I originally wrote it. If I come into it with a complex mindset, it's hard for me to reimagine a story more simply. It's true the other way around too. Luckily, for this novella, most of it was simple with just a few more complex passages that I have already untangled.

    We'll be announcing the Notes winners on September 15, and you'll have 3 months after that to get us your completed stories.

    Mary, thanks. I'm often drawn to the simple prose stylists when they also somehow manage to create a strong sensory experience for me. I'm always amazed by people that can do this. The Japanese writers are some of my favorites.

    Michelle, yeah yeah. But you also like complex! I think both of us can appreciate both styles. You always help me by listening to all my various complaints, and I thank you!

    C.N., I naturally tend to be a more spare writer. I think because of that I envy more intricate prose like Woolf or Proust or Bailey. It grounds me to remember that I also love Kawabata and Yoshimoto, and on occasion Hemingway.

  9. Judy, thank you very much for your support! It does feel great to finish the novella that was troubling me for so long.

    Sugar, keep at it! I wrote my first book in 15 minute chunks every night while I was completing my thesis, so it can be done even if you're really busy.

    Summer, thanks a lot!

  10. I'd also like to thank all the last-minute entrants in the Notes contest. We have now, if I am doing the math right, about 60 entries, which is a lot for a contest of this sort. That also means that Michelle, Davin and I have a lot of reading to do over the next month. And then we argue over what gets in.

    As for the simplicity question, I find that I have no opinion or preference for simple versus complex prose. I love Hemingway and Byatt, or Dickens and Achebe, or Mamet and Shakespeare, equally. Right now I am seeking a sort of expansiveness in my prose, but that doesn't mean complexity or ornate language. I don't actually know what it means; I'll know it when I see it, though. Thanks for listing me with Woolf and Proust!

    What I'd like to see soon, is a draft of "Bread."

  11. Congratulations, Davin! You must feel wonderful!

    I've found that when I try to make my words sound more complex and "interesting", it comes across as me trying too hard.

    Just last night, in fact, my husband read over a few pages of one of my WiPs, and we decided I should completely delete a few paragraphs. And you know what? They were the ones I struggled with most, and worried about way too much in terms of details and imagery.

    I realized that I need to stop stressing sounding a specific way, and just write the story how it comes to me. Great lesson for me, let me tell ya;) It was such a relief!

    As for the contest, I'm so glad you guys received so many entries! Thanks again for the opportunity, and have fun reading all of them!=)

  12. I was gone most of last week. I wanted to enter, I just couldn't think of anything to write.

    I'm glad you finished your story. I know you are too. And isn't it nice to actually read it without thinking of what to change and how to fix this or that?

    Davin, in most cases, simpler is usually better. :) I can't wait to read it. Hugs sweet friend.

  13. Your plea got to me. I blogged and tweeted the contest and then sent an entry. Or rather, two, but one was a mistake--the first sentence of a draft of the cover letter. Ouch. Sorry. (I thought I hit "save as draft" and somehow hit "send" instead. This is a lesson learned--NEVER put the address in the window until the email is polished and ready to go.)

    Thanks for the contest. It made me go back through old material and find something to polish up that I probably would never have looked at otherwise.

    As far as simplicity vs. complexity, I'm one of those readers who loves both--Elmore Leonard to Tom Robbins. It all depends on what flows naturally in your voice.

    Congrats on finishing! That's one of the great highs of the writing life, isn't it?

  14. Congratulations on finishing your novella, Davin!! It also sounds like you finally found the voice you wanted for that story; sometimes a particular work's best voice begins as a whisper, and hearing that voice takes the creator a longer time.

  15. It's nice when you find the language style that matches your story and your characters.

  16. Scott, For Bread, for some reason, all of the power seemed to be in the simple parts. I don't know what that says about the story, if anything. You'll probably get a draft soon. Michelle is asking for one too!

    coffeelvnmom, I think you give good advice about just letting the story come out. I think my problem was that I had different prose styles in different parts of the story, and I had also tried to do some unusual thing with the timeline. Now I'm just trying to get it to all be consistent.

    Robyn, It was nice to have so much time to read through the whole thing, yes. It takes a lot of energy for me to do that, even with some of my longer short stories. I get distracted too easily.

    Anne, I wouldn't worry about the email glitch. If Becca has a problem with it, she or you can let us know and we'll clear it up. I hear she's been working hard to get some entries to us.

    FP, Thanks! I think I actually started off with the right voice, but then I overthought the end and took a wrong turn. That was obvious when I went back to read it. I'm excited about revising it, and I hope I will find the time to read it through again. I also hope I can do that with a clear head.

    Jolene, It does feel nice. I hope readers think it works too. But, so far, I'm happy with it.

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  18. I HATE that we can't edit comments!...
    ...anyway, I'm so glad you got the response you hoped for with Notes From Underground! Makes me glad to be a part of the process :)

    I think I probably tend to overwrite, and so I too am trying to simplify, if only for experimentation...who knows, maybe it will stick!

  19. That's awesome Davin! I liked the idea of a contest, and didn't want in just because there was no one else :) I submitted late also - sorta forgot to send my own entry out even though its been there in my sidebar all this time.

    Sorry Guys.

    Great job finishing your novella. Canibal sounds like an interesting title.

    I'm not sure if I prefer simple or complex prose. It just depends on the novel itself I guess. Plot will determine those things, and genre.


  20. Congratulations Davin on finishing your novella, and congratulations to all three of you on the turn out for Underground! I knew it would happen.

    Overthinking is a major problem with me- I just get frozen. Finally though lately I think I'm finding my way back to how I used to write.

    I was lucky, sick as I am right now last night I was laying there half asleep and I had one of those moments- moments when no matter how bad you feel, you just have to get up and write, you know those? Don't you love those?

    After days of mulling and doubting I'd be able to do it, I immediately knew how to finish a story I've been working on for a class I've been taking.

    The segment is mostly dialog (so much simpler than the beginning which is extremely descriptive for experimentation purposes) and since I finished it I have been debating whether or not it works...I hope it does- I think it does.

    I'm sure my teacher will tell me what he thinks! :D And there's always editing- or in this case, adding more detail to the ending if need be.

    ugh, back to bed for me.

    again congratulations Davin on finishing your story. Such a good feeling. so happy for you!


  21. Simple or complex style? How about Davin style? It seems to me that's what you have chosen to do.


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