Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, a genius of the English language, once said, ”Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it–wholeheartedly–and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”
Murder my darlings?
I heard this phrase for the first time in a language theory class freshman year of undergrad. We read everything from Cicero’s Ad Herenium to Sister Miriam Joseph’s The Trivium to Umberto Eco’s discourses on semiotics. My head was awash with phantasms and symbols. One day, the teacher passed out Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s On Style, chapter 12 of the book On the Art of Writing.
I rather enjoyed the essay, especially since it dealt with phrases like ‘jargon’ and the need to never use ‘extraneous ornament’ when writing, also known as fluff, waffle, fillers, unnecessary words. While linguistics is fascinating, most people need remedial classes in writing.
I recognize the gargantuan size of the issue, so I will only attempt to strike one nail on the head today. Please, murder your darlings. Kill the unnecessary words. Cut out the fluff. Slice apart the waffles. Bring out the shear’s and mutilate the page in front of your face.
Bring out the big guns. Big scissors. Red Pen.
Sharpen your literary axes.
I want to equip the reader with five steps to begin murdering your writing.
- As much as possible, please, refrain from using the word “it.”
- When using the demonstrative pronouns, “this, that, these, or those,” please, specify the noun they are referencing.
- Check your punctuation! Do you know the five basic comma rules and their variations?
- How strong are your verbs? Make sure you write with powerful and expressive verbs.
- “Brevity is the soul of wit.”Are
there anyunnecessary words in t he bodyyour work?
So, why should you murder your darlings? Edit your work?
These rules are not carved in stone, but they are safeguards against a few horrors of bad writing.
Sloppy writing, bad grammar, poor punctuation take away from your message. They take the focus of the reader from what you are saying and shift the reader’s eyes onto what you have not done well. These issues will undermine your message. These problems will undermine your credibility as an author. Excellent content requires excellent technique.
Do not fix these basic issues? You will end up like most of the people on the interwebs. Or even worse, you will start sounding like Snooki:
What common writing mistakes vex you on the world wide web?