Writing is not easy. Especially difficult is the task of crafting words in such a way as to instill in the reader an underlying affection for the subject. After all, words are the only tools an author is given; therefore words must do all the heavy lifting. They must be strong enough to communicate an idea as well as implant a feeling. And more often than not, a single word must be capable of doing both. That is why the best writers pay very close attention to the words they select. C. S. Lewis, one of the best, gave a child in America some commonsense advice on this very subject in a letter dated June 26, 1956:
What really matters is:
- 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.
- Always prefer the plain direct word to the long vague one. Don’t “implement” promises, but “keep” them.
- Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “more people died,” don’t say “mortality rose.”
- 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 saying to your readers “please will you do my job for me.”
- 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.
Preaching the Word – Preaching the Word – 1 & 2 Peter and Jude: Sharing Christ’s Sufferings.