the wisdom of CS Lewis

A while back io9 published a post entitled “Writing advice from C.S. Lewis was both adorable and concise“. It includes excerpts from Lewis’ 1956 letter to a young fan of The Chronicles of Narnia in which he offered some of his personal tips and tricks for prose.

There are several powerful suggestions from the man who authored one of the most enduring childrens literature series ever written (scoot over to io9 and read their post to see all of them), but my favorite is this list of five simple writing guidelines:

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.

CS Lewis had a gift for telling stories that were (1) entertaining, (2) inspiring, (3) meaningful and (4) accessible to people of all ages. Admittedly, you may not aim for all four of those targets, but his advice is good counsel for any aspiring author.

And because I certainly don’t have any wisdom to add to his, I’m going to stop there.


About Ash Martin
Ash Martin writes dark fantasy and horror, has a thing for classic monster legends, Nordic mythology, coffee, and sarcasm, and is currently working on multiple books.

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