Words wasted

“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.” –CS Lewis

Yet another of the plagues of storytelling: so much blown-up language, action, and drama that there’s no room for subtlety. This is one reason I really struggle with dystopian novels. The world is ALWAYS ABOUT TO END and EVERYBODY WILL DIE. Yes, in all caps. I can’t stand a book that feels like it’s shouting at me all the way through, trying to get the message across with thesaurus words and big explosions instead of crafting a story that can quietly and effectively slip into your heart.

What are some of your favorite books that achieve that subtle expression? Jane Eyre is the first that comes to my mind, and I think Harry Potter does it quite nicely as well.


PS Because unsourced quotes make me crazy, I managed to track down the source of this one. It comes from CS Lewis’ Letters to Children, ed. Lyle W. Dorsett and Marjorie Lamp Mead. You can read the quote in context of its letter here at Letters of Note.


  1. I think, in general, a lot of the good literature does this, which is precisely why the books are considered good. If you eliminate thrillers, horror, mystery, suspense, and a good portion of SFF, which all seem to include some sort of showy climactic scene, you are left with the classics, including some modern “classics”, like the Help or … (okay, I admit I don’t read much outside of mystery, suspense, or SFF these days). I remember some of the books I read as a kid being very moving, like Where the Red Fern Grows and Island of the Blue Dolphins, that were quite accessible. Even Agatha Christie had a great way of writing without the words getting in the way. Thanks, Em, for reminding me I need to read the classics… 😉

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