Avoid clever-author syndrome in storytelling

When we’ve mastered some skill – say ball handling in basketball – we often like to show off. So when we’re on the sidewalk with the neighbor kids, we’ll spin the ball on a finger or perform some gravity-defying dribbling trick.

When writers resort to such showing off in a story, they’re guilty of clever-author syndrome. A term coined by CSFW’s David Smith, clever-author syndrome occurs when a writer uses literary razzle dazzle not to move the story forward but just to show us that he’s really smart.

For example, you might use unnecessarily large words that the majority of your readers never would know. Or you might make obscure references. Or you might be guilty of purple prose.

Just as a basketball player wouldn’t show off in a game to demonstrate he’s a great ball handler (the Harlem Globetrotters aside), so a writer shouldn’t show off in a story just to demonstrate he’s clever. In both cases, it’s vanity rather than focusing on what really matters: winning the game for the basketball player – or advancing the story for the writer.