Clarity over Cleverness

Over at the Castalia House blog, Daddy Warpig dispenses some sage and actionable advice for pleasing readers and thereby making a living as an author.
Folks, books are a niche market right now. Novels are a niche of a niche, Fantasy & Science Fiction novels a niche of a niche of a niche, and as for short stories… they just don’t exist.
It didn’t use to be this way. Back in the heyday of the Pulps, they sold like mad. Argosy, the first Pulp magazine, sold 1,230,000 copies in 1924. Adventure magazine, the mag that TURNED DOWN Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs, had a circulation of 460,000 in 1924.
People bought Pulp stories. They bought them a lot. What changed?
Self-centered and self-satisfied jagoffs abandoned what made the genre popular, and started pushing what they thought the audience should read, not what the audience wanted to read. People hated it, and instead stopped reading.
These Epic Level jerkfaces ruined the market for the rest of us, and now it’s time to set things right. With that goal in mind, I present…
Daddy Warpig’s Guide to Pulp Superstardom!
If you want to sell, and to help drive the expansion of the reading audience, you MUST start with one central tenet:
Strip yourself of the need to be admired for the sheer magnificence of your prose, strip yourself of the need to be lauded as a brilliant intellectual, strip yourself of the desire to instruct the audience in the way they should live their lives, strip yourself of the need to write “important” work, strip yourself of any goal save one:
Give the audience what they want. And what they want is fun.
Fun. Enjoyment. Pleasure. Fiction—entertainment—is ONLY about giving the audience pleasure.
They must ENJOY it. Or it’s useless to them.
Even the most exacting and intellectualized description of the physical laws of the universe and how your imagined device circumvents or exploits them is only of value to the reader as it gives him that jolt of pleasure he receives when he encounters a clever or novel idea.
People not buying your books? You’re either not giving them what they want, or you’re not good enough at doing it yet. Both these things can be fixed. You CAN succeed.
(Technically speaking, you may also be failing to market your books. That can be fixed, too.)
How to make things fun: If you want to write stuff the audience will love, first you have to write stuff that the audience will UNDERSTAND. First time, every time.
Pick words that drive your point home. Dump excess words. Dump overly complicated words. Hone your prose to a razor sharp edge of clarity and impact.
Direct. Simple. Powerful. Visceral. MAXIMUM IMPACT.
People read stories to FEEL, so your stories must make the audience feel. Nothing. Else. Matters.
Words are a delivery system for fragments of thought that push emotional buttons in the reader. The better the reader understands your words, the more effectively you can push their buttons.
Make it vivid. Make it immediate. Make it moving.
Find those emotional buttons and punch them hard. Include a variety of experiences: moments of triumph, moments of terror, moments of tenderness, of poignancy, of awe, of self-reflection, of humor, of defeat, of betrayal, of self-sacrifice. Write material that is entertaining, engrossing, and pleasurable to read.
Grab the audience at the beginning. Never let them go. Never give them an excuse to let their mind wander, to get bored, or to wonder what’s on TV right now. You have to be better than movies, better than video games, better than watching paint dry or you. Will. Fail.
Skip the cerebreality. Don’t speak to your audience’s brains: speak to their emotions. An evocative story appeals to everybody, an overly cerebral approach pretty much only appeals to overly cerebral readers.
Never miss a chance to make it awesome. Rain down amazing things on your readers—but not things you have to explain with paragraphs of MEGO. (That’s “my eyes glaze over” for you heathens in the crowd.)
Read the whole thing.

My comment: print science fiction has fallen from a dominant form of entertainment to the worst-selling book genre. The reason for sci-fi's decline is the dilution of the genre's fun factor due to an editor-mandated influx of literary elements.

Don't aspire to be the sort of author that Ivy League snobs lie about reading to impress other snobs at parties. Aspire to write books that geeks would rather read than watch Star Wars or play Halo.

Don't strive to write cerebral, overwrought prose. Instead, doggedly pursue clarity over cleverness.

We've got a lot of cultural ground to retake. Write books that people will spend their beer money on.

To make that decision easier, my award-winning Soul Cycle is on sale for less than $9. But only for three more days!

The Soul Cycle - Brian Niemeier



  1. Stories are about entertainment and experience. You can't be entertaining without knowing how to evoke emotions in your reader. When the only emotion you evoke boredom, your book quickly becomes one that isn't read. Not being read is the greatest flaw any book can have.

    1. "Not being read is the greatest flaw any book can have."


  2. Brian
    Let me restate more succiently what I wrote to Jasyn
    It's not either or rather it both and with respect to writing.

    I understand his point but as I've noted and complained Orwell did a slight disserve by dissing the Latin and Greek superstructure. I understand his warning but the sparse Germanic prose that he advocates is off putting and 8n less skilled hand leads to Newspeak.

    The romance languages have a similar tension between the vulgate and cultured words.

    My stance is that you need both in dynamic tension for the stories to be memorable. Asterix and Tintin's trology of le Licorne treasure hunt story are goo examples of that dynamic tension. Tolkien and others are good examples in English.

    I concour with Jasyn but i advocate a middle ground.
    o and he's totally right about bury your pride. Tha5 should come from writing a good story that delights and acepting criticism with equamity


    1. I'll second you on the thin prose that is sometimes on offer these days, however that doesn't mean we need verbose literature either. Authors ought to be aiming for the language that says 'it' best, leave efficiency to the economists. Having said that, I do tend to favor books written in modern prose, a personal failing I'm working to overcome.

    2. Patrick

      I totally understand your point. And you quite right about economy and concision. My flaw when i write. I'm annoying uneconomical and verbose :
      I won't argue about which is better. Both have their strengths and weakness. I guess we need to be open minded. I don't mind contemporary prose but I do wish it wasn't so arid at times.so I too have to overcome my