The Simple Secret of… Complexity?

There’s a book, “Making Sense of Wine,” by author Matthew Kramer.

In it, Kramer writes: “What constitutes quality in wine?… The single greatest standard used in assessing a wine’s quality is its complexity. The more times you can return to a glass of wine and find something different in it — in the bouquet, in the taste — the more complex the wine.”

Could the same lesson apply to writing articles, ezines, or sales letters?

If it is, it’s one that flies in the face of conventional web wisdom. Usually, the writer’s mantra is “K.I.S.S.” (Keep It Simple Stupid). And most of the time, this rule works just fine. As does another you’ve seen me talk about here or in the weekly CR e-letter (sign up if you haven’t already), called the principle of “The Power of One.” The idea being that when you want to get a message across, the tither you can bundle it up for the reader, the better.

Yet, we also know that writing — especially the kind of writing we do in sales letters and even more so, editorially — is more and more about building relationships. And aren’t relationships built layer upon layer with complexities?

Here’s more from Kramer…

“It appears that we are, in fact, set up to respond favorable to complexity. Decades of work in experimental psychology have revealed that when people are free to choose between a simple visual image and a more complex one, they gravitate to the complex… Even our alleged neurological compatriot, the laboratory rat, has demonstrated a preference, over time, for more complex stimuli over simple.”

But if that’s true, doesn’t the idea of “keeping it simple” fall apart?

Kramer continues: “One researcher in the field employs the notion of disorder or entropy. The more things are jumbled, the more ‘information’ can be conveyed at one time. The trick is our ability to sort it out and make it meaningful. In short, there must be both pattern and complexity for sustained interest… For something to be truly satisfying, especially after repeated exposure, it must continually surprise us and yet we must be able to grasp these surprises as part of a larger and pleasing pattern.”

Rich. Complex. Consistently surprising.

That’s the juice we seem to want to squeeze not just out of grapes, but life. At least according to what Kramer’s saying. If we accept this as true, maybe there’s still a way to reconcile this insight and the one about the power of simplicity.

First, I’d say that yes, the relationship one builds with readers, either from the first paragraph of a piece of copy to the last or over a series of articles or issues or blog posts does need to grow and evolve. And as anyone knows, evolution is never simple.

Still, this doesn’t mean you can just jumble your ideas together. Even rich and layered relationships are united by a few very simple goals. Maybe even one simple goal, depending on whom you talk to. Even in a sales letter that drills home on one distinct message, the copy does many things to build trust, nurture a sense of urgency, intensify desire, and so on.

Second, I’d say that you can never discount the power of passion behind written ideas. You can’t write well about something you don’t believe in. And you write better about things you believe in strongly. I say this because passion about ideas, it seems to me, is the glue between the “power of one” single idea insight… and the context of complexity in which it can still be couched.



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