Sound Advice from C.S. Lewis for the New Year

Here is some advice on Writing and the use of the English language that C.S. Lewis gave a child in America on June 26, 1956.  I wish I had been given this advice when I was a Bairn.  It is good advice for me still today…and may we all take it to heart..

What really matters is:

Image1. 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. 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 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.”

C. S. Lewis, quoted in John Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), p. 235.

Which of these pieces of advice do you struggle with the most?

I must admit that I tend to struggle with points 1 & 4.  From my experience of being “misunderstood” I think that I may not be in the habit of making sure that my sentences are clear and can only mean what I want them to say. I also tend be terrible at using adjectives that tell people how I feel rather than describing the situation so that people are terrified.  It is an infinitely horrifying thing!