Writing tips from C. S. Lewis

Posted by Arnt Eriksen in Writing – May 19, 2015

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The "The Chronicles of Narnia" writer would receive thousands of letters from fans, and he tries answering them all personally. These are some writing tips he shared in a letter with a young girl!

The books are considered classics of children’s literature, having sold over 100 million copies in 47 languages.

So, surely there must be something we can learn from him, even though we are marketers – not authors of children’s books (although some of you might be).

Lewis would get thousands of letters from fans, and he tried to answer as many of them as possible, and not with a generic response. He actually took the time to answer them all with a personal note (a good marketing tip right there).

In response to one of these letters, which he received from a girl named Joan Lancaster, Lewis talks about the nature of language and how “‘Good English’ is whatever educated people talk; so that what is good in one place or time would not be so in another.”

He also adds five specific writing tips, which I think everyone working with text could benefit from (even though they were written in 1956):

  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.

If you want, you can read the entire letter Lewis wrote to the girl, or perhaps get a hold of the book “Letters to Children”, where several of his replies to his fans are collected.