Brevity is overrated

Brevity is the soul of wit.

— William Shakespeare

Brevity is the soul of wit– so says one of the foremost dramatists of all of modern literature, William Shakespeare, but is that really true? It’s commonly repeated in many an essay about how to improve your writing, to only include necessary elements. If it doesn’t have a clear purpose in the scene, you shouldn’t include it.

I personally am of the opinion that this standard is grossly exaggerated. While it is no secret that laconicism can go too far, turning a tight piece of writing into something vague and oversimplified– and this is definitely something to avoid as well, I would go even further than that.

Sticking strictly to the essential elements can work out, but it can cause a story to lack flavor. Think about it, when eating food you wouldn’t want to strip of all of the seasonings from your meal, and writing is the same way. Small tidbits of seemingly pointless additions can do wonders for the personality of the work. Even if it doesn’t amount to much in the grand narrative, the aesthetic is still a valuable element to any narrative, and should not be ignored in favor of concision.

A good example of what I mean comes in the form of the Monogatari series of light novels, and also applies to the anime adaptation thereof. The series is known for long rambling conversations that make up the bulk of the story. Many scenes throughout have no clear purpose or point, instead being somewhat unrelated to the story, such as pointless banter that serves no other end than the pure entertainment value therein. One of the novels, Nekomonogatari: Black¬†even begins on 3 pages of introduction, followed by nearly 70 pages of a single conversation! This may sound offputting, but to those that enjoy author Nisio Isin’s rambling and frivolous banter, this is a real treat.

One of the Monogatari series novels, Onimonogatari.
Photo by Vertical, Inc.

Another strength of this writing style lies in the enhanced ability to mislead the viewer. The term red herring is often used to refer to false leads in mystery stories, pointing to a certain conclusion while actually being unrelated to the case at hand. If you reverse that, and apply that to a normal conversation however, it can be more of a needle in a haystack scenario– the whole conversation is full of things that have pretty clear meanings on their own, and probably won’t be relevant later, but sometimes that one minuscule detail that you wouldn’t ever expect to be relevant may be the most important clue. Now in a normal story this can work, but sometimes runs the risk of being too noticeable or obvious– seeing that the conversation suddenly shifts to something seemingly unrelated may tip the viewer off to the bait and switch, with them actually now expecting this innocuous detail to become vital.

By cutting out all other irrelevant details, the one that you want to intentionally seem unrelated actually stands out more, so by having more conversations and components that aren’t immediately important– provided you can make them interesting on their own– can actually make it more surprising when one of these random offshoots returns later in the story.

The writing advice that is often given about thinking if what you are trying to write is necessary to the story is still worth honoring, but another question should also be considered: If it isn’t, is it worth keeping anyways?