Too Smart for Ourselves
Ten years ago, I worked for a company with a documentation process that required a multi-colored paper form. The top sheet had to be "goldenrod" (orange), and that obscure color name is now burned into my mind. The person who came up with this system was very proud of their creation and here is how it worked.
1) Complete standard form on computer.
2) Fill the group (used by everybody in the office) printer with colored paper in order. (Piles of colored paper were conveniently near the group printer.)
3) Print the document and staple it together.
4) Submit document
5) The document gets reviewed and signed.
6) Separate pages, and BAM! All the goldenrod pages are neatly placed on top of one glorious pile.
7) Because they are different colors, this last step was super easy, which was the only advantage of this absurd process.
Of course, every other time I printed a document on the group printer, I ended up with at least one colored page. So, what happened when we ran out of one paper color? Yes, the entire documentation process ground to a dead stop.
As a result, I had to make a suggestion. "Let’s buy five inexpensive printers and load each one up with one paper color.” While sounding silly, it was a brilliant solution and would have saved time and money. You know what happened. My suggestion exposed the awful system, and they did not buy cheap printers.
What happened? Sometimes, we are too smart for ourselves. We can overthink a situation, fix something that is not broken, create an extra step or “go the extra mile” after the finish line.
Do authors do this? Sure. I can recall being too smart for myself in my third book. I wrote up a fantastic description of how an insurance company launders illegally obtained money. I even created two slick graphics to explain the complex process. The problem was that this excellent description had nothing to do with the plot, and its presence brought the action to a dead stop. Fortunately, I saw the problem and deleted four pages. Nice!
Writers create endless descriptions and use flowery language to sound important. Another mistake is intentionally leaving out details (to create suspense) or trick readers. However, the actual mark of being too smart for ourselves is writing a complicated plot. Some readers like to unravel complex mysteries, crimes, and dramas. However, ordinary books require a spoon-fed plot because we have endless entertainment options (YouTube has 800 million videos), and a challenging plot requires too much mental effort.
Creating something too complex is an easy trap to fall into. The writer thinks for hours (sometimes years) about the plot. They know every twist and what the characters are feeling. The plot gets more complex as the pages go by, and a writer is forced to wrap things up on the last page.
The writer is proud of their complex creation and scorns readers who cannot see the brilliance of their creation. The same was true of the person who created the multi-colored form. “It’s not that big of a deal to occasionally print colored pages. Just reprint it!” An author might say, “Of course, I did not explain why the main character fell in love. If you had taken the time to read chapter 45, the mother admits that her son did not like strawberries. See! It’s right there!” Apparently, readers are required to read minds.
How often does this occur? Five percent of the books I read had intentional problems. Some books are famous for unnecessary complexity, such as Shakespeare writing in prose. Confused the heck out of me when I read it in college. Fortunately, my blogs are straightforward. At least, I hope they are.
You’re the best -Bill
October 05, 2022
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