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, straightforward language.
It’s that straightforward 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 reading 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 away the dictionary…enthralling his audience.
First published in CS 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 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, Silly) and let your mind wander. No way can anyone tell me writing Narnia wasn’t an adventure!! Put the fun back in writing!!
Blessings to all!!