10 Things Writers Can Learn From Lewis Carroll

10 Things Writers Can Learn From Lewis Carroll

Are you a Lewis Carroll fan? In this post, we look at 10 things writers can learn from the writing and style of Lewis Carroll.

[Lewis Carroll was born 27 January 1832, and died 14 January 1898.]

The character of Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is almost universal, and has been adapted into hundreds of different versions. Alice has been the subject of many films, much fanfiction, and has featured in several modern video games (like American Mcgee’s Alice).

Writer Lewis Carroll had a certain spark, which has kept his work readable, adaptable, and fantastical. 

Do you want to learn how to be a better writer? Well, of course, that’s why you’re here.

The life and work of Carroll has a considerable amount to teach writers of all ages. Pick up one of his works, and you’ll take something new from it – even if you’re reading it for the seventh time.

Here are 10 things writers can learn from the writing & style of Lewis Carroll. 

10 Things Writers Can Learn From Lewis Carroll 

1. Don’t Settle On One Title

Lewis Carroll was not the birth name of writer Charles Dodgson. Actually, the name wasn’t even his first choice. He also submitted others, including the name Edgar Cuthwellis, to his publisher.

As a writer, don’t set your mind on a single name or title for a book. 

Suggestions from a publisher or market for a name change is often rejected or frowned upon by the writer. Don’t do it! 

Keep your options open, and always suggest more than one title when pitching.

2. Learn The Art of Nonsense Verse

Nonsense verse is the art of writing something that means nothing, and nothing that means something.

It’s a literary technique employed by writers like Edward Lear, John Lennon, and Lewis Carroll.

What did the Beatles mean when they proclaimed, ‘I am the walrus,’?

Carroll says,

‘He took his vorpal sword in hand / Long time the manxome foe he
sought / So rested he by the Tumtum tree / And stood awhile in thought.’

That’s nonsense verse.

Carroll’s work (and the Beatles) have a lot to teach about writing it. 

3. Study Sneaking In Serious Satire

Satire employs techniques such as ridicule, exaggeration, and/or distortion to discuss real-life issues and topics. It’s useful, and often used to discuss things through subtext (like politics and pop culture). 

Carroll was a master of satire. He used it throughout his writing, including early pieces like Hints For Etiquette and Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland. It’s an element to learn from. 

While some might mistake an illustrated story like Alice’s Adventures for one aimed at exclusively younger readers, serious topics of the time shine through as subtext.

More specifically, Carroll used Alice’s Adventures to poke fun at high-society and pop culture of the time. Everything from their dress to general mannerisms are mentioned in the story (if you look closely enough).

Arguably, even Fight Club could be a satirical work.

Can satire be your beat? Study it, dear writer!

4. Combine Illustrations & Writing

One of the elements most people will remember from Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland or Alice Through The Looking Glass has less to do with words, and more with illustrations. 

Do you remember the images alongside the text? The depiction of the Queen Of Hearts, for example? 

Illustrations have power. As a writer, never forget that illustrations or diagrams can augment your book, even when it’s fiction. 

Cover art and illustrations can make an impact, and either help readers to read your writing (or not). 

5. Use Fantasy & Fantastical Elements

Fantastical elements refer to things (usually from fiction) that cannot possibly exist in physical reality. Things like the Jabberwocky, the Queen Of Hearts, and Stephen King’s IT – hopefully. 

Carroll often pulled in fantasy elements to create unforgettable worlds and characters. Thousands of other writers do the same, from Neil Gaiman to Roald Dahl.

Do you use fantasy elements, or would you like to learn how to use them more effectively?

Start with Carroll, and read on.

6. Write With Adaptations In Mind

Which adaptation of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland do you remember first when I mention it?

There’s a 1999 film adaptation, but there’s also a 2010 Tim Burton film, and more animated adaptations created in 1951, 1981, and 1982. 

What can this teach writers? 

The power of adaptation. 

Write short stories, but also write short scripts, plays, novels, outlines, articles, blog posts, and more. The same pitch can be written in a hundred different ways, and as a hundred different ideas or stories.

Adaptability is one of the greatest strengths a writer can have.

Carroll would live to see adaptations of his own work for stage (West End, 1886), and also wrote poems that tied into the universe of Alice.

Can you, for example, take a rejected story pitch and adapt it for another market or direction? Pitches, ideas, and fully finished manuscripts can always be adapted into almost anything else.

7. Playing With Language (& How)

Carroll’s works form the origin of many modern words accepted into dictionaries (or at least embraced into popular usage) today.

Words like chortled, and vorpal stem from Carroll.

Writers shouldn’t necessarily rush to make up their own words for every story, but writers can learn more creative language use by studying original terms.

He had a keen interest in creative language use, and in playing with etymologies and word puzzles. As a writer, doing this (even away from what you intend to publish) develops your writing. 

8. Writing Mirrors Your Health

The idea of becoming larger (or smaller) than your surroundings seems like a fantastical concept, but this writing element has a real-life origin.

Carroll suffered from seizures, and what is today known as Alice In Wonderland Syndrome. Eventually, this element (and subsequent symptoms) was an element in his writing.

As a writer, your writing mirrors your health.

Writing can indicate signs of sight impairment, arthritis or inflammation, and even of dementia. Pay attention when reading through your old writing. Sometimes, you might learn something introspective.

And then, of course, see a doctor.

9. Write Letters, Messages, & Comments

Like many others of his time, Carroll was a keen letter writer. He even had a couple of things to say about writing letters, including the quote ‘Write legibly […]’

If you are not a letter writer, you’re an email writer or forum commenter.

Use correspondence to (1) connect with people, and (2) grow your writing abilities.  Writers should also use it to pitch, build contacts, and get to know new markets.

Now go send some emails!

That’s an order, and a damn good writing exercise.

10. A Lesson In Censorship

Lewis Carroll’s work has been widely censored, including in 1930s China (for its depictions of talking animals contrary to what the then-state allowed).

Censorship is only a click away in the modern world. Writers should always be aware of this possibility, especially when sharing their writing to the internet.

Links to writing can easily be censored or banned on social media, on certain websites (subject to administrators), or in certain countries (subject to laws). Writing might even be censored by certain platforms, like WordPress, which has strict anti-nudity/erotica laws.

For example, can your last article be viewed by anyone in the world? If you haven’t researched censorship, search engines, tags, and country laws, you might have no idea how online censorship affects who reads your work (or why you get more hits from certain countries than others).

Have you thought of censorship as a writer? If not, start now.

The Last Word

What lessons have you learned from the writings of Lewis Carroll? Which ones are you hoping to bring into your own writing now?

Source for image: Lewis Carroll, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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 By Alex J. Coyne. Alex is a writer, proofreader, and regular card player. His features about cards, bridge, and card playing have appeared in Great Bridge Links, Gifts for Card Players, Bridge Canada Magazine, and Caribbean Compass. Get in touch at alexcoyneofficial.com.

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Top Tip: Find out more about our workbooks and online courses in our shop.

Posted on: 27th January 2021