C. S. Lewis on writing

Narnia author C.S. Lewis gave some advice on writing to a young fan in 1956.  I should try to heed these wise words which remain entirely valid.  This is an extract, the full letter will appear in Letters of Note, to be published in November 2012 (www.lettersofnote.com):

What really matters is:–

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.

Item 4 should be compulsory reading for anyone in the broadcast media. So often, so much in life is described as amazing, we should be walking around in a permanent state of wonder.  Just tell it straight and we will decide.

v. a·mazed, a·maz·ing, a·maz·es
v.tr.1. To affect with great wonder; astonish.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s