C.S. Lewis's writing advice: useful but hypocritical

Posted on April 6, 2012 By newsguide Topic: Books and Literature, Writing,

So C.S. Lewis wrote a letter about writing advice, sounding like George Orwell, and in the process, unravelling the ugly truth about fantasy writing: it is so, so bad.

Lewis's 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.

I am sure Tolkien, Rowling and all the copycats in the hero's journey-type fantasy writing business, have never paid attention to the advice. The young impressionable are only too ready to be taken away to any damn new place, bad writing be damned.


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