5 Writing Tips From C.S. Lewis
If you don’t like C.S. Lewis, what’s wrong with you? From what far away land of haters did you come?
But that’s neither here nor there. Even if you weren’t into the Narnia books and don’t care to read Lewis’s Christian nonfiction, you’ve got to admit the guy was an impressive writer, right? His creativity and imagination alone in writing the Narnia series is astounding.
I’m a big Lewis fan, so when I saw this letter he wrote in response to a young girl’s fan mail, my heart was warmed (Please excuse the awful passive voice in that sentence. My editor is underpaid.)
It’s such a friendly, warm letter which made me like Lewis even more as a person. The best part of the letter is the 5 writing tips he gives to the young girl in closing. These are outstanding, insightful tips.
- 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.
- Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.
- Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”
- 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.”
- 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.
His fourth tip is so important for a fiction writer. It goes back to the “Show. Don’t Tell.” technique that is taught in creative writing. Even as a nonfiction writer, I think it’s great advice. I can’t tell you how often I fall back into writing lazy adjectives.
And I can sum up #2 this way. Next time you write “utilize,” cross it out and write “use” instead. When you try to sound more professional, you usually end up sounding more amateur. Though I’m over using utilize (see what happened there?), I still catch myself trying to sound too formal and stuffy sometimes.
Any of his tips stand out to you?