A Simple Guy

When I was in high school, I acquired the nickname Dudley Do-Right, after the enormous-chinned, damsel-saving, cartoon Canadian Mountie. I detested this nickname, as it suggested I was something less than complicated—a nice guy, a trustworthy guy, but not a very complicated guy. It was true that I had an affinity for saving the day and/or damsels, but I also wanted to be a writer, and I did not think my odds good if I wasn’t complicated.

I shed the nickname after high school, but the threat of my simplicity endured. It is not so easy to be complicated on purpose. It is a very short trip from nuance to pretense if you’re trying too hard, and I was raised by parents gifted with a Midwesterner’s nose for fakery for whom it was better to be an honest failure than a pretentious success.

It was my wife who finally got me to admit I preferred things simple. I fought her on it, but in the end I relented. In fact, I had to admit that I was forever striving to hone all things down to their simplest parts, a habit which is actually in perfect keeping with writing.

Stories are the extracted details from the infinite wealth of possible details. You can’t describe every piece of furniture in the room, only those pieces that bring that room to life. You can’t portray every action your protagonist takes, from their first yawn to their good-night kiss, you portray only those actions that move the story forward or reveal character. Fiction, on the page at least, is life reduced to its simplest form.

The complication occurs in the translation. Now your protagonist’s one gesture opens a window through which your audience views the world, their own past, their own fears and loves, and even their own imagined future. It happens immediately and spontaneously, over and over again, from reader to reader, and the exponential possibilities are beyond complicated. In this way I embrace my simplicity. It remains, for me at least, the quickest and most direct route to everything, which is always where I’m headed.

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