I love The Simpsons, at least the first 20 seasons. Honestly, I’m not prepared to say that the show’s out of ideas, but I do think that the older the episode is, the better. That could be because the new ones aren’t as good, but it’s more likely that it’s because I view older episodes through the crappy lenses of nostalgia that makes everything look better.
Are you familiar with the Mr. Plow episode? It was Season 4, episode 9. The storyline was simple, Homer wanted to start a plow company because he bought a truck that he couldn’t afford. He makes up a little jingle to advertise his new business.
“Mr. Plow, that’s my name. That name again is Mr. Plow.”
It’s simple, it’s short, and it gets stuck in my head like nothing else. If you’ve heard the song, I bet it’s stuck in your head too. Sorry, not sorry.
Now, I’m not telling you all of this just because I’m a Simpson’s fan and I want you to be too. I’m telling you because I think this is one of the main reasons why The Simpsons is successful. It’s simple. The storylines are straightforward, on the surface. They’re simple.
I think that sometimes we, as writers, want to write complex things. We want to write great, deep things that mean something. We don’t want to talk about making toast and coffee for breakfast, or going to the store.
We want to talk about war, and hate, and the deep wonders of life. And there’s nothing wrong with that! I write speculative fiction because I want to write about dragons, space stations, and creatures that infest the darkest corners of the world!
To do that, we often use the biggest words, the wildest settings. We try to go all out, and make things bigger and bigger and bigger!
But sometimes the best and most lasting way to talk about the big things is to write them in the simple ways.
A husband doing the shopping, because his wife was killed by a suicide bomber. He’s shifting through the avocados, and can’t remember how to tell if they’re ripe.
A woman is washing the dishes, and she’s thinking about her mother. How her mother was so damned critical of her, of everything she did. How nothing had ever been right, especially not the dishes. Her mind is filled with hatred as she scrubs at her sink.
A girl sits in her car, waiting for a traffic light to turn green. The car, how had she managed to get it? How had that money found its way under her door?
The best way to write a big thing is to start small, start simple. The shoes sitting next to the door that means someone is at your home that shouldn’t be. How your mother always left lipstick stains on her coffee cups and cigarettes. The lingering smell of bleach that could mean routine cleaning and could mean the cleanup of a murder scene.
Use the simple, like the Mr. Plow song. That’s what gets stuck in our heads, in our hearts, and in our nightmares.