Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Best of Seekerville from the Archives and First Five Pages Critique

K.I.S.S by Audra Harders

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!!

Audra Harders writes Christian romance down at the ranch. Rocky Mountain Hero is her January 2011 release from Love Inspired. You can visit Audra at

This post first appeared in Seekerville May 7, 2009.

Don't forget...

Today is the last day to be considered for our weekly critique.
More info here.


Helen Gray said...

Coffee is ready.

This was as good second time around. Thanks, Audra.

The articles you Seekers put out here are so relevant and helpful that you seldom leave anything to add.


Tina Radcliffe said...

Helen, what would we do without you? I don't even want to think about it.

Christy Olesen said...

I also had a great sixth grade teacher, all the fifth graders crossed all their fingers and toes hoping to be in her class the next year.
Thanks for posting C.S. Lewis’ 5 Tips for Writers. Sometimes I think I write to simply, but now I understand how that can be a good thing.

I'd like to be in the drawing for the first 5 pages critique. tx

Andrea Strong said...

Well, I love Audra Harders, and I love CS Lewis, great combo.

Number 5 reminds me of some of his other writings. Just from reading his stuff, I'd say he was very big on using words correctly. Say what you mean, and limit hyperbole to the times when you need it.

That's a lesson I should learn.

I just love these re-runs. :)

Ausjenny said...

Ok your kiss acronym is nicer than my kiss acronym!
here its keep it simple stupid.
My best teacher ever was my grade 5 teacher. He was tough but fair and I loved him for it. he was also my best friends grandfather. He was old school and great. He didn't just teach he took time to help students. I had and still do have atrocious hand writing but he tried so hard to help me. He taught the times tables so you learnt them and his quick quizzes (like 5x6, 6x8, 4x3) helped you learn he would ask 3 and if you didn't answer by the last one he would say the answers but he never demeaned a student he worked with them. But he also didn't take nonsense and a couple of the boys did get the cane but it only happened a couple of times.
In the study I am doing they also encourage using everyday language now high brow language which makes you look intelligent but the reader of the letter has no idea what you are trying to say.

Cathy Shouse said...

Thanks for bringing up this great post, Tina. I was at a retreat last weekend and mystery writer Terry Faherty emphasized that writing that is clearly understood by the reader is the best type of writing.

Also, editor Angela James introduced the term "overwriting" in her class. Hadn't heard of that. She said it's when you've worked the mss over too much. The story and all its parts are there but there's no voice. Your sentences are awkward from trying so hard never to say the word "was" and follow those kinds of guidelines. They are guidelines and not rules, she said.

Please put me in for the 5-page critique.

Kav said...

Love #4 -- it's show, not tell all over again and I love how he says telling is like asking your readers to do the work for you!

I had a wonderful grade four teacher, Mrs. Brown, who used to read to us all the time. She read us A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle which is a pretty ambitious book for nine-year-olds. She admitted as much but read it anyway because she loved it so much. We were enthralled and I was entranced with the idea of pushing the limits and reading 'above' me. She opened a whole new world to me!

Pepper said...

Great reminder, Audra - and wonderful lesson from one of the BEST authors.

This is a good reminder. I'm going to post it by the computer. So simple.

Oh, and I hope I'm in for the 5 page crit.


KC Frantzen said...

Oh. My.

Doesn't get much better.

Hadn't seen these- (hmmm. KISS - Before or previously? Yeegads)

Seekerville, Lewis and Saturday, like-minded friends with coffee and the potential of time.

"PAWSOME," sez May! Thanks all!!

Joanne Sher said...

FABULOUS reminders. Sure don't want folks reaching for their dictionaries instead of the next pager.

If I haven't already, enter me for the five-page critique.


KC Frantzen said...

Funny though, as I review Prof. Lewis' words - he sure uses Always and Never! :)

Appropriately though!

Vince said...


”The genius
of simple writing
is doing so
without sounding
like a
simpleton. “


Tina Pinson said...

Thanks fir the KISS reminder, or the reminder to KISS.


also put me in for the critique.

Rose said...

I agree with Helen just as good the second time around!

BTW-I've enjoyed all this weeks posts, I just have had to time to leave a message-especially Debby's! What a gal!

It's going to be a rainy weekend here in South Dakota so I plan to get caught up on marketing and writing.


Audra Harders said...

So many early birds on a Saturday morning! I've been doing double duty for the last two weeks - getting up waaaay early to write, then coming home from work and writing into the night.

Gotta get these revisions done.

Soooo, forgive me for sleeping in this morning!!

Let me grab a cup of coffee and I'll be back.

Jan Drexler said...

Thanks for post, Audra! What a great reminder to go back and read my favorite writers, just to see what it is about them that makes them so beloved - Lewis is at the top of my list!

Two teachers stories:

My favorite teacher was in 5th grade - she was old school, and tough, but I sure learned a lot. I could see her classroom window from my kitchen window, and no matter how early I got up in the morning, I could see the light on in her classroom as she was getting ready for the day. What an inspiration she was!

Second story - my mother was a 4th grade teacher in inner-city schools. She read to her students every day for 15 minutes after lunch. I know that those 15 minutes were the only time that some of those children were exposed to good books.

I'm on the other side of the state from Rose - not as rainy here! We closed on our house purchase yesterday (yay!), so today we can finish "moving in". Pictures will be hung!!!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Hey, I'm with you, Audra..where is Helen's coffee! You guys don't play're wide awake!~!

CatMom said...

LOVED this post!!! (yes, I obviously missed it the first time around, LOL). A definite keeper for me! ~ Reading about the teacher made me remember my class in 2004. I was a kindergarten teacher who "got bumped" to a 4th grade class--totally out of my comfort zone. Those kids had been "hand-picked" for a tough teacher, but she'd moved. Since I was the newest teacher at that school, I was bumped to that position. Needless to say, my "Kindergarten teacher personality" with those students who wanted to tell ME what to do was quite a challenge. However, I found that the class was transformed when I read to them!! Every afternoon I'd read part of a book aloud to the class, and they were like a different group of students. It was AMAZING! (and became my favorite part of the school day *smile*). ~ Thanks for sharing this post with a reminder to KISS !! ~ Blessings, Patti Jo :) p.s. To go with Helen's wonderful coffee, I've brought cinnamon streussel muffins right out of the oven!

Linnette R Mullin said...

Great post, Audra! Thanks! You're teacher sounds cool! That's a great concept.

Pam Hillman said...

Great reminder, Audra.

Now, about the background noise. I like quiet when I write. But then I like it quiet when I'm doing housework, at the day job as a purchasing manager, cooking, just surfing the net.

There is no music or talk shows or tv on right now in my house.

The only noise is the faint tumble of the dryer, the hum of my hubby's desktop computer, the clicking of my laptop keys, and the sizzle of hamburgers cooking on the stove. :)

So, I guess that's just my nature to like things quiet.

But my 3 guys usually have some kind of radio or video game going at all times.

Pam Hillman said...


You could see your 5th grade teacher's room from you kitchen window?????


You couldn't get away with ANYTHING, could you?

wordglow said...

I just came across your blog when I was looking up something to do with Woman's World - wonderful! I'll be back.
Your post today reminds me of a Geometry teacher I had in my first year of high school. (We had homerooms too). Every Friday, he'd spend the last half of the period reading us "Winnie the Pooh." At first we all giggled nervously - I mean, in high school? :) But I think all of us came to love that time of the week, and I gained a new appreciation for those stories. Yes, the simple art of telling stories! I never enjoyed math, but that teacher stands out alongside my favorite English teacher because of his "storytelling." Thanks for all the great writing tips too! -Pam

Audra Harders said...

Running like crazy today due to graduations parties all around us. Not only this week, but next, too.

I'm so thankful WE don't have to host a grad party this year...last year we did two (one high school, one junior college)

Audra Harders said...

Pam, welcome to Seekerville! Glad you found us by way of Woman's World, LOL!!

If you check our archives, you'll find posts written about Woman's World...hmmm, maybe that's how you found us...

Sorry, it's been a long day already.

Audra Harders said...

Okay, I've got another teacher story to add...well, about-to-be teacher story to add.

My daughter is graduating from college next year with a degree in agriculture education. She is so psyched about teaching kids to work with their hands and develope practical skills.

She's already come up with a class building project. She's going to have build an outhouse.

She refuses to let outhouses go the way of dinosaurs. I really think the high school kids are going to love her : )

Audra Harders said...

AusJenny, you can interpret KISS anyway you like...I can think of multiple words for the last, S. LOL!!

Your quick quiz for the times tables sounds like my fourth grade teacher. We learned a unit a week(x1, x2, x3 etc) timed in increments of 30 seconds. If we got them all right, we moved our pipe cleaner person up the ladder.

Talk about making arithmetic fun! I can still crank out those simple equations in half a second : )

Whitney said...

Audra, I also have fond memories of my teacher reading to us. I went to a one-room school house through 8th grade and after lunch and recess my teacher would read to us. There, I was introduced to the Wind in the Willows, Elsie Dinsmore, Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, and Merry from Beverly Lewis’ Summer Hill Secrets. I remember the last day of school one year and we never got to hear the last two chapters of one of the Summer Hill Secrets books! I can’t remember which one it was.

Anyway, thanks for the post. Simplicity, please. I just finished re-reading a couple of my favorite books, which happen to be for children, and I wonder what makes them so spectacular. How does she do it? Anyone who has read Sarah Plan and Tall by Patricia McLachlan will know what I’m talking about. Her books almost have an almost magical feel to them.

Anyway, I think I’m already entered for the critique, but I’ll say it again to make sure. :p


Christine Long said...

Thanks for the tips. Please enter me for the critique. I'd love the feedback.
teaching by writing at yahoo dot com

Eva Maria Hamilton said...

I've never heard of a teacher doing that. I think it's great! But, I wonder if that would be acceptable in schools now? Glad you had that experience Audra! I think I'll try that with my daughter. Too cool :)

Sandy Elzie said...

Your article is right on the money. You've given instruction that is clear to understand.

Wish I'd had a teacher like yours.

Sandy Elzie

Julie Lessman said...

AUDRA!!! I LOVED this blog, now and back then, girl!!! And I am STILL jealous of your title too!!