The Future Is Here
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Writing advice from C.S. Lewis was both adorable and concise

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On June 26, 1956, author C.S. Lewis responded to a fan letter from Joan Lancaster, a young Chronicles of Narnia enthusiast.

In a personalized thank-you letter, the writer imparted some simple and valuable stylistic advice for budding prose writers. Behold, how to write like Aslan.


Lewis began his correspondence by provided pointers on literary matters both existential...

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.


...and grammatical.

There are no right or wrong answers about language in the sense in which there are right and wrong answers in Arithmetic. "Good English" is whatever educated people talk; so that what is good in one place or time would not be so in another [...] Don't take any notice of teachers and textbooks in such matters. Nor of logic.

But the true pith of the letter came when the author offered five easy tips:

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.


Now scoot off to your Narnia-themed imaginarium and pen your Hugo Award-winning tour de force, The Sexy Adventures of Mr. Tumnus and Charles Xavier. For more tips from titans of prose, here are some pointers from Kurt Vonnegut.


[Via Letters of Note]