Shorthand

Fountain pen and ink blot 0002
Susanna here. Last week, on November 29, this Tweet from Jonny Geller of Curtis Brown (my UK agency) crossed my timeline and caught my attention:

C.S. Lewis was born 120 years ago today. His writing tips in this letter to a fan are as spot on now as they were when sent.
“Instead of telling us a thing is terrible, describe it so we’ll be terrified”.

Encapsulated in the Tweet was an image of a page on which were written five of Lewis's writing tips. For the benefit of people who might not be able to read them in the image, here's what C.S. Lewis wrote to his fan:

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’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. 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 delighted 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.

Initially, on reading those, I thought, “That’s good advice.”

And then I thought: “Except for number four.” Because it is, sometimes. And other times, it isn’t.

C.S. Lewis, after all, was the same writer who, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, wrote what I’ve always considered to be one of the best descriptions of a battlefield ever, bar none—and he did it in a single sentence, using one of those single adjectives he claims writers shouldn’t use. It’s a sentence written from the perspective of the youngest girl, Lucy, when she first arrives in the thick of the battle:

“Horrible things were happening wherever she looked.”

Simply that.

And the reason it works, for me, is exactly because of what Lewis observes in his rules—because it invites me, the reader, to do part of the job of the writing.

Writing is, in my view, a sort of partnership between the writer and the reader anyway. Like those games where you sketch a few lines on a paper and your friends figure out right away what you’re drawing.

Person shadow on wooden boardsNormally I’m very descriptive, but as a writer, sometimes I don’t want to give you the whole picture—I want to give you just enough that you can fill the rest in for yourself, from your experience, and to your taste. My idea of a handsome man may not be your idea of a handsome man, but if I say someone was “handsome” you’ll fill in the details as you see fit.

It’s a trick of word association that allows a reader to complete the picture. It allowed me, as a child, to read that sentence from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and see that battlefield as clearly as if I had been standing on it beside Lucy, my own mind filling in what, to me, were horrible images of warfare. Today, those images have been supplanted by what my adult mind perceives as horrible, and so the battlefield has changed. But I still see it, when I read that sentence.

The Lion the witch and the wardrobeJust as when Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray tells his friend Harry, “Suddenly something happened that made me afraid. I can’t tell you what it was, but it was terrible”, my own mind fills in versions of what terrible things might have made him afraid, without him needing to supply them.

Not that I don’t understand what C.S. Lewis is trying to say, in that fourth piece of advice. He's saying don't be lazy; respect your reader enough to take the time to find the best words and phrases to use. But sometimes “delightful” or “terrible” is the best word to use.

And it’s not always bad when the reader does part of the work.

At least, that’s what I think.

What’s your view? Do you like things to be better described for you, or are you fine with shorthand, sometimes?

110 thoughts on “Shorthand”

  1. “Horrible things were happening wherever she looked.”
    I think maybe that works better if the reader is a child. As an adult, it doesn’t fill me with horror, perhaps because the older I get, the more horrors I have seen or read about. If you want to terrify me, you’re going to have to give me at least a hint about the kind of horrors going on.
    I do not mean that you have to go on and on about the blood flowing or other gory details. I have always thought that the more the gore, the less the impact. Suggestion can be far more effective. And I don’t need a great deal of description. A single feature can be enough to let me create the hero’s face or the ruined garden in my mind.
    Although I don’t mind a lot of description either. Like everything else, it depends.

    Reply
  2. “Horrible things were happening wherever she looked.”
    I think maybe that works better if the reader is a child. As an adult, it doesn’t fill me with horror, perhaps because the older I get, the more horrors I have seen or read about. If you want to terrify me, you’re going to have to give me at least a hint about the kind of horrors going on.
    I do not mean that you have to go on and on about the blood flowing or other gory details. I have always thought that the more the gore, the less the impact. Suggestion can be far more effective. And I don’t need a great deal of description. A single feature can be enough to let me create the hero’s face or the ruined garden in my mind.
    Although I don’t mind a lot of description either. Like everything else, it depends.

    Reply
  3. “Horrible things were happening wherever she looked.”
    I think maybe that works better if the reader is a child. As an adult, it doesn’t fill me with horror, perhaps because the older I get, the more horrors I have seen or read about. If you want to terrify me, you’re going to have to give me at least a hint about the kind of horrors going on.
    I do not mean that you have to go on and on about the blood flowing or other gory details. I have always thought that the more the gore, the less the impact. Suggestion can be far more effective. And I don’t need a great deal of description. A single feature can be enough to let me create the hero’s face or the ruined garden in my mind.
    Although I don’t mind a lot of description either. Like everything else, it depends.

    Reply
  4. “Horrible things were happening wherever she looked.”
    I think maybe that works better if the reader is a child. As an adult, it doesn’t fill me with horror, perhaps because the older I get, the more horrors I have seen or read about. If you want to terrify me, you’re going to have to give me at least a hint about the kind of horrors going on.
    I do not mean that you have to go on and on about the blood flowing or other gory details. I have always thought that the more the gore, the less the impact. Suggestion can be far more effective. And I don’t need a great deal of description. A single feature can be enough to let me create the hero’s face or the ruined garden in my mind.
    Although I don’t mind a lot of description either. Like everything else, it depends.

    Reply
  5. “Horrible things were happening wherever she looked.”
    I think maybe that works better if the reader is a child. As an adult, it doesn’t fill me with horror, perhaps because the older I get, the more horrors I have seen or read about. If you want to terrify me, you’re going to have to give me at least a hint about the kind of horrors going on.
    I do not mean that you have to go on and on about the blood flowing or other gory details. I have always thought that the more the gore, the less the impact. Suggestion can be far more effective. And I don’t need a great deal of description. A single feature can be enough to let me create the hero’s face or the ruined garden in my mind.
    Although I don’t mind a lot of description either. Like everything else, it depends.

    Reply
  6. Most such suggestions depends. I believe English Speakers are prone to act as if “one size fits all.” In reality, we tailor to fit the situation.
    For me, in descriptions generally “less is more.” But my mind is probably harking back to the 19th century. When it was the assigned class novel, I read Ivanhoe from top to bottom several times. And I QUITE enjoyed it. But I n ever read the famous description of the tournament. When it was part of the class discussion, I read enough to know what was being discussed. I didn’t need all that description. But 19th century views are very different from late 20th, early 21st century work.
    Description is less long-winded, so I tend to read more. I’m still a master at skipping if it’s too much for my taste.

    Reply
  7. Most such suggestions depends. I believe English Speakers are prone to act as if “one size fits all.” In reality, we tailor to fit the situation.
    For me, in descriptions generally “less is more.” But my mind is probably harking back to the 19th century. When it was the assigned class novel, I read Ivanhoe from top to bottom several times. And I QUITE enjoyed it. But I n ever read the famous description of the tournament. When it was part of the class discussion, I read enough to know what was being discussed. I didn’t need all that description. But 19th century views are very different from late 20th, early 21st century work.
    Description is less long-winded, so I tend to read more. I’m still a master at skipping if it’s too much for my taste.

    Reply
  8. Most such suggestions depends. I believe English Speakers are prone to act as if “one size fits all.” In reality, we tailor to fit the situation.
    For me, in descriptions generally “less is more.” But my mind is probably harking back to the 19th century. When it was the assigned class novel, I read Ivanhoe from top to bottom several times. And I QUITE enjoyed it. But I n ever read the famous description of the tournament. When it was part of the class discussion, I read enough to know what was being discussed. I didn’t need all that description. But 19th century views are very different from late 20th, early 21st century work.
    Description is less long-winded, so I tend to read more. I’m still a master at skipping if it’s too much for my taste.

    Reply
  9. Most such suggestions depends. I believe English Speakers are prone to act as if “one size fits all.” In reality, we tailor to fit the situation.
    For me, in descriptions generally “less is more.” But my mind is probably harking back to the 19th century. When it was the assigned class novel, I read Ivanhoe from top to bottom several times. And I QUITE enjoyed it. But I n ever read the famous description of the tournament. When it was part of the class discussion, I read enough to know what was being discussed. I didn’t need all that description. But 19th century views are very different from late 20th, early 21st century work.
    Description is less long-winded, so I tend to read more. I’m still a master at skipping if it’s too much for my taste.

    Reply
  10. Most such suggestions depends. I believe English Speakers are prone to act as if “one size fits all.” In reality, we tailor to fit the situation.
    For me, in descriptions generally “less is more.” But my mind is probably harking back to the 19th century. When it was the assigned class novel, I read Ivanhoe from top to bottom several times. And I QUITE enjoyed it. But I n ever read the famous description of the tournament. When it was part of the class discussion, I read enough to know what was being discussed. I didn’t need all that description. But 19th century views are very different from late 20th, early 21st century work.
    Description is less long-winded, so I tend to read more. I’m still a master at skipping if it’s too much for my taste.

    Reply
  11. What an enjoyable post that now has me thinking. I suspect that you and C.S. Lewis are both correct on point four, but the right balance has to be found. If an author’s writing is awash with ‘terribles’ and no description at all, it will not be at all ‘delightful!’

    Reply
  12. What an enjoyable post that now has me thinking. I suspect that you and C.S. Lewis are both correct on point four, but the right balance has to be found. If an author’s writing is awash with ‘terribles’ and no description at all, it will not be at all ‘delightful!’

    Reply
  13. What an enjoyable post that now has me thinking. I suspect that you and C.S. Lewis are both correct on point four, but the right balance has to be found. If an author’s writing is awash with ‘terribles’ and no description at all, it will not be at all ‘delightful!’

    Reply
  14. What an enjoyable post that now has me thinking. I suspect that you and C.S. Lewis are both correct on point four, but the right balance has to be found. If an author’s writing is awash with ‘terribles’ and no description at all, it will not be at all ‘delightful!’

    Reply
  15. What an enjoyable post that now has me thinking. I suspect that you and C.S. Lewis are both correct on point four, but the right balance has to be found. If an author’s writing is awash with ‘terribles’ and no description at all, it will not be at all ‘delightful!’

    Reply
  16. I agree, Susanna, that description is tricky — too much can cause me to skip pages, like Sue. Too little can fail to engage me. I think the key is to try for a line or two that “casts a shadow” — or cause an image to come to life in the reader’s imagination. The problem with being extremely precise and exact is that while it might convey the author’s intention, every reader has a different imagination, and will conjure up different versions of your image, and we have to allow for that. We also have to allow to readers with not a lot of imagination. . . I feel a headache coming on . . .

    Reply
  17. I agree, Susanna, that description is tricky — too much can cause me to skip pages, like Sue. Too little can fail to engage me. I think the key is to try for a line or two that “casts a shadow” — or cause an image to come to life in the reader’s imagination. The problem with being extremely precise and exact is that while it might convey the author’s intention, every reader has a different imagination, and will conjure up different versions of your image, and we have to allow for that. We also have to allow to readers with not a lot of imagination. . . I feel a headache coming on . . .

    Reply
  18. I agree, Susanna, that description is tricky — too much can cause me to skip pages, like Sue. Too little can fail to engage me. I think the key is to try for a line or two that “casts a shadow” — or cause an image to come to life in the reader’s imagination. The problem with being extremely precise and exact is that while it might convey the author’s intention, every reader has a different imagination, and will conjure up different versions of your image, and we have to allow for that. We also have to allow to readers with not a lot of imagination. . . I feel a headache coming on . . .

    Reply
  19. I agree, Susanna, that description is tricky — too much can cause me to skip pages, like Sue. Too little can fail to engage me. I think the key is to try for a line or two that “casts a shadow” — or cause an image to come to life in the reader’s imagination. The problem with being extremely precise and exact is that while it might convey the author’s intention, every reader has a different imagination, and will conjure up different versions of your image, and we have to allow for that. We also have to allow to readers with not a lot of imagination. . . I feel a headache coming on . . .

    Reply
  20. I agree, Susanna, that description is tricky — too much can cause me to skip pages, like Sue. Too little can fail to engage me. I think the key is to try for a line or two that “casts a shadow” — or cause an image to come to life in the reader’s imagination. The problem with being extremely precise and exact is that while it might convey the author’s intention, every reader has a different imagination, and will conjure up different versions of your image, and we have to allow for that. We also have to allow to readers with not a lot of imagination. . . I feel a headache coming on . . .

    Reply
  21. I’m with the consensus on #4. Too little description, I’m yawning. Too much, I feel like I’m swimming through a thick, scummy pond. The latter feeling caused me to drop the last Clan of the Cave Bear book when I was swamped one too many times by multipage details about the terrain (which Auel had been describing in excruciatingly beautiful detail since the first book in the series). Same goes for (dare I say it?) ten-page sexual encounters—let me fill in some blanks for myself!
    Jumping back up to #2, I have to admit I like the more interesting word in most cases, especially if it’s new to me or I’ve never really thought about its meaning. It’s one of the reasons I prefer e-books, as my fingers tap me through to some new bit of knowledge. For example, in the last WW post about elderberry ketchup, a quick ramble through Google produced a substitute for the elderberries we don’t have in Arizona: cranberries, which we do have at this time of year. Such serendipity. Chances are high that my Instant Pot and I will be “ketching up” on this recipe soon.

    Reply
  22. I’m with the consensus on #4. Too little description, I’m yawning. Too much, I feel like I’m swimming through a thick, scummy pond. The latter feeling caused me to drop the last Clan of the Cave Bear book when I was swamped one too many times by multipage details about the terrain (which Auel had been describing in excruciatingly beautiful detail since the first book in the series). Same goes for (dare I say it?) ten-page sexual encounters—let me fill in some blanks for myself!
    Jumping back up to #2, I have to admit I like the more interesting word in most cases, especially if it’s new to me or I’ve never really thought about its meaning. It’s one of the reasons I prefer e-books, as my fingers tap me through to some new bit of knowledge. For example, in the last WW post about elderberry ketchup, a quick ramble through Google produced a substitute for the elderberries we don’t have in Arizona: cranberries, which we do have at this time of year. Such serendipity. Chances are high that my Instant Pot and I will be “ketching up” on this recipe soon.

    Reply
  23. I’m with the consensus on #4. Too little description, I’m yawning. Too much, I feel like I’m swimming through a thick, scummy pond. The latter feeling caused me to drop the last Clan of the Cave Bear book when I was swamped one too many times by multipage details about the terrain (which Auel had been describing in excruciatingly beautiful detail since the first book in the series). Same goes for (dare I say it?) ten-page sexual encounters—let me fill in some blanks for myself!
    Jumping back up to #2, I have to admit I like the more interesting word in most cases, especially if it’s new to me or I’ve never really thought about its meaning. It’s one of the reasons I prefer e-books, as my fingers tap me through to some new bit of knowledge. For example, in the last WW post about elderberry ketchup, a quick ramble through Google produced a substitute for the elderberries we don’t have in Arizona: cranberries, which we do have at this time of year. Such serendipity. Chances are high that my Instant Pot and I will be “ketching up” on this recipe soon.

    Reply
  24. I’m with the consensus on #4. Too little description, I’m yawning. Too much, I feel like I’m swimming through a thick, scummy pond. The latter feeling caused me to drop the last Clan of the Cave Bear book when I was swamped one too many times by multipage details about the terrain (which Auel had been describing in excruciatingly beautiful detail since the first book in the series). Same goes for (dare I say it?) ten-page sexual encounters—let me fill in some blanks for myself!
    Jumping back up to #2, I have to admit I like the more interesting word in most cases, especially if it’s new to me or I’ve never really thought about its meaning. It’s one of the reasons I prefer e-books, as my fingers tap me through to some new bit of knowledge. For example, in the last WW post about elderberry ketchup, a quick ramble through Google produced a substitute for the elderberries we don’t have in Arizona: cranberries, which we do have at this time of year. Such serendipity. Chances are high that my Instant Pot and I will be “ketching up” on this recipe soon.

    Reply
  25. I’m with the consensus on #4. Too little description, I’m yawning. Too much, I feel like I’m swimming through a thick, scummy pond. The latter feeling caused me to drop the last Clan of the Cave Bear book when I was swamped one too many times by multipage details about the terrain (which Auel had been describing in excruciatingly beautiful detail since the first book in the series). Same goes for (dare I say it?) ten-page sexual encounters—let me fill in some blanks for myself!
    Jumping back up to #2, I have to admit I like the more interesting word in most cases, especially if it’s new to me or I’ve never really thought about its meaning. It’s one of the reasons I prefer e-books, as my fingers tap me through to some new bit of knowledge. For example, in the last WW post about elderberry ketchup, a quick ramble through Google produced a substitute for the elderberries we don’t have in Arizona: cranberries, which we do have at this time of year. Such serendipity. Chances are high that my Instant Pot and I will be “ketching up” on this recipe soon.

    Reply
  26. Susanna – this was such a good read. Too much or Too little, that is the question. Anyway, it is a fine line that every writer has to walk. I suspect if people are reading your work and can’t wait for the next book to come out, you’re doing it right! Cheers to the Word Wenches!

    Reply
  27. Susanna – this was such a good read. Too much or Too little, that is the question. Anyway, it is a fine line that every writer has to walk. I suspect if people are reading your work and can’t wait for the next book to come out, you’re doing it right! Cheers to the Word Wenches!

    Reply
  28. Susanna – this was such a good read. Too much or Too little, that is the question. Anyway, it is a fine line that every writer has to walk. I suspect if people are reading your work and can’t wait for the next book to come out, you’re doing it right! Cheers to the Word Wenches!

    Reply
  29. Susanna – this was such a good read. Too much or Too little, that is the question. Anyway, it is a fine line that every writer has to walk. I suspect if people are reading your work and can’t wait for the next book to come out, you’re doing it right! Cheers to the Word Wenches!

    Reply
  30. Susanna – this was such a good read. Too much or Too little, that is the question. Anyway, it is a fine line that every writer has to walk. I suspect if people are reading your work and can’t wait for the next book to come out, you’re doing it right! Cheers to the Word Wenches!

    Reply
  31. I am a fan of C S Lewis. I no longer write for publication, but when I did, I attempted to follow his rules. And I had never read his rules.
    They are rules for a newspaper reporter. And for a reporter, we are working to get the reader to see what we see. Horrible or beautiful, we need to create a word picture.
    Thanks for sharing and creating a really good picture for me.

    Reply
  32. I am a fan of C S Lewis. I no longer write for publication, but when I did, I attempted to follow his rules. And I had never read his rules.
    They are rules for a newspaper reporter. And for a reporter, we are working to get the reader to see what we see. Horrible or beautiful, we need to create a word picture.
    Thanks for sharing and creating a really good picture for me.

    Reply
  33. I am a fan of C S Lewis. I no longer write for publication, but when I did, I attempted to follow his rules. And I had never read his rules.
    They are rules for a newspaper reporter. And for a reporter, we are working to get the reader to see what we see. Horrible or beautiful, we need to create a word picture.
    Thanks for sharing and creating a really good picture for me.

    Reply
  34. I am a fan of C S Lewis. I no longer write for publication, but when I did, I attempted to follow his rules. And I had never read his rules.
    They are rules for a newspaper reporter. And for a reporter, we are working to get the reader to see what we see. Horrible or beautiful, we need to create a word picture.
    Thanks for sharing and creating a really good picture for me.

    Reply
  35. I am a fan of C S Lewis. I no longer write for publication, but when I did, I attempted to follow his rules. And I had never read his rules.
    They are rules for a newspaper reporter. And for a reporter, we are working to get the reader to see what we see. Horrible or beautiful, we need to create a word picture.
    Thanks for sharing and creating a really good picture for me.

    Reply
  36. Once again, someone who knows what she is doing can break the rules. Lewis is generally right–I finished (I think) a book a couple of months ago where we were repeatedly told how witty the heroine was and–you guessed it–she said not one funny, succinct, or vaguely entertaining word.
    Regarding Lewis’s advice to choose the right word (and that’s basically what he’s saying), I always liked Twain’s observation that the difference between the right word and the almost right word was the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

    Reply
  37. Once again, someone who knows what she is doing can break the rules. Lewis is generally right–I finished (I think) a book a couple of months ago where we were repeatedly told how witty the heroine was and–you guessed it–she said not one funny, succinct, or vaguely entertaining word.
    Regarding Lewis’s advice to choose the right word (and that’s basically what he’s saying), I always liked Twain’s observation that the difference between the right word and the almost right word was the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

    Reply
  38. Once again, someone who knows what she is doing can break the rules. Lewis is generally right–I finished (I think) a book a couple of months ago where we were repeatedly told how witty the heroine was and–you guessed it–she said not one funny, succinct, or vaguely entertaining word.
    Regarding Lewis’s advice to choose the right word (and that’s basically what he’s saying), I always liked Twain’s observation that the difference between the right word and the almost right word was the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

    Reply
  39. Once again, someone who knows what she is doing can break the rules. Lewis is generally right–I finished (I think) a book a couple of months ago where we were repeatedly told how witty the heroine was and–you guessed it–she said not one funny, succinct, or vaguely entertaining word.
    Regarding Lewis’s advice to choose the right word (and that’s basically what he’s saying), I always liked Twain’s observation that the difference between the right word and the almost right word was the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

    Reply
  40. Once again, someone who knows what she is doing can break the rules. Lewis is generally right–I finished (I think) a book a couple of months ago where we were repeatedly told how witty the heroine was and–you guessed it–she said not one funny, succinct, or vaguely entertaining word.
    Regarding Lewis’s advice to choose the right word (and that’s basically what he’s saying), I always liked Twain’s observation that the difference between the right word and the almost right word was the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

    Reply
  41. Rather than the thing itself, I like a description of how it makes the characters in the book feel, which allows me to experience the terror, or joy, or whatever it is, vicariously.

    Reply
  42. Rather than the thing itself, I like a description of how it makes the characters in the book feel, which allows me to experience the terror, or joy, or whatever it is, vicariously.

    Reply
  43. Rather than the thing itself, I like a description of how it makes the characters in the book feel, which allows me to experience the terror, or joy, or whatever it is, vicariously.

    Reply
  44. Rather than the thing itself, I like a description of how it makes the characters in the book feel, which allows me to experience the terror, or joy, or whatever it is, vicariously.

    Reply
  45. Rather than the thing itself, I like a description of how it makes the characters in the book feel, which allows me to experience the terror, or joy, or whatever it is, vicariously.

    Reply
  46. Lillian, that’s a good point. I think it did work for me so well because I was a child when I first read it, and of course there was surrounding context–Lucy rode up to the battle on the lion Aslan’s back, and there is mention of the flash of knives and swords, and of the armies being drawn up in two lines.
    But yes, the smallest amount of detail can be all it takes–that’s what I meant when I talked about sketching a few lines instead of drawing a full picture.
    The set of a jaw and the slant of a sidelong glance tells me as much as a feature-by-feature description of a hero’s face. You’re absolutely right.

    Reply
  47. Lillian, that’s a good point. I think it did work for me so well because I was a child when I first read it, and of course there was surrounding context–Lucy rode up to the battle on the lion Aslan’s back, and there is mention of the flash of knives and swords, and of the armies being drawn up in two lines.
    But yes, the smallest amount of detail can be all it takes–that’s what I meant when I talked about sketching a few lines instead of drawing a full picture.
    The set of a jaw and the slant of a sidelong glance tells me as much as a feature-by-feature description of a hero’s face. You’re absolutely right.

    Reply
  48. Lillian, that’s a good point. I think it did work for me so well because I was a child when I first read it, and of course there was surrounding context–Lucy rode up to the battle on the lion Aslan’s back, and there is mention of the flash of knives and swords, and of the armies being drawn up in two lines.
    But yes, the smallest amount of detail can be all it takes–that’s what I meant when I talked about sketching a few lines instead of drawing a full picture.
    The set of a jaw and the slant of a sidelong glance tells me as much as a feature-by-feature description of a hero’s face. You’re absolutely right.

    Reply
  49. Lillian, that’s a good point. I think it did work for me so well because I was a child when I first read it, and of course there was surrounding context–Lucy rode up to the battle on the lion Aslan’s back, and there is mention of the flash of knives and swords, and of the armies being drawn up in two lines.
    But yes, the smallest amount of detail can be all it takes–that’s what I meant when I talked about sketching a few lines instead of drawing a full picture.
    The set of a jaw and the slant of a sidelong glance tells me as much as a feature-by-feature description of a hero’s face. You’re absolutely right.

    Reply
  50. Lillian, that’s a good point. I think it did work for me so well because I was a child when I first read it, and of course there was surrounding context–Lucy rode up to the battle on the lion Aslan’s back, and there is mention of the flash of knives and swords, and of the armies being drawn up in two lines.
    But yes, the smallest amount of detail can be all it takes–that’s what I meant when I talked about sketching a few lines instead of drawing a full picture.
    The set of a jaw and the slant of a sidelong glance tells me as much as a feature-by-feature description of a hero’s face. You’re absolutely right.

    Reply
  51. As with most so-called rules of writing 🙂
    But yes, C.S. Lewis was a marvellous wordsmith, and I loved reading his advice, which boils down to: communicate effectively and simply, and don’t try to be flowery for the sake of it 🙂

    Reply
  52. As with most so-called rules of writing 🙂
    But yes, C.S. Lewis was a marvellous wordsmith, and I loved reading his advice, which boils down to: communicate effectively and simply, and don’t try to be flowery for the sake of it 🙂

    Reply
  53. As with most so-called rules of writing 🙂
    But yes, C.S. Lewis was a marvellous wordsmith, and I loved reading his advice, which boils down to: communicate effectively and simply, and don’t try to be flowery for the sake of it 🙂

    Reply
  54. As with most so-called rules of writing 🙂
    But yes, C.S. Lewis was a marvellous wordsmith, and I loved reading his advice, which boils down to: communicate effectively and simply, and don’t try to be flowery for the sake of it 🙂

    Reply
  55. As with most so-called rules of writing 🙂
    But yes, C.S. Lewis was a marvellous wordsmith, and I loved reading his advice, which boils down to: communicate effectively and simply, and don’t try to be flowery for the sake of it 🙂

    Reply
  56. Sue, you’re quite right about styles having changed. I, too, have read and loved so many older novels that went on and on and on in their descriptive passages. I suppose I skimmed some bits–but sometimes I just sank into them, too, because the overall experience of reading those novels is different. It’s a slower, more immersive and indulgent read than we’re allowed with most modern books, and once I’m in that sort of novel, I just sort of go along with it 🙂

    Reply
  57. Sue, you’re quite right about styles having changed. I, too, have read and loved so many older novels that went on and on and on in their descriptive passages. I suppose I skimmed some bits–but sometimes I just sank into them, too, because the overall experience of reading those novels is different. It’s a slower, more immersive and indulgent read than we’re allowed with most modern books, and once I’m in that sort of novel, I just sort of go along with it 🙂

    Reply
  58. Sue, you’re quite right about styles having changed. I, too, have read and loved so many older novels that went on and on and on in their descriptive passages. I suppose I skimmed some bits–but sometimes I just sank into them, too, because the overall experience of reading those novels is different. It’s a slower, more immersive and indulgent read than we’re allowed with most modern books, and once I’m in that sort of novel, I just sort of go along with it 🙂

    Reply
  59. Sue, you’re quite right about styles having changed. I, too, have read and loved so many older novels that went on and on and on in their descriptive passages. I suppose I skimmed some bits–but sometimes I just sank into them, too, because the overall experience of reading those novels is different. It’s a slower, more immersive and indulgent read than we’re allowed with most modern books, and once I’m in that sort of novel, I just sort of go along with it 🙂

    Reply
  60. Sue, you’re quite right about styles having changed. I, too, have read and loved so many older novels that went on and on and on in their descriptive passages. I suppose I skimmed some bits–but sometimes I just sank into them, too, because the overall experience of reading those novels is different. It’s a slower, more immersive and indulgent read than we’re allowed with most modern books, and once I’m in that sort of novel, I just sort of go along with it 🙂

    Reply
  61. Sorry to give you a headache, Anne!
    I think, fortunately, a lot of us writers tend to get to the point where we do our descriptions by instinct, more than anything. We look for those details that will cast those proper shadows, and put them in, and then in rewrite we look for the clutter that’s getting in the way, and take it out again.
    Luckily, as with everything else in writing, there is no wrong way to do it, and each of us has our own style.

    Reply
  62. Sorry to give you a headache, Anne!
    I think, fortunately, a lot of us writers tend to get to the point where we do our descriptions by instinct, more than anything. We look for those details that will cast those proper shadows, and put them in, and then in rewrite we look for the clutter that’s getting in the way, and take it out again.
    Luckily, as with everything else in writing, there is no wrong way to do it, and each of us has our own style.

    Reply
  63. Sorry to give you a headache, Anne!
    I think, fortunately, a lot of us writers tend to get to the point where we do our descriptions by instinct, more than anything. We look for those details that will cast those proper shadows, and put them in, and then in rewrite we look for the clutter that’s getting in the way, and take it out again.
    Luckily, as with everything else in writing, there is no wrong way to do it, and each of us has our own style.

    Reply
  64. Sorry to give you a headache, Anne!
    I think, fortunately, a lot of us writers tend to get to the point where we do our descriptions by instinct, more than anything. We look for those details that will cast those proper shadows, and put them in, and then in rewrite we look for the clutter that’s getting in the way, and take it out again.
    Luckily, as with everything else in writing, there is no wrong way to do it, and each of us has our own style.

    Reply
  65. Sorry to give you a headache, Anne!
    I think, fortunately, a lot of us writers tend to get to the point where we do our descriptions by instinct, more than anything. We look for those details that will cast those proper shadows, and put them in, and then in rewrite we look for the clutter that’s getting in the way, and take it out again.
    Luckily, as with everything else in writing, there is no wrong way to do it, and each of us has our own style.

    Reply
  66. Thanks, Jeanne. It is, as you say, always a balance. Sometimes I like to wax rhapsodic over the landscapes I’m writing about, or the fabric of my heroine’s gown…but sometimes I find I’ve been struggling and struggling to find the right phrases to describe something in detail, when it turns out that a single word would do the trick.

    Reply
  67. Thanks, Jeanne. It is, as you say, always a balance. Sometimes I like to wax rhapsodic over the landscapes I’m writing about, or the fabric of my heroine’s gown…but sometimes I find I’ve been struggling and struggling to find the right phrases to describe something in detail, when it turns out that a single word would do the trick.

    Reply
  68. Thanks, Jeanne. It is, as you say, always a balance. Sometimes I like to wax rhapsodic over the landscapes I’m writing about, or the fabric of my heroine’s gown…but sometimes I find I’ve been struggling and struggling to find the right phrases to describe something in detail, when it turns out that a single word would do the trick.

    Reply
  69. Thanks, Jeanne. It is, as you say, always a balance. Sometimes I like to wax rhapsodic over the landscapes I’m writing about, or the fabric of my heroine’s gown…but sometimes I find I’ve been struggling and struggling to find the right phrases to describe something in detail, when it turns out that a single word would do the trick.

    Reply
  70. Thanks, Jeanne. It is, as you say, always a balance. Sometimes I like to wax rhapsodic over the landscapes I’m writing about, or the fabric of my heroine’s gown…but sometimes I find I’ve been struggling and struggling to find the right phrases to describe something in detail, when it turns out that a single word would do the trick.

    Reply
  71. Thanks, Annette. I’m glad you liked the post. And yes, I did think, reading his rules, that they were very well suited to reporters as well–people with the daily job of conveying complex information in a few inches of column space.
    Reporters see things in real life, and we novelists see things in our imaginations, but we both have to find the right words to put on the page that will allow us to transfer those images to our readers. Thanks for pointing that out.

    Reply
  72. Thanks, Annette. I’m glad you liked the post. And yes, I did think, reading his rules, that they were very well suited to reporters as well–people with the daily job of conveying complex information in a few inches of column space.
    Reporters see things in real life, and we novelists see things in our imaginations, but we both have to find the right words to put on the page that will allow us to transfer those images to our readers. Thanks for pointing that out.

    Reply
  73. Thanks, Annette. I’m glad you liked the post. And yes, I did think, reading his rules, that they were very well suited to reporters as well–people with the daily job of conveying complex information in a few inches of column space.
    Reporters see things in real life, and we novelists see things in our imaginations, but we both have to find the right words to put on the page that will allow us to transfer those images to our readers. Thanks for pointing that out.

    Reply
  74. Thanks, Annette. I’m glad you liked the post. And yes, I did think, reading his rules, that they were very well suited to reporters as well–people with the daily job of conveying complex information in a few inches of column space.
    Reporters see things in real life, and we novelists see things in our imaginations, but we both have to find the right words to put on the page that will allow us to transfer those images to our readers. Thanks for pointing that out.

    Reply
  75. Thanks, Annette. I’m glad you liked the post. And yes, I did think, reading his rules, that they were very well suited to reporters as well–people with the daily job of conveying complex information in a few inches of column space.
    Reporters see things in real life, and we novelists see things in our imaginations, but we both have to find the right words to put on the page that will allow us to transfer those images to our readers. Thanks for pointing that out.

    Reply
  76. Karin, I agree. I think if we care about a character and are travelling through the story closely with them, then when they feel joy or fear or pain, we do, too.
    But THAT can be an even more difficult thing to manage, as a writer.
    Hmmm….
    Maybe a topic for another post?

    Reply
  77. Karin, I agree. I think if we care about a character and are travelling through the story closely with them, then when they feel joy or fear or pain, we do, too.
    But THAT can be an even more difficult thing to manage, as a writer.
    Hmmm….
    Maybe a topic for another post?

    Reply
  78. Karin, I agree. I think if we care about a character and are travelling through the story closely with them, then when they feel joy or fear or pain, we do, too.
    But THAT can be an even more difficult thing to manage, as a writer.
    Hmmm….
    Maybe a topic for another post?

    Reply
  79. Karin, I agree. I think if we care about a character and are travelling through the story closely with them, then when they feel joy or fear or pain, we do, too.
    But THAT can be an even more difficult thing to manage, as a writer.
    Hmmm….
    Maybe a topic for another post?

    Reply
  80. Karin, I agree. I think if we care about a character and are travelling through the story closely with them, then when they feel joy or fear or pain, we do, too.
    But THAT can be an even more difficult thing to manage, as a writer.
    Hmmm….
    Maybe a topic for another post?

    Reply
  81. I don’t like *everything* spelled out for me — I too think reading is a partnership between me and the author — in romances, this means I mostly skip those sex scenes that go on and on, page after page, when what I’m concerned with is what that couple is *thinking*, not what they’re doing (often described on a nerve by nerve basis).
    I want to stay immersed in the story and characters. I want to know what happens next.
    That said, I do find the language in much of today’s pop prose disappointing – sticking to simpler more common words often means a lack of subtlety and nuance.
    It’s a tightrope, isn’t it?

    Reply
  82. I don’t like *everything* spelled out for me — I too think reading is a partnership between me and the author — in romances, this means I mostly skip those sex scenes that go on and on, page after page, when what I’m concerned with is what that couple is *thinking*, not what they’re doing (often described on a nerve by nerve basis).
    I want to stay immersed in the story and characters. I want to know what happens next.
    That said, I do find the language in much of today’s pop prose disappointing – sticking to simpler more common words often means a lack of subtlety and nuance.
    It’s a tightrope, isn’t it?

    Reply
  83. I don’t like *everything* spelled out for me — I too think reading is a partnership between me and the author — in romances, this means I mostly skip those sex scenes that go on and on, page after page, when what I’m concerned with is what that couple is *thinking*, not what they’re doing (often described on a nerve by nerve basis).
    I want to stay immersed in the story and characters. I want to know what happens next.
    That said, I do find the language in much of today’s pop prose disappointing – sticking to simpler more common words often means a lack of subtlety and nuance.
    It’s a tightrope, isn’t it?

    Reply
  84. I don’t like *everything* spelled out for me — I too think reading is a partnership between me and the author — in romances, this means I mostly skip those sex scenes that go on and on, page after page, when what I’m concerned with is what that couple is *thinking*, not what they’re doing (often described on a nerve by nerve basis).
    I want to stay immersed in the story and characters. I want to know what happens next.
    That said, I do find the language in much of today’s pop prose disappointing – sticking to simpler more common words often means a lack of subtlety and nuance.
    It’s a tightrope, isn’t it?

    Reply
  85. I don’t like *everything* spelled out for me — I too think reading is a partnership between me and the author — in romances, this means I mostly skip those sex scenes that go on and on, page after page, when what I’m concerned with is what that couple is *thinking*, not what they’re doing (often described on a nerve by nerve basis).
    I want to stay immersed in the story and characters. I want to know what happens next.
    That said, I do find the language in much of today’s pop prose disappointing – sticking to simpler more common words often means a lack of subtlety and nuance.
    It’s a tightrope, isn’t it?

    Reply

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