Writing Advice: C.S. Lewis

From C.S. Lewis’s letter to a young fan.

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 plain 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 thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a 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.

*gulp* I am in constant violation of #5. What about you?

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2 comments on “Writing Advice: C.S. Lewis

  1. Colin says:

    Number 4 is really another way of saying “show don’t tell,” but I like the way Lewis puts it: “All those words… are only like saying to your reader, ‘Please will you do my job for me.'”

    These are great, Rae. But it’s C. S. Lewis–I expect nothing less than great. 🙂

    • Rae says:

      C.S. Lewis is my favorite author, so I couldn’t resist. It’s interesting to see successful writers who thrive on the exceptions to these, although in my case I need to hear this advice (again). I enjoyed the way he wrote it, too, even if some of it I have heard before.

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