Wednesday, November 16, 2011

C.S. Lewis on Writing

On September 2, 1957, Lewis writes to Jane Gaskell. Gaskell had written a book when she was 14 that Lewis reads and comments on. Since Gaskell’s book is in the genre of fantasy, much of what Lewis writes is about that genre. However, there are a couple of paragraphs that apply to us all; whether we’re writing or speaking:

Never use adjectives or adverbs which are mere appeals to the reader to feel as you want him to feel. He won’t do it just because you ask him: you’ve got to make him. No good telling us a battle was ‘exciting’. If you succeeded in exciting us the adjective will be unnecessary; if you don’t, it will be useless. Don’t tell us the jewels had an ‘emotional’ glitter; make us feel emotion. I can hardly tell you how important this is.

When preparing sermons I found the temptation to succumb to what Lewis warns against was a temptation to take the short-cut – telling people what I wanted to them to experience rather than working to bring them into the experience. I could write the words “tense” or “exciting” or “amazing” in seconds, but it might take me hours to structure words and passages that would cause the congregation to sense tension, excitement, or amazement.

When listening to presentations, whether in a Christian gathering or elsewhere, as soon as I hear someone succumb to the above temptation (usually with no idea what they’re doing) I want to interrupt the speaker and talk about what he or she is doing. It happens more often than not, and it happens with people who have been doing public speaking for years. Writing and public speaking, at any level, is a craft, and as a craft it should be honed and practiced and critiqued – just as a concert pianist practices and practices and then practices some more – so should we constantly be aware of our writing, our speaking, our communication – it is a never-ending endeavor.

I’ll share a second paragraph in Lewis’s letter in my next post.

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