Writer’s Quote Wednesday // C.S. Lewis

Hello and happy middle of the week everyone! It’s time for Writer’s Quote Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Colleen at Silver Threading. Each week bloggers share their favorite quotes to inspire and motivate each other to keep writing and working toward our goals. My contribution for the week is from the British novelist, essayist, and poet, C.S. Lewis.

Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland, on November 29th, 1898. As a boy, Lewis was fascinated with anthropomorphic animals; he fell in love with Beatrix Potter‘s stories and often wrote and illustrated his own animal stories. He and his brother Warnie created the world of Boxen, inhabited and run by animals. Lewis loved to read. His father’s house was filled with books, and he felt that finding a book to read was as easy as walking into a field and “finding a new blade of grass”.

1069006Growing up Lewis loved Norse and Greek mythology, and Irish mythology and literature. He loved nature; its beauty reminded him of the stories of the North, and the stories of the North reminded him of the beauties of nature. His teenage writings moved away from the tales of Boxen, and he used different art forms, including epic poetry and opera. In 1916, Lewis was awarded a scholarship at University College, Oxford. Within months of entering Oxford, the British Army shipped him to France to fight in the First World War. His experience of the horror of war confirmed his atheism.

Lewis is probably best known for his series of children’s fantasy novels The Chronicles of Narnia. Set in the fictional realm of Narnia, a fantasy world of magic, mythical beasts, and talking animals, the series narrates the adventures of various children who play central roles in the unfolding history of that world. To date, the Narnia books have sold over 100 million copies and been transformed into three major motion pictures. In all Lewis wrote more than 30 novels.

Lewis and fellow novelist J. R. R. Tolkien,  author of the classics The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, were close friends. They both served on the English faculty at Oxford University and were active in the informal Oxford literary group known as the Inklings. Tolkien would eventually inspire Lewis’ return to Christianity.

On 22 November, exactly one week before his 65th birthday, Lewis collapsed in his bedroom at 5:30 pm and died a few minutes later. Media coverage of his death was almost completely overshadowed by news of the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy, which occurred on the same day (approximately 55 minutes following Lewis’ collapse), as did the death of English writer Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World. This coincidence was the inspiration for Peter Kreeft’s book Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis, & Aldous Huxley.

C. S. Lewis is commemorated on 22 November in the church calendar of the Episcopal Church.

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


One of the reasons I keep doing these Writer’s Quote Wednesday posts, besides getting to learn about an awesome new author every week, is that I enjoy collecting little bits of writing advice like this. I like when an author gives a little tip that feels somehow more real, more right, than the “rules” you get in a high school English class. It’s even better if this author can tell you why this bit of advice is important in a way that you can understand, especially if it gives you that “AHA!” feeling.

People like to sound smart and profound, so your instinct is to make all your writing sound smart and profound. You do that by using words like “infinite” as much as you can, but when you understand that not every subject deserves a word like that you can see why you shouldn’t always use it. You learn that writing sounds better when you use the word that is right for what you are trying to say, not what you want to sound like. It’s a hard lesson to grasp but when you do it’s almost as if a weight has been lifted. You realize you don’t have to try so hard. It is perfectly ok, no, it is best, to use simpler words. Save the special words for when you are saying something truly special and those words will really pop!

To improve my ability to use the right word I work daily to expand my vocabulary. I read every day and I try to read something from someone who lives in a different part of the world from me, or who lived in a different time. I use a dictionary/thesaurus app on my phone. If I have to use a word too often I try to find an alternative. If I am not 100% sure what a word means I look it up along with its synonyms and antonyms. I follow a few blogs that focus on language, my favorite is Strong Language. I try to play word games on my phone like Words With Friends or Word Academy. Finally, I keep a tab open with Dictioanry.com’s word of the day up.

I squirrel these words away. I try them out in conversation here and there with friends. I come up with little stories that I can use them in. I do whatever I can to make them stick because I know that there will come a time when each one will be needed. I only have to be patient and never use one before it’s time has come.

For some bonus tips here is the entire letter written to a young fan of Lewis’, Joan Lancaster, in June of 1956 that this little tip is from:

The Kilns,
Headington Quarry,
26 June 1956

Dear Joan–

Thanks for your letter of the 3rd. You describe your Wonderful Night v. well. That is, you describe the place and the people and the night and the feeling of it all, very well — but not the thing itself — the setting but not the jewel. And no wonder! Wordsworth often does just the same. His Prelude (you’re bound to read it about 10 years hence. Don’t try it now, or you’ll only spoil it for later reading) is full of moments in which everything except the thing itself is described. If you become a writer you’ll be trying to describe the thing all your life: and lucky if, out of dozens of books, one or two sentences, just for a moment, come near to getting it across.

About amn’t I, aren’t I and am I not, of course there are no right or wrong answers about language in the sense in which there are right and wrong answers in Arithmetic. “Good English” is whatever educated people talk; so that what is good in one place or time would not be so in another. Amn’t I was good 50 years ago in the North of Ireland where I was brought up, but bad in Southern England. Aren’t I would have been hideously bad in Ireland but very good in England. And of course I just don’t know which (if either) is good in modern Florida. Don’t take any notice of teachers and textbooks in such matters. Nor of logic. It is good to say “more than one passenger was hurt,” although more than one equals at least two and therefore logically the verb ought to be plural were not singular was!

What really matters is:–

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’timplement 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.

Thanks for the photos. You and Aslan both look v. well. I hope you’ll like your new home.

With love
C.S. Lewis


Original image: The majestic Orion Nebula imaged with the 2.2m ESO/MPG telescope.
via Wikimedia 

Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads

Follow me on Goodreads to stay up to date on what I’m reading :)



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