Monday, October 12, 2015

Murder Your Starlings

This weekend I was doing "carpentry" on my next play... a process which I find requires a certain tough-minded resolve to make changes to scenes that seemed settled.

And it got me thinking about a saying I hear writers say: you must kill your darlings.

I've never felt any affection for that saying, but I started wondering who had said it, because I couldn't quite remember. I vaguely thought it might have been Dorothy Parker, that acerbic poet of Manhattan.

But actually it seems to have originated with a person not much remembered, Arthur Quiller-Couch, a Cambridge lecturer:

"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.'"

It's reminiscent of another piece of advice, this one from Mark Twain:

“Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very;' your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

I'm inclined to think Quiller-Couch, the Killer-Coach, is offering a hazardous paradox. It cannot be the case that you should simply delete any piece of writing that you really love.

You can possibly live without "very"
but only keeping the writing
that you find unexciting
would be depressing and scary.

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