I came across this graphic on Pinterest the other day. I pin a lot of writing things, so Pinterest has decided to just throw random writing pins on my feed. I’m fine with that; I find a lot of really good ideas that way. Some of my favorites are ones like this. But I don’t like this one for some reason. Maybe it’s that I don’t care for the color/texture/font combination, but it got me thinking.
I couldn’t read independently until I was about 10. Before that I “read” my dad’s college anatomy textbooks for fun. There were lots of pictures and I could understand what they meant without the use of words. Once I learned to read, I quickly jumped to junior high level books, then to high school. By the time I was 13 I was reading on a college level. But my “reading” of reference books didn’t end when I started actually reading. I remember the day I got my first pocket thesaurus. I was ecstatic. I soon got a pocket spelling dictionary as well. Both books were essentially just lists of words, but they were my lists of words. If I found one I didn’t know, I would ask mom or dad what it meant. It was a rare occasion that they actually just told me what the dumb word meant. Generally they would direct me to the enormous, red, college dictionary. This pretty much drove me up the wall. For one thing, it’s heavy as all get out (and about 4 inches wide.) But I also nearly always got distracted and started reading other entries before even finding the word I was initially looking for (if I ever got there.) While this was infuriating at the time, I learned a lot of new words and how to alphabetize, from this practice.
So if I spend hours searching for the right word in a dictionary or thesaurus (now with the help of thesaurus.com), why don’t I like this graphic? Well, it’s not exactly this specific graphic. It’s an idea behind it. Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is one of my favorite movies. It is about growing up, but never growing old. It is about living life to the fullest. It is about following your dreams and chasing your own star. It’s about beginnings. But it’s also about endings. In fact, the whole plot of this beautifully whimsical movie, when you actually look at it, is about Mr Magorium’s death. You see, he found a little store and fell completely in love with a certain pair of shoes, so he bought enough to last his entire lifetime. And his last pair is just about worn through.
When King Lear dies in Act V, do you know what Shakespeare has written? He’s written “He dies.” That’s all, nothing more. No fanfare, no metaphor, no brilliant final words. The culmination of the most influential work of dramatic literature is “He dies.” It takes Shakespeare, a genius, to come up with “He dies.” And yet every time I read those two words, I find myself overwhelmed with dysphoria. And I know it’s only natural to be sad, but not because of the words “He dies.” but because of the life we saw prior to the words.
I think this is something we as writers often forget. Sometimes you don’t need a grand description or a flowery word. Sometimes the most accurate word is the most simple. The phrase that subtly states a simple fact, but makes the reader think. It reminds me of the shortest verse in the Bible. Jesus wept. Scholars and theologians have spent innumerable hours trying to figure out what this means. It just means He cried, but there is so much more to it than a bodily fluid draining out of a gland in His eyes. It shows humanity.
I once found a graphic that said, “How the teacher interpreted the text: The blue curtains symbolise the protagonists sorrow. The author’s real reason: Blue’s a nice color.” Sometimes details don’t matter as much so you write them simply. Sometimes details matter so much that you write them simply. Sometimes subtlety makes a stronger point than grandiose description.