The Surprising Power of Simpler Writing

I scoffed when I read the first page. Is this simple language really what people want? How did a book written like this get 2000+ 5-star reviews and many more 4 stars?

The first chapter was nothing special—or so I thought. Simple words. No poetic descriptions. No painstakingly-crafted sentences designed to convey layers of meaning and subtext.

Even the first sentence was simple:  

“A dark shape scurried through the shadows ahead, disappearing under the belly of a rusted spaceship.”

Star Nomad by Lindsay Buroker

That is not an impressive opening sentence—and yet, it gives you a clear impression. 

So, despite my first (unfair) judgement, I kept reading. 3 hours later, I was a third of the way into the book, and wanted to keep reading. The simple writing style did not hurt the book … it made reading magical.

Why You Should Write with Simpler Language

Not everyone is as smart as you are. Simple language lets you reach more people, no matter their level. It also helps you reach the most advanced readers more deeply. Simple language creates text that flows more fluidly, requires less energy to read, and empowers readers to connect with your ideas.


Because you don’t need to think as hard to parse out the meaning of each word or phrase. Simple language doesn’t let you turn off your brain—instead, simple language frees your mental energy to think about the concept behind the words. Your readers spend less time understanding, and more time imagining. And imagination is the writer’s most powerful weapon.

Simple language makes the words disappear. It brings the world up until you don’t notice you’re reading at all. 

Writing with simple language is an art form. In many ways, it’s as challenging as writing with an advanced vocab, because you must break down your most complicated thoughts into shorter, more direct words. You must be brave, and you must be able to let go of your ego. Who cares if this big word or clever phrase makes you look good? The point is to tell a great story—not to show off your language skills.

Paradoxically, simple writing can evoke far more than advanced language ever could. It allows you, as the writer, to focus on telling a better, tighter story that flows and wraps around your reader’s imagination—as opposed to a story full of complicated footpaths and uncommon stumbling blocks. Simple writing lets you weave complex meaning and vivid characters, whereas advanced language is limited by what your readers will understand—or what they’re willing to put up with. 

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Leonardo Da Vinci

Get Out of Your Way, Storyteller

Why do your readers read?

Most might say “to escape.” Readers want to experience other lives in other worlds. They want to be immersed, head to toe, in your story. You want to invite them through the gate. 

Complex language is a barrier to this gate. You might lock them out with obscure words, or confuse them with over-flowery sentences, so that they never find the gate in the first place.

Simple writing helps you deliver an idea effectively. It invites the reader in. What do you want to say? Stop overcomplicating your sentences. Cut out unnecessary vocab. 

Get out of your own way, and tell the story.

How Do You Simplify Your Writing?

From the Writing Cooperative, here are six ways to simplify your writing:

  1. Cut down on unnecessary words.
  2. Use an active voice: “he did this” instead of “this was happening to him.”
  3. Write shorter sentences, like how Hemingway wrote dialogue.
  4. Don’t make the reader work too hard. Aim for concise sentences with clear meaning.
  5. Tell the story to a specific person.
  6. Think about how the words look on the page. Big blocks are intimidating.

Go look at all the best-selling authors right now. Most of them intentionally write in simple language to reach a wider audience and to reach an audience more deeply. 

Try to Write Simply

See how easily the words come out. See how you get to spend more focus on crafting better moments in your story. Better scenes, better characters. See how easy it is to get readers to care

Soon enough, you’ll be writing books worthy of 2000+ 5-star reviews. 

I didn’t intend this as a sales pitch, but the book in question is Star Nomad by Lindsay Buroker. I really did scoff at first, but since I read half the book in a day, I realized I have to recommend it. Here’s chapter 1 of Star Nomad

And if you want to learn more about tapping into your reader’s imagination, get my writing guide: Fantastic Characters and How to Write Them.

It opens with a chapter that will help you think like a master storyteller and tap into your writer’s imagination for extremely effective (and simpler) writing.

Go on. Try it. See how good it feels to write as simply as possible.

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