I’ve got a few bad habits when I write. I tend to overwrite action sequences, because, hey, who doesn’t love a good explosion or a flying kick to a ninja lizard’s face? I also sometimes bury the feels for fear of being melodramatic. Sometimes that’s fine, but I turn these things into Jurassic Park style paleontological digs, leaving the reader scrambling through layers of dirt. On the flip side of that, sometimes I tell too much, when it comes to worldbuilding and backstory. I feel a bit like George Lucas, ignoring the story in favor of blasting “LOOK AT WHAT THESE HANDS HAVE WROUGHT” across some glowing, alien landscape.

But my worst writing sin? I over-complicate. When something in the story could happen in 2 steps, I turn it into 5. Instead of moving the character from point A to point B, I take him on a tour of his pitfalls and hang-ups, throw in some backstory, and maybe even a couple of info dumps. Quite simply, this is bad writing. And for some reason, this is how my brain defaults the first time I work on a new idea.

I’m not sure exactly where it comes from, but I blame a couple of factors. First and foremost, everyone wants to create something new and shiny. We want our work to stand out, and since every story’s already been told to death, the temptation is to try to keep the reader guessing to the point that we make the plot convoluted. I say we, but I mean me, obviously.

And in addition to that, I love a good plot twist. One of my favorite things about reading is when a book absolutely floors me with something I didn’t see coming. Often times, trying to work that kind of Home Alone jaw dropper in leads to me over-complicating steps along the way in a poor attempt at writer’s sleight of hand.

Another factor? Honestly, I blame my upbringing in epic fantasy and Japanese role-playing games. Both of these have a penchant for sending the reader/player through a plethora of unnecessary steps, all in an attempt at immersive worldbuilding or hooking you with characters with more backstory drama than a Downton Abbey episode. After reading and absorbing these things for years, I often find myself wondering if having two plot points so close together is rushing things or happening too fast. While some breathing space is good in a story, we don’t want so much breathing space that we’re getting high off of some pure oxygen. We need to be run ragged more often than breathing easy.

So the trick, then, is to simplify. Which really isn’t all that simple for me. The haughty dude in me says that simplicity is beneath me, which is a silly thing for that guy to be saying, since I’m still learning how to do this.

At my last job, I had the pleasure of being the videographer for a cooking competition between the head chefs of some pretty huge restaurant concepts. One of the best things I caught on tape was an executive chef saying that the trick to good food is “simple things done well.” That’s interesting to hear from someone at the top of their craft. I think the masters in any given field know how to do the most basic things excellently.

How does this translate to writing? I’m still trying to figure that out. For me, I think it means pulling back on the temptation to shoot for the moon with every single story. A book doesn’t have to be The Odyssey in order to find an audience. Some of the best books I’ve read recently have taken simple stories, simple concepts, and commanded them with complete mastery and authority. Books like Shadow and Bone, Curse Workers and A Monster Calls. It means I should focus on my characters, let them dictate what comes next, rather than trying to force them into a story that isn’t quite right for them.

And really, that kind of practice works for anything. Most often, skill is shown in restraint rather than going all out. When sparring in Krav Maga, I don’t need to show off the different defenses I know when a couple of quick, well-timed strikes will do the job much more easily and efficiently. It’s the slow blade that penetrates the shield, and so forth.

What are your writing sins? Do you have any hang-ups that tend to worm their way into your creative work constantly?

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