— Amelia Torode (@Amelia_Torode) November 29, 2015
CS Lewis writing tips
As it is CS Lewis’ birthday, it’s worth remembering his valuable #writingtips in a letter to a fan.
What really matters is:-
- Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence could’t mean anything else.
- Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.
- Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean „More people died“ don’t say „mortality rose.“
- In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing your are describing. I mean , instead of telling us a thing was „terrible.“ describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t sa ita 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.“
- 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.
George Orwell: 6 Questions/6 Rules
A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:
- What am I trying to say?
- What words will express it?
- What image or idiom will make it clearer?
- Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
And he will probably ask himself two more:
- Could I put it more shortly?
- Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?
One can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
From Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language.”