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.


I need other people’s words.

Sometimes, I get really tired of putting out my own words, and I need other people’s words to build up my store again. So today, instead of trying to be clever and interesting all by myself, I’m letting more brilliant authors take the stage—or, well, the blog. Enjoy!

Crazy people who are judged to be harmless are allowed an enormous amount of freedom ordinary people are denied. (Jacob Have I Loved, Katherine Paterson)

I have also heard and read various accounts of why they liked me. My favorites? I wasn’t too good-looking, I walked a little funny, and I was basically kind of average and ordinary.
I guess my lack of perfection turned out to be a winning hand. Let that be a lesson for future generations. (My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business, Dick Van Dyke)

If there be any one grace or loveliness inseparable from that particular period of life, Miss Squeers may be presumed to have been possessed of it, as there is no reason to suppose that she was a solitary exception to a universal rule. (Nicholas Nickleby, Charles Dickens) {Dickens is the master of roundabout insults.}

There are no ‘ifs’ in God’s kingdom. I could hear [Betsie’s] soft voice saying it. His timing is perfect. His will is our hiding place. Lord Jesus, keep me in Your will! Don’t let me go mad by poking about outside it. (The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom)

So Bod picked the red and yellow nasturtiums, and he carried them over to Mother Slaughter’s headstone, so cracked and worn and weathered that all it said now was,
which had puzzled the local historians for over a hundred years. (The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman)