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5 Writing Tips from C.S. Lewis

5 Writing Tips from C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis is well known for his great works especially those he wrote for children, namely, The Chronicles of Narnia. It is not surprising to hear that he received a lot of fan letters but he  also took his time to respond to them. His correspondence with his fans was eventually collated and  published as The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis.

In 1956, C.S. Lewis responded to a letter from a little girl named Joan whom he had been corresponding with since her first letter to him in 1954. She had apparently sent him a sample of her own descriptive writing. Lewis took the opportunity to praise her style, but also worked in several gentle critiques. He went on to offer the following five tips to boost the little lady’s English and writing abilities:

  1. Be Clear.

“Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure y[ou]r sentence couldn’t mean anything else

   2. Use Plain and Direct Language

“Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.”
  3. Be Practical

“Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean ‘More people died’ don’t say ‘Mortality rose.’”
 4. Show, Don’t Tell

“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. Keep it Simple 
“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.”

  At the beginning of his letter ,he writes

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 — but not the thing itself — 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.

Essentially, he tried to pass the message across that writing is not a craft we can master in a days, hours or years. We can improve day by day by writing.

I’m glad I came across this. Now let me keep my fingers crossed the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (CNA) will correspond with me someday. LOL

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