Tag: letters to children

C.S. Lewis’ Writing Tips

So far I haven’t mentioned the tremendous impact Lewis has had on me.  He is by far the must influential in terms of my writing, and to those of you interested in writing, check out these tips the master gave to other aspiring authors.  The first tip regards developing style:

The way for a person to develop a style is (a) to know exactly what he wants to say, and (b) to be sure he is saying exactly that.

The reader, we must remember, does not start by knowing what we mean. If our words are ambiguous, our meaning will escape him.

I sometimes think that writing is like driving sheep down a road. If there is any gate open to the left or the right the reader will most certainly go into it.

And these last bits of advice was directed to a girl who mailed a letter asking for writing advice:

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 things you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us the thing is “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.

If you’re an avid Lewis reader, you probably will notice he actually uses these tips in his books!  I’d recommend you write without implementing (oops, did those tips say something about not using “implement”?) the advice, then use the tips and compare the two pages.  You’ll probably notice a difference (unless, of course, C.S. Lewis read this post!).

By the way, these hints come from a book called C.S. Lewis: Letters to Children.