on writing – column 2

ON WRITING – COLUMN 2: “MURDER YOUR DARLINGS.”


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Col. 2: It’s figuratively and literally etched on my being.

“Murder your darlings.”

I spent my senior year spring break in Costa Rica. It was during that trip that I came across the feisty phrase and, during that same trip, I had it tattooed across the arch of my left foot.

(Note: I had it done in Latin to avoid any unintended consequences.)

An extremely brief history on “murder your darlings”
The three-word mantra originated with a writer born in 1863: Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. William Faulkner often ends up with the credit for this phrase after his famous quote,”in writing, you must kill all your darlings,” but the first the words came first in Sir Arthur’s ‘Cambridge lectures’ where the original quote says:

“If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”

Have you found yourself looking for further explanation? Do your own research.

In short, your darlings are those things in your writing that you love — those phrases, clauses, adjectives, etc. that seem to make your words richer and bolder.

But really, they’re just weighing your words, thoughts and purpose down. So, before you send your story off to the press, go thru and learn how to murder those darlings that are just excess. You want a story that’s a sleek, black dress : a story that doesn’t distract its readers with glitter and fringe (a.k.a. adjectives and excess).

Just as there’s a sexiness in the simplicity of a plain, silhouetting black dress, there’s an eloquence in brevity that resonates with readers. The best writing speaks richly and concisely. The best writers balance both.

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