Keeping It Simple is Much Too Complicated

Albert Einstein once said: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” 

Who am I to argue with Al, whose theory of relativity was as simple as 1, 2, 3 to the power of infinity?  Last night as I stood in my kitchen among the remnants of a delicious and ultimately overcomplicated meal for eight, I asked myself exactly why simplicity continually eludes me.  Why can’t I look at a menu ahead of time, figure out that no, none of the dishes I’m serving are complicated, but putting them all together is the very definition of the word? 

Exactly when, in the planning of a recipe, a project, a book, do we finally say enough already? This week I said it much too late during my menu planning.  I made dishes from scratch that would have been just as good with a few canned assistants.  I served two appetizers when one would have been great.  I did, to my credit, buy dessert.  But that’s a relatively new innovation.  After all I’ve been known to make my own bread to stuff a Thanksgiving turkey.   And trust me, I know that’s not gourmet, that’s crazy.

Of course, the same “it’s so much better if I start from scratch” mentality applies to novels.  Shouldn’t every character be completely original, and so fully fleshed out that  no matter what the plot throws his way, I, the Master of His Universe, knows exactly how he’ll react?  Shouldn’t I know when my character was toilet trained, weaned from the breast or bottle?  Shouldn’t I be on speaking terms with his kindergarten teacher?

As simple as possible, but not simpler.  Such good advice.  So hard to tell the difference.

I’m at the beginning of a new series now, or at least, I hope so.  But even if this series goes the way of some good things, there will be another book, another series down the road, and as always, I’ll be facing this question.  How deep must I dig?  How far must I travel?  

December will be the perfect month to let my new characters tell me their stories.  They’ll advise me as I shop for the holidays, explain their theories on where ornaments should go on our Christmas tree, sing Christmas carols with gusto or not.  They’ll nudge me in the middle of a church service and say, “See if you can get your husband to use ‘Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming,’ next Sunday, because I have very little patience and I am heartily sick of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful.'”  And I will either chastize or agree, depending on how many times I’ve already sung the latter this month.

The trick, of course, is when to shut them up, when to say, “I, too, have little patience, and I now know everything I want to about you.”

Still take it from the woman who cooked a pound of black beans yesterday so that her guests could put a tablespoon or two inside each of their made-from- scratch tortillas.

There is very little chance I will say it soon enough.


  1. Marna on December 8, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    As I bought a bag of dried beans today, I thought, “It would probably be easier and faster to use canned.” I read this too late and the dried beans came home with me. I will not be making tortillas any time soon, though. I’ll be too busy making Christmas cookies. I’m no good at keeping it simple either.

    • Emilie Richards on December 8, 2010 at 4:52 pm

      I know they’ll be yummy. Just keep the rest of the meal simple, right? And happy holidays across the pond.

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