Ocham's razor, also known as the principle of parsimony or the law of parsimony, is the problem-solving principle that "entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity." Or paraphrased as "the simplest explanation is usually the best one.” Unfortunately, this phrase gets misused or overused by people trying to impress others.
In real life, things get complex, but there are often root causes or essential viewpoints to explain an issue. For example, if a person’s car does not start, the reason can be as simple as running out of fuel. Many would consider this to be a simple case of Ockham's razor. Yet, the issue could be an esoteric programming issue in the engine computer that can only be replicated on cold days when the car is traveling down a hill. Side note: Yes, complex issues like this are possible. Here, Ockham's razor does not apply, and perusing “simple solutions” can distract the team from solving the problem.
A big problem occurs when Ocham's razor gets applied to human behavior. Why is John upset? Because he misses his daughter. This seems logical but humans are complex and have many motivations, including money, power, survival, belongingness, fear, achievement, or affection. Even a boring human has a vast number of directions. We do not sit in an empty room all year long and think about one thing.
Let’s create a situation. A famous actor passes on a role which makes the news. An average person watches the news and becomes depressed. Why such a powerful reaction? That unimportant story, combined with other issues, may have pushed the person into a dark place. Outsiders, and perhaps the affected person, might not even know about the depression source. Modern humans are subject to a vast wave of information, feeling, social interactions, challenges, news, friends, coworkers, characters in media, books, and finances. Narrowing down a single root cause is difficult, and often, multiple issues are to blame. Plus, humans need entertainment and sometimes make random important decisions without motivation or reason.
And now, the actual issue. How does Ocham's razor apply to writing? Readers enjoy easy-to-understand characters and straightforward plots but dislike undefined motivation or poor logic. However, they also need to be entertained, and simple plots or flat characters are no longer acceptable.
A good story should have a moment where it is clear what is going on and the reasons behind a character’s actions. However, readers also like mystery and suspense, so there must be a careful balance.
An author needs to place themselves in the reader's perspective and write something that a reader can distill down to an Ocham's razor moment. The result will be powerful (because it is easy to comprehend), and the story will stick within a reader’s mind. Another way of looking at this is to understand that readers and viewers cannot read an author’s mind. They only have what authors present before them to understand, which is a perfect example of what the distillation concept behind Ocham's razor should represent.
In summary, Ocham's razor is another tool for an author. Perhaps it could be considered a perspective. One could even apply Ocham's razor to this very blog. I stuck to one topic and kept my readers focused. Adding some random story at this point would have messed up the ending.
You’re the best -Bill
March 16 2022
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