When we write, what’s the most important quality a story needs to have? Conflict? Sure. Good characters? Obviously. Sex and violence? Well, I don’t want to tell anyone how to live their life. But what good is conflict, interesting characters, or even sex and violence if the reader doesn’t understand you?

For me, CLARITY is more important than anything.

I was once part of a two-author short story collection, paired by the publisher with this other writer I’d never heard of, but I liked and respected the publisher, and I was young and desperate for the publication, so I said hell yes, happy to be on board.

They suggested this other writer and I collaborate on a story to go in the middle of the book and separate his section from mine, or mine from his, I don’t know who was going to be first in the book. Anyway, so this writer and I emailed back and forth a bit, trying to get to know each other, and we were tossing around ideas for what this collaboration could be.

He sent me the opening to this story he’d written and, at this point, I hadn’t read any of his work, so I wasn’t familiar with his style or anything. I didn’t even know he’d already started a story, but whatever. The thing didn’t make a lick of sense to me.

We struggled through that first draft together and eventually he had to spell out in English exactly what the plot was and what was going on. Now if he could do it there in an email, why couldn’t he just write like that all the time?

Dude was an “artist”, one of those writers who says “Stephen King is a hack”–he actually said that to me. Well, Stephen King can write a story readers can follow, because Stephen King understands the importance of CLARITY.

I’m currently reading the latest Stephen King novel. This guy, though, the one I was paired with? I googled his name, but he’s not even showing up on there, so, you know…

There is absolutely no reason you can’t write with clarity. I’m not saying avoid purple prose or fancy flourishes, if they fit the style and theme, but just make the thing clear. Be as fancy and pretty with your words as you feel you have to be in order to express your artistry, just MAKE THE THING CLEAR.

I eventually pulled out of that collab-collection; no fault of anyone’s, things were just taking way longer to progress than they were supposed to, meanwhile I had a dozen or so stories tied up, unable to submit elsewhere or do anything with. So I contacted the publisher and kindly asked for my stories back. They were very understanding and didn’t blame me.

The other dude, however, emailed me the next day with a simple message: “Why?”

Once I explained my position, he said okay, good, he understood too but now he had to email the publishers back and make sure they didn’t try to steal his copyrighted material. Dude, NO ONE wants your “copyrighted material”. And if I’m being honest, when I said no fault of anyone’s? That might not be entirely true; this guy was one big factor in convincing me that wasn’t the book for me; two so vastly different styles did not belong in the same book together. I like to think I write with clarity while his stuff needed a roadmap and the rosetta stone to understand in the end.

So, to recap, just in case I haven’t made myself clear: write with clarity!