Simple Stories

I prefer simple stories.

Of course, it can be interesting to read books or watch movies with innovative structures or complex plots that require more of me as a consumer, but sometimes, I just want to be told a story.

No need to dress it up.

One of the first examples that comes to mind, is The Notebook. (I haven’t read the book, so this is in terms of the film). Seriously, how simple is that story? And yet it was so successful that it coined its own catch phrase, “You just got Notebooked.”

Another film that comes to mind is John Wick. A man kills John’s dog, and apparently, that is a very bad idea…

This preference for simple also extends to my taste in music. Yes, we ALL love Muse, Tool and Metallica. Their complex songs that change time signatures and key are brilliant. But, I also love Nirvana. In one interview, Dave Grohl stated that the band’s principle was to write songs that were no more complicated than nursery rhymes.

While trying to think of novels with simple story lines, specifically ones that aren’t classified as ‘chick lit’ and/or been made into movies, I struggled. Every time I thought of a book with a seemingly simply story line, my mind would instantly come up with a counter point.

Me: “Catcher in the Rye is pretty simple.”

Argumentative me: “Is it? Surely the complex philosophical themes overshadow the literal aspect of the plot.”

Me: “Tuesdays with Morrie?”

Argumentative me: “Though a bit more sentimental than Catcher, again you have that pesky philosophical issue…”

Me: “Although stunning, No Country For Old Men, is a simple story.”

Argumentative me: “You’re an idiot, and that one was turned into a movie…as was Tuesday’s with Morrie…FYI…”

Me: “The Hundred Foot Journey?

Argumentative me: “That was turned into a movie.”

Me: “The Time Traveler’s Wife?

Argumentative me: “Movie. And I don’t know if you can classify that as literature.”

Me: “What about Commonwealth by Ann Patchett?”

Argumentative me: “I though you liked that book?”

Me: “I LOVED that book. That’s the point I’m driving at here, the APPEAL of simple stories.”

Argumentative me: “If you ever want to meet Ann, maybe don’t name drop her in this blog.”

Me: “What about Carrie by Stephen King?”

Argumentative me: “The story may seem simple NOW, but when Carrie was published in 1974, the whole “plug it up” scene was pretty frickin innovative.”

Me: “Well, I’m gonna stick with Carrie, so screw you.”

On a literal level, Carrie is basically about a bullied teenage girl seeking revenge. The reason why we love that story so much, and why it’s been adapted into one zillion dodgy movies, is because of the novel’s emotional tenor. We FEEL for Carrie. We FEEL her shock and shame and fear in that gut wrenchingly awful “plug it up” scene. (As an outsider, we also FEEL pity for her naivety within that scene). We FEEL the oppression of her religious mother, the excitement of her unexpected peer acceptance, the power and terror of her telepathic abilities and her rage when she is betrayed at the novel’s climax.

This is the key to making simple art work, you must connect with it on a deep emotional level. If the story line in a film or novel is simple, it better have a big heart. As Willie Nelson said, “A song is just three chord and the truth.”

And really, there ain’t nothing simple about that.

Image: Alone in the sun by Andrew