Monday, September 13, 2010

Writing Tip From Cindy Woodsmall

Lindi here.

It's my privilege and honor to present to you today, NYT Best-selling author Cindy Woodsmall. I've known Cindy for about 5 years now and she truly is an amazing lady with a beautiful heart for God.

Today Cindy is sharing a writing tip with us. If you leave a comment today you'll be eligible to win her newest release The Bridge of Peace.

Five Writing Don’ts and One Do
by Cindy Woodsmall

Good writing is important, but sometimes new writers work so hard at word usage and sentence structure, trying to make sure the reader gets it, they pull the reader out of the most important thing: the story.

You can keep your reader glued to the story if you avoid the following.

1.) Don’t overuse certain words. Some words are used thousands of times in a full-length novel: her, his, she, he, it, the. Other words are used hundreds of times: is, am, I’m, my. But readers don’t usually notice that repetition. Other words, however, aren’t so easily overlooked. An author must be careful not to overuse noticeable words like return, hint, linger, tremble, believe, shocked, suddenly.
In The Bridge of Peace the main character is a teacher. Since part of the conflict takes place in the classroom, it would have been easy to overuse the word paper as she shuffled, graded, and passed them out. I rewrote sentence after sentence to avoid every use of the word paper that I could. In the end I used the word fifteen times. That might be too much for a word like cried or angry, but I felt that fifteen uses in a 104,000-word novel with a student/teacher plotline was well balanced.

2.) Don’t use strong verbs unless the scene needs them. Words like stomp, march, and trudge are strong verbs. Most of the time your character can simply move, cross over, walk, or go to a spot. The everyday movements of our characters don’t need to be exaggerated. They need to be invisible. If you’ve done your job as an author and shown us the characters’ emotions through action and dialogue, we’ll know how they went from one place to another. The exception to that rule is if you have an action scene where it’s important to note how the character moved about.

3.) Don’t use big words. Keep the words simple so the story can shine through. For example, diffident can be changed to shy. Stalwart might be changed to strong. The phrase residual effect can be changed to side effect. Big words make people pause and think on that word. You want them thinking on the story instead.

4.) Don’t explain or justify your character’s feelings to your reader. Show us why she/he feels that way at that point in the story. Then, when a similar situation arises, trust the reader to figure out how the character feels. For example, if you show a young girl trapped in a storm drain with rats, you don’t have to explain her reaction later in the novel when she overreacts to seeing a rat or even a mouse.

5.) Don’t make a habit of conveying a character’s thoughts or feelings through another character reading his or her facial expression. For example, “She stared at him as if she hadn’t expected him to kiss her.” The “as if” part is a quick and lazy alternative to the harder work of showing through actions, conversations, and the internal dialogue of the point-of-view character.
There are times when “as if” is perfectly acceptable. For example:

She lowered her gaze. “May I fix you breakfast?”
The question came at him most mornings, as if she were giving him a choice.

In this example, the point-of-view character isn’t reading someone’s face. He’s been married to this woman for six years. He knows her, and revealing his thoughts connect the reader to his perceptions and emotions. The intimate understanding of the point-of-view character allows the reader to witness the relationship unfold.
In real life, we can’t usually discern people’s thoughts by reading their expressions. If someone makes a face of some sort, we react in some way. We may ask, “Why did you make that face?” This may lead to a confrontation or an argument.
In a novel, when “as if” is used in reading a face, characters rarely react. The author usually drops the subject and moves on. That’s because she/he used that phrase to tell readers the information she/he wanted to make known.

Here’s the one do: Be willing to do whatever amount of writing and rewriting is necessary to make the story worthy of your readers’ time. Their time is a gift to you. Don’t take it lightly!

By avoiding the above five don’ts, and working at the one do, you’ll be on your way to making the story flow.

Cindy Woodsmall is a New York Times best-selling author whose connection with the Amish community has been featured on ABC Nightline and on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. She’s coauthor of an upcoming spring release, Plain Wisdom: An Invitation into an Amish Home and the Hearts of Two Women, which is a nonfiction book of touching and humorous life events written with an Old Order Amish friend, Miriam Flaud.

Her newest novel, The Bridge of Peace, hits store shelves August 31, 2010.

Thanks, Cindy!! These are great tips. We appreciate you being here!

Remember, leave a comment and you are entered in the book give-away!!


  1. Great advice, Cindy. Thanks for taking the time to write it out for those of us who need to be reminded. And reminded. And reminded.

    Your comment about the reader's time being a gift to the writer really impacted me. I hadn't thought about it that way, but you're right. The reader is giving you their time when they could be doing so many other things.

    Congrats on your new release. I'm sure your ready for the story to be put out there and enjoyed by the public.

  2. I loved reading your tips. Your books certainly show your ability to drawn in your readers. I have read three of your books and loved them. The characters became "friends" as I moved from book to book. I look forward to reading this latest book.

  3. Thank you for some practical advice and workable solutions. We all need these from time to time. Writing doesn't have to be an isolative experience when we learn from one another.

  4. Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts, Cindy. I'm hoping to internalize some of this stuff so I can make my first drafts a little more polished from the get-go.

  5. Cindy, thanks so much for being with us today on the blog! And thanks for the great tips. You really nailed me on the describing facial expressions! Ouch! :) Gotta do more work on that one.

  6. Dianna, that was a good reminder, wasn't it?

    Jane and Alice and Meg, thanks for stopping by!

  7. Great tips, Cindy. And what a wonderful interview! It brightened my Monday, and was a huge dose of encouragement.

  8. I enjoy reading about Cindy and also enjoy your blog it is one on my favorites listed on my blog

    Please enter me


  9. Great interview. Thanks so much for taking the time to give us such great tips!

  10. I've already got the book, but I just wanted to reiterate, oops - uh, repeat what a great teacher Cindy is. ;)

    I can't wait to get a coy of Plain Wisdom, though. Thanks again for always having an open hand with what you've learned along the way, Cindy.

  11. Cindy, Thanks for the wonderful gift of insight. Like Missy, I tend to use those expressions.

  12. Hi all---thanks for stopping by. Cindy does have great tips. I know I can put them into practice!!

  13. Wow this was really helpful, especially considering that I am starting my edits tomorrow! I feel like a dry sponge soaking up all the water I can get.

    I love Cindy's books, so please be sure and enter me. Thanks so much!!


  14. Oh-oh, Cindy, you nailed me on a couple of those points, girl!! :) Thanks for the great tips, and I would LOVE to win your book.

    Hope to see you in Indy!!


  15. I am overjoyed to be entered in this giveaway! Thanks for the chance!

    Charsaltz (at) yahoo(dot)com

  16. Good morning!!! The names are entered for the give-away and I'll be posting the winner tonight.

    Check back!!!

    Thanks for everyone's comments and a HUGE thank you to Cindy!!