Sweet letter to Narnia fan reveals C.S. Lewis' 5 rules of writing

When he received a fan letter from a young American reader, the Chronicles of Narnia author took the opportunity to offer young Joan some writing advice ... and in so doing, gave all aspiring writers some worthwhile rules of the road.

Lewis opens his letter like this: "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. ... 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 then Lewis goes on to give her five stars to navigate her writing by:

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.

In other words, he gave her that old "KISS" maxim: Keep It Simple, Stupid. But nicer than that.

(Via Letters of Note)

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