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If, like me, you are still struggling with ‘show and tell‘, then here’s another viewpoint to offer some clarity.

Advice from C.S. Lewis

Susan Lynn Reynolds, designer and facilitator of the writing course I am currently enrolled in at Blue Heron Books feels C. S. Lewis can help with getting to the “show”.  Sue places particular emphasis on points 3, 4, and 5 below:

…  But the true pith of the letter came when the author offered five easy tips:

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 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.

If you want to read this piece in its entirety, where C. S. Lewis provided pointers on literary matters both existential and grammatical, you can find it here.


Susan Lynn Reynolds is a writer and an accredited writing instructor in the Amherst Writers and Artists method. She is past president of the WCDR and current vice-president of the national organization Canadian Creative Writers and Writing Programs (CCWWP).

Her novel Strandia won the Canadian Library Association’s national Young Adult Novel of the Year award, and she won the Timothy Findley Creative Writing Prize three years in a row for her short stories and poetry. Her area of specialty is the therapeutic use of journaling and memoir, and her thesis on that topic received the Canadian Psychological Association’s Award of Academic Excellence in 2006.  She has been leading writing workshops for female inmates at Central East Correctional Centre for seven years, a program for which she received the 2007 June Callwood Award for Outstanding Volunteerism for that program.

She and her partner James Dewar run a freelance writing and web design business, and teach creative writing in a number of freelance workshops, at Durham College, and in their year long course A NOVEL APPROACH where participants take one year to write their book length novels or memoirs.