CS Lewis On Writing

Christian Fantasy Writing

For all the talk of writing styles changing over the past century, much advice given then holds true today. Here’s what CS Lewis had to say to one of his young fans:

Dear Joan–

Thanks for your letter of the 3rd. You describe your Wonderful Night v. well. That is, you describe the place and the people and the night and the feeling of it all, very well β€” but not the thing itself β€” the setting but not the jewel. And no wonder! Wordsworth often does just the same. His Prelude (you’re bound to read it about 10 years hence. Don’t try it now, or you’ll only spoil it for later reading) is full of moments in which everything except the thing itself is described. If you become a writer you’ll be trying to describe the thing all your life: and lucky if, out of dozens of books, one or two sentences, just for a moment, come near to getting it across…

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.

Thanks for the photos. You and Aslan both look v. well. I hope you’ll like your new home.

With love
C.S. Lewis

It’s fun to get a glimpse into the mind of a classic writer. What do you think of his advice?


    • Sarah Sawyer
      May 2, 2012 - 12:14 pm · Reply

      It’s so interesting to learn a little more about the great writers! One of the things that has always impressed me about CS Lewis was that he took the time to write back to countless children (and adults) who contacted him. There are so many nuggets of wisdom tucked away in his letters. πŸ™‚

    • Sarah Sawyer
      May 2, 2012 - 12:14 pm · Reply

      Jenny, thanks for stopping by…and I’m glad you enjoyed it. He had a way of putting concepts into practical language, which I appreciate. πŸ™‚

    • Sarah Sawyer
      May 3, 2012 - 12:41 pm · Reply

      I know! It’s inspiring that one man could have such an impact, even years after his death.

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