Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Murder Your Darlings

The most famous advice from Arthur Quiller-Couch is, I think, often misunderstood. What he has in mind, I believe, is not any writing essential to ideas or moods or narratives, but "extraneous Ornament":

"Style... is not -- can never be -- extraneous Ornament. You remember, may be, the Persian lover whom I quoted to you out of Newman: how to convey his passion he sought a professional letter-writer and purchased a vocabulary charged with ornament, wherewith to attract the fair one as with a basket of jewels. Well, in this extraneous, professional, purchased ornamentation, you have something which Style is not: and 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.'"

-- From On The Art Of Writing (1916).

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