Saturday, June 06, 2015

The Writing Life: Advice from CS Lewis

A young American girl - an aspiring - writer wrote CS Lewis asking him for advice on how to write. In his letter to her, Lewis made five of the best suggestions I've heard. Lewis had an incredible gift for getting huge ideas into not very much prose. I use these suggestions when I read through my stuff and brutally edit out the drivel...

Here's Lewis' 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 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.

So, if somehow, you can manage to avoid foggy, complicated, vague, abstract, touchy-feely, sesquipedalian loquacious writing, you may look up one day and discover you're not such a bad writer after all.

Just sayin'

Tom King (c) 2015