Friday, December 12, 2014

On Writing Simply

It's the birthday of anthologist and writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (books by this author), born in Cornwall in 1863. Quiller-Couch published fiction and literary criticism under the pen name "Q" and was best known at the time for his publication of the Oxford Book of English Verse (1250-1900), a book that remained the most popular anthology of its kind for nearly 70 years.
He is remembered by writers today for one of the most enduring but non-attributed pieces of writing advice ever given. He wrote in his 1916 book On the Art of Writing, "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." Now a popular catchphrase among editors especially, "murder your darlings" admonishes writers to refrain from being too precious about their prose and to trust in the values of simplicity and efficiency.

I don’t think I understood what that meant before hearing this piece from the Writer’s Almanac. I thought the phrase “kill your darlings” referred to clever ideas, neato scenes, or maybe dramatic action sequences. I hadn’t thought of it in terms of sentence structure.

Old style writing can be florid and overwrought. Side trips into extraneous digression. I’ve seen examples, long torturous examples, so long in fact that they ultimately made no sense whatsoever.

Yes, I have found myself showing off every once in a while with a long sentence complete with semi colons. Or sometimes I’ve made up a list of things so I can legitimately use a colon.

Now I know why simplicity and efficiency are best. And I only had to go back to one hundred years or so to find the source.

No comments:

Post a Comment