Clarity over Cleverness

I have volunteered to coaching some elementary-age kids in writing at My Child’s school for an interscholastic competition. I am feeling that thing where you look around and think, “Are they sure I should be doing this?!? Surely, there is someone more qualified???”

While trying to gather some basic projects and guidelines to start working on with them, I am thinking through all the things I know about writing.

One that keeps rising to the top is:

SK Post it - Clarity over Cleverness

This recently came up while watching Celebrity Jeopardy. There were several times where the writers were trying to be so clever in their answers/clues that the contestants (and us playing along at home) couldn’t ever tell for sure what they were looking for in an answer (well, the question, as it was Jeopardy).

While being clever and witty can add to a story or comment, if the joke doesn’t land or the reference is too obscure, you are just left with an audience that isn’t quite sure what just happened to them.

This also came up with a book I read. The author wanted to do something really clever with the timeline…. And she did. However, for a good chunk of the book, I was just confused and frustrated as to why things were presented in the way they were. The two main characters were separated for the beginning half of the book – due to spoilery reasons – but their own timelines didn’t line up with each other. There was an EVENT. Character A’s chapter would be “Eight Days From EVENT” and then we’d switch to Character B’s chapter and it would be “Immediately after EVENT.” I found this much more distracting that fun. Cleverness is not always the best route to take.

You don’t always need big words.
Sometimes, while those words are technically correct, grammatically and conversationally they may not actually make sense.

You don’t necessarily need that cliché to make your story better – especially if you are going to accidentally create a mixed metaphor (“water over the bridge or under the dam or wherever water goes”).

If your addition (word, phrase, whole story) makes the audience stop and try to figure out what you are talking about, I gently suggest you rethink adding in that particular thing.

I hope you have a wonderful day!


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Categories: Motivation