Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Advice on Writing (and Speaking) from C.S. Lewis

For some great advice on writing, check out these thoughts from C.S. Lewis. From a letter to an American girl named Joan with advice on writing:
  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 things you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us the thing is “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.

00000(C.S. Lewis, Letters to Children, p. 64.)

Each of these points are also great advice for preaching and teaching (or even speech class). I especially appreciate points 4 & 5. Help people feel instead of telling them what to feel. And reserve big words for big truths and big occasions. Not everything is "awesome." I'd even suggest that we reserve some big words for God alone - I mean, is there is anything truly awesome in comparison to God?

For more on writing, check out these two posts from Justin Taylor & Kevin DeYoung.

HT: Justin Taylor

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