CS Lewis and the Art of Writing

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Puritanboard Clerk
Latta, Corey. CS Lewis and the Art of Writing. Wipf and Stock.

The book itself is uneventful. It’s a summary of writing tips from his Letters and Surprised by Joy. Mind you, those tips are quite good. Only towards the end, though, do we get anything in terms of a mechanical “how did Lewis use tip x to write.” See Richard Weaver for more writing tips.

Exercises to be a Good writer

1) Think of one idea or image from your childhood that awakened your imagination. Spend 30 minutes free-writing what it meant (and means) to you.
2) Write 750-1000 about a truth or idea that has shaped your life. Be specific. Tell a story.
3) In 300 words write about the ways good literature sponsors good writing.
4) What are some good examples of beautiful writing? What makes them so? In 500 words write about the most beautiful passage you’ve read.
5) In 1000 words write a work of imaginative fiction. Create characters, plot, and story arc.
6) Consider the virtues that go into literary criticism. How would you review a (fiction) book based on the following criteria: ability to stir the imagination, clarity of its writing, and ability to communicate timeless truth?
7) In 300 words write a one act play. Once you are finished, write a 300 word story using the same characters and plot of the play. Finally, write a 300 word history of the story’s world.
8) Take your favorite book and write your own adventure piece based on the book’s style, syntax, structure, etc. How “forced” or “fake” does it feel?
9) For an extended period of time, write 300 words today about a topic, fiction or nonfiction. Do this every day. Practice, practice, practice.
10) Identify a fault in your writing style–passive voice verbs, unnecessarily complex sentences, etc.–and then try to write 300 words on one topic while avoiding that fault.
11) In 350-400 words write about your style.Where did I learn it? What elements do I insist on? Which do I neglect.
12) Select something you’ve already written. Find instances of “abstract” or “ambiguous” language and make them more concrete.

Nota bene:

* Good writers are good readers because good readers keep their ears attuned to language.
* Fancy is a mere mechanical operation of the mind, the accumulation of data. Imagination is something that has an “almost power” to it.

* Index the book by topics. I’ve always done my own index but there was no order to it.

* Create your own system for analyzing the book. Be careful, though. An overly systematic take can blind you to elements in the book.

* Make the abstract concrete. A book’s logos (content) will never escape its form.

* Don’t use words that are “too big” for the subject. Say “very old,” not “extremely old.”
* Never use an adjective or an adverb as a cloak for appealing to the reader to get him to feel as you want him to feel. Never say a “battle was exciting.” Make the reader feel the excitement.

* Muscles of language: hold on to your finite transitive verb, your concrete nouns, and the muscles of language (but, though, for, because, etc.). You need finite “verbs with clear subject and object, specific nouns, and sentence elements like functional conjunctions.”

* Sum up a complex paragraph with a punchy short sentence.


The author says things like “he might have been the most literate man who ever lived.” At best this is impossible to prove, and it is probably false.


Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
The author says things like “he might have been the most literate man who ever lived.” At best this is impossible to prove, and it is probably false.

He'd have to provide some criteria of literacy. Lewis's range is certainly staggering, but I suspect the late Umberto Eco could give him a pretty good run for his money.
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