Human truths are told with simple words.

A scene from the movie based on Rudyard Kipling's Gunga Din.
A scene from the movie based on Rudyard Kipling’s Gunga Din.


DO YOU WONDER if sometimes you overuse particular words in your writing?

Let me tell you a true story.

When I was attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, many years ago, my friend Glen Smith and I drove to a Mexican restaurant not far from the school on the south side of town for lunch.

Shortly after we took our seats, a school bus full of middle school students arrived at the eatery and swarmed the rest of the tables.  The  noise level rose to approximately that of a commercial jet winding up its engines for takeoff.

Through the swinging doors that led from the dining room to the kitchen,  a  man appeared.

He was Hispanic, probably mid-forties, with a handlebar mustache, a chef’s apron around his neck.  He walked to the center of the room and began his performance without fanfare.

“Many years ago, I studied the poetry of Rudyard Kipling at Oxford University,” he said.

Then, he recited the entirety of Gunga Din, Kipling’s famous poem.

You could have heard a pin drop.  It was the quietest I have ever seen a collection of young teenage scholars.

When he finished, the room burst into applause.  He waited for the room to quiet, then he told us, “My major professor didn’t like Rudyard Kipling. He said his work was too romantic, too sentimental, always the same old talk about love.”

The cook continued. “I listened to my professor as he repeated this week after week, until one day I had enough.  So I asked him a question. I said, ‘Professor, if you tell a woman you love her today, does that mean she will not want to hear you tell her you love her tomorrow?‘”

With these words, he bowed to the crowd of his new-found admirers, turned on his heel and walked back into the kitchen, never to appear again.

Here it is almost forty years later and those words still ring in my ears.

As writers we can learn much from this story. Sometimes the simplest way to say something is the best, especially when we  write about fundamental human truths.

“He rolled over in the bed and died.”

“When he heard of the child’s death, he wept.”

“He laughed until he hurt.”

“I will always love you.”

“The flag smelled of victory.”

We don’t have to invent new ways of saying things.  We just have to use the right words. We gain little with flourishes.

Easier said than done, isn’t it?

Stephen Woodfin is the author of The Compost Pile.



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