Keep It Simple, Stupid

© 2007 Daniel Arenson

In software development and engineering, the KISS principle states that design should be kept as simple as possible, KISS standing for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” KISS is an important principle in software and engineering, and it can help us as novelists too.

When writing a novel, I use the KISS principle when creating the premise. Great novels can usually be summarized in a couple simple sentences. If you find yourself struggling to summarize your novel’s premise succinctly, you might need to apply the KISS principle.

For example, here is the premise for my fantasy novel Firefly Island: "A cruel king, his flesh made of stone, tyrannizes the enchanted Firefly Island. No sword or arrow can harm him. Aeolia, a servant girl, can magically share feelings and senses... even pain. Only she, by hurting herself, can hurt the mad monarch. But can she save the island from his grasp?"

Simple enough. But just because you can summarize a novel simply does not mean the novel itself is simple. The plot of Firefly Island twists and turns, but I maintain focus across the book, sticking to the central concept. If your main premise is complex and convoluted, that might mean your book will lack focus.

Novels often have focused conflicts as well – the old “man vs. nature”, “man vs. society”, and all those basic conflict types we studied in English class. When designing your novel’s central conflict, KISS. Otherwise, again, the story might seem unfocused.

Finally, I use the KISS principle when constructing the paragraphs and sentences themselves. If you try too hard to write in an arty, literary style, your readers might lose touch with your story and characters. And after all, your novel should be about the story and characters, not the words you use to describe them.

When do you not want to use the KISS principle? When it comes to characterization, complex is good. When it comes to setting and description, I often want to display depth. But with premise, conflict, and writing style, keeping it simple is often the best method.

Enjoyed these writing tips? Check out my own writing.
Read three of my novels for free.

More Fantasy Writing Tips


Download three FREE fantasy & science fiction novels. Get them here.