Thursday, May 7, 2009


I’ll bet you thought Julie Lessman was writing the blog today, didn’t you? LOL!!

Nope, it’s me, Audra. Julie practically begins her books with a kiss. Me? I have a hard time figuring out where to place them – but that’s a blog for another day : )

Now, back to KISS…

Isn’t it funny how the oddest memories stick in your mind?

When I think about books and writing, my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Cessna will always take center stage. Back in the olden days when I was in elementary school, you were assigned a homeroom and you stayed there for all your classes. Teachers will always be my heros, but when I think back to one teacher being responsible for all our subjects, except PE, I shudder to think of the genius.

At Douglas Elementary, sixth grade, Mrs. Cessna was the teacher everyone wanted.

She was legend not because she was the coolest or easiest teacher. Everyone wanted Mrs. Cessna because she read to her class. I don’t mean story time in the pillow circle or once a week if our desks and room were neat – she read to us ALL THE TIME! If we were working on art projects, science projects, English lessons, sometimes even math, she’d stand in the front of the class and use her calm, yet animated, voice and read from whatever book she’d chosen. The effect she had on her classes totally blows the theory of *you can’t do homework and watch TV/listen to music/have any noise in the background* out the window. Not only did we learn our lessons, on a whole, our class hardly ever had take home work and we excelled in standardized tests.

She chose books that appealed to boys and girls alike, titles I never would have chosen for myself. Little Britches, A Long Way To Go, Brighty of the Grand Canyon stand out in my mind. Not until years later did I realize what all the books had in common – simplicity. These books held 32 sixth graders enthralled because they embraced the basic elements of writing: a good plot, colorful characters, straight-forward language.

It’s that straight-forward language that often throws writers for a loop.

I once read that most fiction is written at a fourth grade level. This isn’t to talk down to anyone, it’s to offer enjoyment and entertainment. Leave the long-winded, analytical papers and 10+ syllable word tombs to those who profess their passion for the scholarly classics. In today’s hurry up and stressed out world, most common folks want a book to sweep them away for a few hours, not make them reach for Webster’s Collegiate Edition every other page.

Writing simple could also be the key to writing fast. Get the story out and embellish later…but not too much. Just enough to perk up your setting and ignite your senses. Rumor has it that C.S. Lewis wrote The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe in only three months. Wow! Talk about being taken away…tossing the dictionary…enthralling his audience.

Originally published in C.S. Lewis’ Letters To Children (1956), his 5 Tips for Writers is still valid today:

1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.

2. Always prefer the clean direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.

3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “more people died” don’t say “mortality rose.”

4. In writing, don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the things you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us the thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please, will you do my job for me?”

5. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

Are you starting a new manuscript? Have that outline all done and ready to flesh it out? Dust off the KISS method (Keep It Simple, Susie) and let your mind wander. No way can anyone tell me writing Naria wasn’t an adventure!! Put the fun back in writing!!

Blessings to all!!


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Oh, well, this was just plain wonderful!!!!

I love C.S. Lewis and teachers that stretch a child's mind beyond the realm of expectation.

Marvelous stuff, Audra! And isn't so much of who we are, what we do, what we like, shaped by those childhood experiences that either delight or traumatize?

I prefer the former, but some great stories stem from the latter.

And lawyer boy told me that law school professors pushed them to write using more simplistic terms (use instead of utilize, i.e.) because trying to sound smart doesn't mean you actually are smart.

I'm in serious trouble!!!!


I brought butterfly and flower-shaped home-made sugar cookies with my delectable buttery frosting and a tray of fudge.

Oh, it's breakfast, you say?

Anyone who doesn't eat fudge for breakfast should skip to another blog. Seriously.

And we don't get too much fudge on the Island, but I thought it would be a nice Mother's Day kind of treat so I sent to the mainland and had our pubbed gals bring back the lengthy list of ingredients. Between deadlines, that is.

There's maple walnut, dark chocolate and peanut butter/chocolate layered.

And coffee, courtesy of Dunkin' Donuts, now being served at Hess gas stations I hear.

Smart people. Good coffee.

And I brought chocolate/rasperry coffee for you guys to try. Add a little Italian sweet cream to it.

Almost sinful.


sherrinda said...

Wow, your title of this post sent me back to my dating years...the constant garlic mouth boy, the "whirly-bird" (put the brakes on that tongue, boy!), and the sigh-producer....sigh. Some funny memories!

I loved this post, because as I have started editing some of my first chapters, I have thought my verbage is just too plain and I need to spice it up a bit. It was helpful to realize keeping it plain and simple is more often the better way.

ooooo...I love chocolate for breakfast. I'm always in a better mood with a bit of chocolate in my system!

Katie said...

Great post! Especially since I am about to wrap up my rough draft and starting revising!

Janet Dean said...

Audra, loved your post! And C.S. Lewis' writing tips, especially
#4--show don't tell. No matter how much I know this, I can use a reminder from one of the greats. That's you, kiddo.

Ruthy, thanks for the frosted cut out sugar cookies!! Love them! I haven't had fudge in ages. Now I'm wondering why. Thanks!


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Okay, this Katie girl is too cute.

Isn't there some techno way I can paint a moustache on her pic? Give her a beard? Snaggleteeth????


Katie, hooray for finishing up a draft. So many writers never, ever see the light of that last page.

Have some chocolate and stop putting your high school pic on Blogger. It's just not nice.


Audra Harders said...

Ruthy, I'll take fudge any moment of the day...just pack it on my hips : )

You mean someday we'll actually be able to understand what attornies are saying?? Sorry, sweetstuff, I'm not holding my breath on that one : )

Audra Harders said...

Mornin' Sherrinda : )

I know exactly what you're talking about. *Can't I find a bigger and better word?* Why in the world do we think that way? Just spit it out : )

Audra Harders said...

Hi Katie, good luck with your revisions and polishing. I love that part : )

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Ah, great post. Love it, since simple is the only way I can write. Thanks for this. I feel much better now about my limited vocabulary.

Working on that #4 constantly!

Cara Slaughter said...

Keep it simple, Susie! Okay Audra, in plain English--great post. I also have fond memories of elementary school teachers reading aloud. I always loved that. It was SO much better than struggling over arithmetic problems.

Ruthie, it's an old New England custom to eat pie for breakfast. It's a delicious tradition, but who bakes pies anymore except around Thanksgiving and maybe Christmas? Well, maybe you do!

Audra Harders said...

Hi Janet : ) Isn't CS Lewis great? I just found a widget of his quotes to install on my blog. Now to find the time to do it : )

And that whole show don't tell thing? Ease up on yourself : ) Your books are very picturesque : )

Julie Lessman said...

GRIN, Audra, I laughed out loud when I read the first line of your post this morning! Heck, when I saw the title, even I thought I wrote the blog and just forgot!!! :)

Seriously, EXCELLENT blog this morning, my friend, and what an acronym title -- I'm jealous! K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple, Susie) is sooooo cool, I wish I'd thought of it. But I didn't, so I guess I'll have to go write a love scene with lots of kisses today to soothe my soul.

For me, keeping it simple not only applies to simple language, but also simple sentence structure. When I am done writing a ms., I go back and chop as many words from a sentence as I possibly can. I was shocked when one judge in a contest told me that most of the "that"s in a book can be deleted without any problem, and now THAT is the first trick I use to trim unnecessary words and simplify.

Prepositional phrases at the end of sentences, too, can often be be deleted because sometimes their meaning is understood. For instance, "With a jut of her chin, she slammed the door behind her." The phrase "behind her" can be cut because it's understood, and by doing so, it simplifies the sentence and makes it more dramatic. "With a jut of her chin, she slammed the door."

"Simply" wonderful post, Audra!


Audra Harders said...

I'm with you on the #4, Eileen.

When I wrote Regency historicals, I used to get so caught up in the beauty of the language. My crit partners would scratch their heads and say *huh? It's sounds pretty, but what are you saying?*

LOL! Thankfully that was years ago but the memory still makes me smile : )

Audra Harders said...

Pies for breakfast? Yumbola! Now Cara, are you talking quiche or pecan? Maybe strawberry/rhubarb??

I guess quiche would be the more responsible way to go...

Audra Harders said...

Julie, I had to snap up KISS before you did. Just wanted you to know I feel very quilty about it : )

As writers, we battle words from every direction. You are absolutely right, my friend. Simple sentence structure makes a bold impact.

Where in the world did we ever get the idea overwriting is better? Have we been so battered by the critics even we believe writing a good romance is kids' play?

*Simple* does not mean *easy*.

Audra Harders said...

Ooops, sorry. Julie, I mean guilty, not quilty.

Sheesh. What a morning : )

Melanie Dickerson said...

Thanks for posting those rules from C.S. Lewis! I'd never seen those before, but one of the first things I learned in a creative writing class way back in high school was something Ernest Hemingway said that was very similar, about using the short, simple word rather than the long, complicated version.

This post also reminded me... I recently read a book in which the first few chapters were annoyingly flowery. Then the writer settled down and just wrote the story, thank goodness! I wondered if her crit partners had encouraged her self-important, self-indulgent first few chapters. It was truly distracting, all the cryptic, abstract language. Because once she stopped doing that, the rest of the book was good. Simple is better.

Erica Vetsch said...

Great post!

I was reminded of this principle when we took a "Little House" tour in South Dakota and I re-read some of LIW's books. Her use of language - telling the simple, unadorned story - amazed me anew. Her stories have such broad appeal because she didn't bury the tale in cumbersome language.

A great lesson!

Audra Harders said...

Melanie, you are so right! And it absolutely gags me to think how purple writing used to be!

Just say what's on your mind!!

Myra Johnson said...

Good advice, Audra! It wasn't all that long ago when I began to realize my narration was sounding too, well, narrative--Myra, the wonderfully evocative author, not the clear, straightforward voice of the POV character. Even in third person, if I just listen to my character and try to think of the narrative passages as also coming from his or her voice, it helps a lot.

Audra Harders said...

Oh Erica, talk about timeless! LIW ignited the flame and kept the prairies burning : )

BTW, in my post I mentioned a book that Mrs. C read to us called *A Long Way To Go* or *A Long Way Home* or something like that. It's about 3 kids who trek cross country to get home from where they're vacationing when their parents mysteriously disappear. Cute, cute story and I'm desperately trying to find the book -- for years! I had to be published before 1970 and I can't remember the author.

If anyone has ever read or heard of it, please let me know. You'd have my eternal gratitude...and I'd throw in my firstborn, if you really want her : )

Audra Harders said...

You are so right, Myra. My *beautiful* literary voice wants to rear its ugly head all too often.

C'mon, Audra. You write cowboy stuff. They ain't gonna think like that!!

LOL! I cringe when I think of all the Audra-isms I insert in my stories : )

Vince said...

Hi Audra:

Wonderful post.

All these rules also apply, (even more so), to advertising copywriting. But who is Susie?

For me, and millions of salesmen, K.I.S.S. will always stand for ‘Keep It Simple, Stupid.’ This is the way I heard KISS referred to for decades from the 1960’s to the 1990’s and then ‘Stupid’ became ‘Salesman’ (or Saleswoman or Salesperson – depending on the audience.) Clinton adapted this in his first campaign as ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’ Somehow that word ‘Stupid’ takes the phrase out of the ordinary and wakes up the listener. I think KISS loses something when it is translated in PC.

How about, "Keep It Simple, Scribe?" Probably not, ‘scribe’ conjures up visions of the bible.

BTW, I like the French idea of the ‘mot juste’ – that is, using just the right word whether it is short or long.


Mary Connealy said...

I like rule #4. Don't tell the reader how to feel, make the feel it.

This is a tough one, I think and I revise my books and catch myself doing it a LOT. and I read books and catch others doing it a lot.

It's just so EASY to say, "She was scared."

And there's another mistake authors make.

Instead of saying, "She was scared" The say, "Her heart nearly jumped out of her chest."
Or some physical reaction.

You do want to show somehow her fear, but an author gets to dependent on the kind of clunky, cliche physical reactions. Her stomach twisted. Her heart thudded. This is so often, for me as a reader, not smooth and usually that 'her heart thudded' line can just be cut because the NEXT line is the right one.

She heard something behind her. Her heart thudded with fear and she ran out of the dark alley.

No, instead say: Someone else was in the alley with her. She ran for the street where there were people and safety in numbers.

Does that make sense?That whole 'heart racing, belly twisting, mind careening thing is just another kind of telling. The fact that she RAN tells you how she feels.

And I'm not saying I NEVER do it, but I watch for that and keep it to a minimum.

Tina Pinson said...


Good post.

At least it's not Keep it Simple Stupid anymore,

Since my name's not Susie, can I still do the long flowery naratives???

Gina Welborn said...

I was shocked when one judge in a contest told me that most of the "that"s in a book can be deleted without any problem, and now THAT is the first trick I use to trim unnecessary words and simplify.True, but....

That can sometimes be too rigid of a rule.

In a recent contest, one judge LITERALLY circled every "that" and "-ly" word in my entry. Kinda irksome to see all the circles. Lots of circles.

She began with a circle, then circled back around to end with a circle.



And, finally, one more circle on top. For good luck, of course.

I'm gonna pause for a sec to eat some fudge and calm my circling nerves.

Despite my irksome feelings about all those circled thats and -lys, I tackled each circle separately. Do I need that that in this sentence? Does this -ly word cause me to use 2 words when I could use a stronger, more concrete noun instead? Would my hero embellish his statements with adjectives like my heroine does (she's a drama queen)?

Did I remove every that and -ly word?

Abso-freakin-lutely not.

But I did remove about 75% of them. Yes, most of my thats were unneeded. Confession is easy now that I've permanently borrowed Jeannie's therapy couch.

I have judged contest entries where I've added a that to a sentence because it made it smoother to read. Better keep the word in if the doing so keeps that fabulous judge from stumbling over the meaning of your sentence.

I value contest judges.

Upon occasion, they can be anal about "you must always do this or never do this" rules.

Of course, that's just my opinion. Not that I'm trying to be argumentative. Why would I want to do that? That'd be just crazy.

I'm a let's-all-just-get-along people-pleasing person.

Audra Harders said...

LOL, Vince!

Yep, Stupid is how I remember it, too : ) Certainly loses something in the PC translation, huh?

Still, I hope I kept my emphasis on Simple...


Audra Harders said...

Absolutely right, Mary. It's sooooo easy to fall into the stomach twisting trap.

I love the example of fear = flee. There's a concept everyone can relate to, and no one has to roll their eyes over cliche.

I'll go over my mss dozens of times and STILL fine *tell* rather than *show*.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Oh, Mary. Now I'm going to have to revise all of my completed manuscripts again. Great advice, though. Thanks for 'splainin' that to me.

Audra Harders said...

Tina, sweetheart, all the Susies, real or supposed, in the world unite : )

If you'd like to compost a bouquet in your garden of words, you just go right ahead : )

Melanie Dickerson said...

And I've heard KISS as Keep It Short and Simple. Of course, that was a high school teacher who was trying to give the guys advice on kissing. But it applies here, too.

Seriously, now I have to rethink all those stomach twistings and pounding hearts. Sigh.

Audra Harders said...

Gina, we all know you aim to please : )

Much like *was*, *that* exists as a word. It's meant to be used, but used properly.

In my first drafts, my writing is filled with was, that, -ly, and purple colors it all.

I so rely on my crit partners to circle for me, Gina, LOL!!

Don't scarf down all the fudge!! I'm at work, or I'd whip up a nice strawberry shortcake (strawberries and the shortcake are on sale)

sherrinda said...

Did I totally miss something? What is the deal with purple?

Lorna said...

Audra, you took me back to my fifth grade teacher. Actually, I had her for English in 4th, 5th, and 6th. We did creative writing every Friday (with a final due on Monday. She did everything she could to stimulate our imaginations including putting construction paper footprints down the hall, on the wall, and on the ceiling and telling us to write a story on how they got there. Even our high school teachers swore they could tell which students she'd had in her class by their love for language.

Thanks for post C.S. Lewis' rules. Excellent reminders.

Audra Harders said...

LOL Sherrinda : ) Purple is a term for flowery prose. Just think 70's era historical romances : )

Audra Harders said...

Isn't that the truth, Lorna?

I'll bet we, as writers, can all think of some teacher in our youth who sparked and encouraged that germ of creativity within us.

I love the footprints : ) Talk about the original *what if* for children : )

Tina Pinson said...



Are you insinuating that my beautiful narrative prose is akin to crapola...

I'm hurt. No, alas,

(Note; I've put one hand to my chest and the other to my head palm out)

I'm torn, my insides are pounding, my heart is torn, my innards are shivering with unshed tears. I want to cry but my eyes are frozen numb.

I'm . . .

EEWWEE That compost flower is plum bea...u...ti...ful

sherrinda said...

Thanks Audra! Got it! I had never heard that term before...but it makes some sense...kinda. ;)

Audra Harders said...


Well, Tina, they always say write what you know...I work at our county Extension Office and lately, all the Master Gardeners and Horiculture folks are talking nothing but, but, ... organic matter : )

It kinda spills over : )

Audra Harders said...

Sherrinda, you sweet YOUNG thing...glad I could clarify : )

Julie Lessman said...

AUDRA, glad to hear you're feeling a bit "guilty" ... or "quilty" if you're in the sewing mood ... about beating me to the K.I.S.S. -- but it's my fault for not coming up with it sooner, so don't feel too quilty, okay?

GINA said, "Did I remove every that and -ly word? Abso-freakin-lutely not."

Grin ... good girl. Everybody knows you don't do EVERYTHING a judge says in a contest ... uh, unless twenty different ones tell you the same thing ... :)


Gina Welborn said...

Grin ... good girl. Everybody knows you don't do EVERYTHING a judge says in a contest ... uh, unless twenty different ones tell you the same thing ... :)And that is why Julie is a multi-published author. "That" referring to her knowing I'm a good girl.

Okay, fine. It refers to listening to 20 judges tell you the same thing. Then again, who's the dunce that needs 20 judges to finally have the lightbulb click on?

Gotta love a therapy couch.

Elizabeth Ludwig said...

Well, if those five rules worked for CS Lewis...guess I'd better go brush up on "writing description" skills!

Missy Tippens said...

Audra, I love those 5 guidelines! Thanks so much for sharing that word from C.S. Lewis!

I think I would have loved your teacher, too. One of our kids' best teachers read a lot and enouraged reading. She had a room full of books for the kids to borrow.

Thanks for your great post!

Sheila Deeth said...

What great guidelines, and how very relevant. Thanks.

Audra Harders said...

Hi Elizabeth and Sheila!

Who are we to argue with rules from a master?

Now, if I could just work them into my brain...

Audra Harders said...

Hi Missy,

Don't you just love a teacher who still takes time to teach kids to appreciate words on paper?? Pass on that torch!

Julie Lessman said...

Gina said, "Then again, who's the dunce that needs 20 judges to finally have the lightbulb click on?"

Uh, you've read her books, sweetie ... I hope! :)


Ann said...

We've been reading "Mere Christianity" in Wednesday night Bible study.

Lewis uses some vivid examples in there such as society being like a convoy of ships. Or a person trying to be Christian on their own is more like an egg that never hatches. He said it's no good being a decent egg -- we must hatch or go bad.

That was so vivid and so funny. And so timely since DS2 is bringing home baby chicks hatched in his first grade class.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Seekers -

Thanks for an entertaining and enlightening post. The C. S. Lewis tips tickled me because I've been listening to a radio series on his life.

I write non-fiction as well as fiction. Writing devotionals and short stories taught me to "write tight." I'm trying to incorporate those lessons into my fiction.

Thanks again. Loved the goldfish.

Susan :)

Raynene said...

Ruth Logan Herne said it - this was just plain wonderful!

I have 3 favorite teachers who will always be near & dear to my heart: Mrs. Frierson, 1st grade who taught me to read; Mrs. Franks who taught me the basics of English; Mrs. Metz who taught me the classics. Thank goodness for them! I love anything with words and reading today because of them.

There are those people who deal better with the spoken word and then there are those who deal better with the written word. If I could fight or argue in the written word, I wouldn't have such a hard time dealing with conflict! And, when my characters are in conflict, I actually have to wait to hear them fussing before I can write down the words. Go figure...

Oh, Audra, you made my day with your delightful word pictures and your memories that sparked mine. Thanks!

Audra Harders said...

Hi Ann,
Yes, what timely words -- we must hatch or go. Take it a step further. If we don't hatch we go rotten.

Everything CS Lewis is wonderfully simplistic : ) Can't you just get on a roll with his images??

Have fun with those chicks. When my kids did poultry projects for 4-H, we had chickens out the coop! One summer we had 350 of the winged beasts running free.

And they say bunnies multiply...

Audra Harders said...

Susan, I just made an attempt at writing a short story.

Sadly, God filled me with way too many words for anything short.

I stand in awe of you : )

Audra Harders said...

Hi Raynene,

I can relate to you all the way! Give me a pen and paper, and I can write all the conflict in the world.

Hit me with verbal and I'll come up with just the right words two days later.

I guess I'm okay with that. I open my mouth in anger and usually have much to apologize for.

You'd think I'd learn...

I'm glad you enjoyed some happy memories today : )

Pam Hillman said...

Got some contest scores today.

Made a batch of boiled chocolate oatmeal cookies immediately.

Fastest therapy I could think of.

If you're quick, you can probably snag one before they're gone.

Audra, great post. I don't usually have to worry about using big words. I'm fairly plain-spoken, unless I get riled. Then I tend to use some of them high-falutin' words.