J.R.R Tolkien and C.S. Lewis are among the most well known and beloved authors of the last century. They were not only contemporaries and colleagues, but also friends. Both had a way with words and ideas that have been setting fire to people’s imaginations for well over fifty years; and their styles could not be more different.
I know that the title of this post might lead you to believe that I am intending to examine said stylistic differences in all of their complex glory. World building, language choices, even their views on the point of writing fantasy are all very tempting topics. However, I have done nowhere near enough research for a post of that magnitude. So, somewhat sadly, I must leave it for another day. Perhaps for another writer all together. ^-^
The title of this post actually comes from a rather simple sort of difference between these two great writers. Interestingly, some have suggested this particular difference may have been a major catalyst in the eventual decline of their friendship. What is it, you ask? In the most basic terms: Lewis wrote quickly and Tolkien wrote slowly.
Lewis and Tolkien were a hot topic for my good friend Laura and myself back in the day. (They still are. ^-^) Discussing this interesting dissimilarity between them, how it was similar to differences we had noticed both in our own writing styles and those of our other friends, inevitably led to us labeling people as a “Tolkien” or a “Lewis” based on how fast they turned out a finished story. It became such a part of our discussions of writing that I still use these terms when talking shop with folk, unfortunately forgetting that they have no idea what I mean. There is chagrin… so much chagrin. XD
During my recent bout of editing, I got to thinking about the Tolkien and Lewis thing for the first time in awhile. Mostly I was thinking of how my Tolkienish habits affected my editing process. As I thought about it, I began to realize that the characteristics I had come to associate with being Lewisy or Tolkienish went beyond the original speed comparison. They had become descriptions of two different writing styles. Or, more accurately, two different editing styles.
Before I continue, I feel I should add a quick disclaimer. My definitions of a ‘Lewisy’ or ‘Tolkienish’ writer are not based on the actual lives of Tolkien or Lewis. As I said before, I haven’t done enough research to know what their writing habits might have been. ^-^
So then, let’s take a look at what makes you Lewisy or Tolkienish.
The best way to describe this style of writing/editing is, “Write first and polish later”. Lewisy writers are focused on getting their initial draft done ASAP. They want to get the full thought out of their heads and onto the page before they stop to examine it, and do the bulk of their editing after the first draft is complete. When they find themselves stuck their first instinct is to push right on through, and they aren’t afraid to go off on a few bunny trails if it means getting the writing done.
If you’ve ever read through your first draft and thought, “Oh my gosh this is the most horrible thing I’ve ever read… but I can fix it.” then you are probably a Lewisy writer. ^-^
Lewisy types are also:
– More prone to rewriting large sections of a story.
– More likely to be a non-linear writer.
– Less likely to re-read a previous chapter or scene before moving on.
– Generally more prolific than a Tolkienish writer.
Most of the above probably sounds pretty familiar, and there’s a good reason for that. This ‘Lewisy’ style of writing is the one most commonly expounded upon by various writing sites, blogs, and other media. It is also the style taught in classes pretty much everywhere. This makes a lot of sense because a) they want you to finish your assignments on time, and b) if you’re going to be a professional writer of any type, making deadlines is important.
This style is very much, “Measure twice, cut once” in it’s approach. Tolkienish writers have a strong sense of their ideas and want to make sure they are conveying them properly. They spend a lot of time getting each element, paragraph, and sentence just right before they move on; which means that most of their editing is done before the first draft is completed. Finding themselves stuck, their first instinct is to stop and figure out the problem before moving forward.
If you’ve ever sat in guilty silence while other writer’s say things like, “Naturally my first draft was god-awful!” then you are probably a Tolkienish writer. ^-^
Tolkienish types are also:
– More prone to over-thinking their writing decisions.
– More likely to pause after a major plot or style change to update what they’ve already written.
– Less likely to write scenes out of order.
– Generally have fewer drafts than a Lewisy writer.
Being a straight Tolkienish writer is very difficult. It requires a ton of patience and time from the writer, which is part of the reason why it isn’t really supported by teachers and writing gurus. It’s also the reason why most Tolkienish writers quickly pick up a few Lewisy habits to help them get by. Those who pursue writing with a singularly Tolkienish style tend to be full of passion for the craft of writing itself, seeing it more as an art form rather than a way to make a living.
Personally, I do not have that kind of fortitude, which is why I’ve spent a lot of time trying to develop some Lewisy habits like plowing through stuck spots. Considering the fact that it took me a week to write this post, I’m pretty sure I still have a long way to go on that front. ^-^ What about you? Are you Tolkienish or Lewisy?
If you enjoyed this post, come back next week for another look at Writing Styles: Linear & Non-Linear.