Saturday, 25 January 2014

Aiming for elegance

Here's a revelation for you. I used to be a computer programmer.

Okay, probably not the most earth shattering news you've ever heard. You've probably already got the sense that I'm a bit on the geeky side, from the posts here and possibly my books as well.

Bottom line is, I was never very good at it. My brain didn't quite work in that sort of way, and as things got more complicated, and especially as technology and associated methodologies got more complicated (don't even start me on object-oriented programming) I pretty much bailed out. Luckily, I did manage to find other stuff I was better at, and have managed to forge a subsequent non-programming career.

But there is one concept I have taken from my brief stint as a programmer. One idea that I've actually found to have relevance to my writing, and that I try to apply to every story I create.

That concept is elegance.

It's a big thing in programmer-land (or at least it was back when I was in residence - it's possible things have changed since then). I'll try to explain it...elegantly. Consider that any computer program is designed to solve a particular problem. It's likely that there are multiple ways this problem could be solved. But a good programmer always seeks to find the most elegant solution - the one that solves it as neatly and cleanly as possible, using the least and most efficient code.

That's an approach I definitely take to my storytelling. As I've mentioned before, I tend to see storytelling as aligned with problem solving. I create problems for myself, i.e. challenges for my characters, and then try to work out how I (they) can solve them. Maybe there are multiple ways I could solve my storytelling problem, but I always strive for the most elegant way.

So what features describe elegance in storytelling. I see some of the key elements as:
  • using as few words as possible - finding the simplest way to tell the story
  • writing descriptions that ring - not too wordy but making an impression on the reader
  • writing dialogue that sings  - helping to move the plot along while revealing character at the same time.
It's an ambition I'm not sure I always achieve, but it seems like a good thing to work towards. Hopefully I'll get there in the end.
Have a great, and elegant, week.