C.S. Lewis Advice to Writers

C.S. Lewis is probably best known for his The Chronicles of Narnia. His Narnia books have sold over 100 million copies and been made into three major motion pictures. He’s also the author of The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, Out of the Silent Planet, and The Great Divorce.

His biography is fascinating. Did you know he and J.R.R. Tolkien were friends? Want to learn more? Click here.

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Lewis has long been a favorite author of mine. He is, after all, Irish. Born in Belfast, the The Mountains of Mourne inspired him to write The Chronicles of Narnia.

I’ve read the Narnia books to my children and grandchildren. Recently, I read a blog that shared some of his advice to budding young writers from his Letters to Children.

I wasn’t familiar with that book but discovered great advice that applies to writers regardless of age or what you write.

Four of pieces of his advice were very familiar. All were things I’ve heard repeatedly in workshops, podcasts, and from editors.

  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. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”
  3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do.
  4. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feelabout the things you are describing. (I’d add the same thing applies to the use of adverbs.)

Lewis elaborates on Number four: “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.”

His advice boils down to immersing the reader in your story. It’s so much easier to just tell a story. Today editors use terms like show, don’t tell, write for emotional impact, and keep it simple.

Which of Lewis’ four pieces of advice to authors is most important to you as you read?

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