Less is more. We hear that all the time in a bewildering variety of contexts. Writers especially hear it from editors and and creative writing professors. It's even true a good bit of the time. Certainly if you can say something in a sentence it's often better than rambling for a page.
But often when we hear "less is more" what we're really being asked is to tone it down. Don't be so over the top. I mean, we want to be realistic, right? We want our readers to believe what's happening with out characters, setting, blah blah blah. As an example I'll often hear gun experts chastise crime writers. "A shot from a pistol wouldn't really send a body flying across the room like that." *Sigh.* Fine. For you. For me, I want that bastard to fly across the room, blood splattering like an erupting volcano. I want vivid, crazy, garish over-the-top action. Save "realistic" for an Encyclopedia entry. Ever see KILL BILL? Did that shit seem realistic to you? Me neither. But I loved it. So did lots of other people. Not you? That's cool. But the rest of us will continue to plow head on in to non-reality thank you very much.
They key is for a writer to understand the world he's created. It would simply not work for a KILL BILL action scene to suddenly erupt in the middle of a Dennis Lehane or Laura Lippman novel. The simple fact is that Quentin Tarantino knows what he's doing, and so do Lehane and Lippman. But when those in love with "less is more" casually spread around this advice like garden fertilizer, they often fail to differentiate. The simple fact is this: sometimes MORE is more.
A few years ago, I was listening to a public radio story on Cab Calloway. Yeah, the "Minnie the Moocher" guy, and the person reporting the story talked about how MORE was more, how Cab could really energize a room, getting the audience to sing along. The guy would rock the place. More was more. I forget which radio station. I forget the guy's name who wrote the piece. But I will never forget this phrase: "A willful disregard for nuance."
Wow. That stuck with me. That was ME! I had "a willful disregard for nuance." Tons of it. (Emerson LaSalle has even more.)
Yes, of course, subtlety is an important tool in any writer's toolbox. No, going big and loud in every situation is not always the answer. But I am sick and tired of "Less is more" being pronounced in reverent tones like it's gospel.
Here's your new mantra: "A willful disregard for nuance."