Monday, January 30, 2012 defines the adjective "novel" as -

Of a new kind; different from anything seen or known before.

While novelty is not the only thing that causes a novel or other literary work to resonate with the reader and stand out in the ever-growing crowd of books, it still is something worth considering.

C.S. Lewis' writing certainly draws attention, if my college literature class dedicated entirely to the study of the works of C.S. Lewis is any indication. And he certainly shows quite a bit of novelty in The Screwtape Letters.

Here's the definition of the book from HarperCollins Publishers:

"In this humorous and perceptive exchange between two devils, C. S. Lewis delves into moral questions about good vs. evil, temptation, repentance, and grace. Through this wonderful tale, the reader emerges with a better understanding of what it means to live a faithful life."

What can writers learn from The Screwtape Letters about novelty?
  • Presentation: The third-person POV is pretty popular, as is narration shared in first-person. Generally, these are good avenues for telling a story through a novel - and I'll be the first to admit that I'm fond of writing in third-person! But if you really want to shake things up, perhaps a change in presentation/layout can help. If you haven't read The Screwtape Letters, I'm sure you can surmise from the title that the story is told through letters. While the viewpoint is quite biased, this offers a chance for the reader to really get into the mind of a character. (Another interesting example is Dracula by Bram Stoker - the story is told through journal entries, newspaper clippings, and recordings in order to give the feel of a factual account. So different - but it works!)
  • Perspective: While this is tied in a way to the previous point, it bears noting that The Screwtape Letters is told from the perspective of a demon. Talk about unique and unusual! If you want a new look at the story you're writing, perhaps you should try telling it (or parts of it) from a different character - maybe someone unexpected, like the villain or a shy, overlooked secondary character. Even if you decide to eliminate those scenes in the editing process, the exercise can help you create secondary characters with depth.
  • Pondering: Avoid the superficial! If you want your book to blend in, keep it sweet and non-lasting like candy. This isn't to say that romantic comedies and such aren't valuable and that they won't sell - but no matter what genre you write in, the book that shines is the one that causes the reader to really think and take away something from the story. What would I do in that character's situation? Or, What is this demon actually saying, and how does that apply to my life (avoiding temptation, etc.)? (Another good example of a book series that made me think recently is "The Hunger Games." Lots of different opinions, but books that flat-out challenge you to ponder the messages and implications certainly make you curious, don't they?)

Connecting the past to the present - Is there a classic that stands out as really "novel" to you? What can we learn from past "bestsellers" about keeping our work fresh and unique?

More about C.S. Lewis:

  • Follow C.S. Lewis (sort of) on Twitter!


  1. Amber, you would enjoy Focus on the Families radio drama "The Screwtape Letters." We loved listening to them.

    1. Sounds cool! Thanks for the recommendation. :)



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