Five Rules of Writing

When we are teaching our children to write it’s not uncommon to wonder if there are rules of writing that should be obeyed.  It’s also easy (and unwise) to wonder what children in school are learning and then try and cover all that the schools cover.

And even though it’s helpful to have a good writing programme, you often come across ideas and tips from a variety of places that  look good.  Some of the ideas look so good that it’s tempting to add those points to your list of ‘Things my child needs to learn to be a good writer’.  Then maybe a friend might tell you about a new system she is trying, so you might add a few more ‘ideas’ to your child’s list.

When your child’s list is long enough, you will probably start to feel overwhelmed with all you need to teach and you wonder how you are ever going to get through everything..  And these thoughts are followed by the idea that you are not doing very well at teaching your child.

But take heart, things are not as bad as they look.  Writing is not a hard thing to do.  There are a few simple rules to follow, and then you can let your child fly.  My own favourite list of rules for writing comes from C S Lewis.  And I am sharing them with you here.

From “Letters to Children” by C. S. Lewis, and written to a 12 year old.

1. Always try to use 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. 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 we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful’; make us say “delightful” when we read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please 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.

C.S. Lewis: Letters to Children

C.S. Lewis: Letters to Children


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Five Rules of Writing — 3 Comments

  1. Thanks for the link to C.S.Lewis’ book. I have not heard of it before and I love the points taken from it.

  2. Hi Fiona, These are good points, aren’t they? We refer to them regularly.
    Stephanie 🙂

  3. Pingback: Writing Course « tarnya’s tete-a-tete