Thursday, January 12, 2012

Murder your darlings…but display your masterpieces


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.
~ Arthur Quiller-Couch (from On Style)


Say I’m making tabouli salad, a Mediterranean dish known for its tang and bite.  But I have these sweet cherries that would look so festive amid the green parsley, so I toss these into the mix. Tell me, how would that taste?  Sweet, you may say. But I’m making tabouli – zesty and pungent!    

The ingredients call for scallions, parsley, lemon…tart stuff.  So?  Why can’t you use maraschino cherries instead of bitter tomatoes?  Well, you can, but they don’t belong in the recipe. They’re as out of place as a poem in a medical journal.  Besides, no one would eat it.

So what to do with the scrumptious cherries?  I know!  I’ll save them for the Sunshine Fruit Salad!  Sounds like a plan.

A mentee of mine says that cherries on tabouli would be as out of place as Lady Gaga at a Baptist church.  Now you fill in the blank. 

Sweet cherries on tabouli are as out of place as ______________

I’m pleased to introduce Cyna W., a young protégé. Check out a writing tip below from this 15-year-old aspirant. Don’t forget to encourage her to keep writing, and if you have any advice for her please leave it in 
the comments.

***

Coco Channel once advised, “Before you leave for the day, take one thing off.”  Coco Channel should have been a writer.

Writing a story is something like designing an outfit. Have you ever seen a person walking down the street who is entirely over accessorized? That, my friend, is what fashionistas call a hot mess.
 
Stories can be over accessorized also. “Her elegantly coifed up-do swirled into disarray as she danced,” is a lovely sentence, but “Her fancy hairdo came undone while she danced” works too, and has fewer verbal necklaces than the first sentence.

Think of sentences as buying paintings at an art show. Yes, they’re all lovely, but buying too many will leave your walls cluttered.

Turn off your” Ohhhh, shiny!!!” reflex and carefully analyze each one, to see if you have a place for that perfect verbal portrait. If you do happen to find the Mona Lisa of all sentences, put it in a place of honor, cutting away any frills that might distract from your masterpiece. 

Remember, you don’t want the frame to be worth more than the painting!

48 comments:

  1. Great encouragement! I've heard that quote from Coco Channel before, but never thought of it in terms of writing.

    Many blessings!

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  2. Wow! I am SO impressed with your student's astute assessment of what writing should be. I know I've learned much from this talented woman named Debra who showed me how my writing could truly come alive. :)
    Inspiring post!
    Blessings, my friend!

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  3. Excellent advice and a great new perspective on an old quote.

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  4. Cyna I'm very impressed, not only can you appreciate the sentiment of your words but I think you should bottle it and sell it, you would make a mint :)

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  5. @ Lisa – I’ve never heard anything from Choco Channel ;-) But this writing application works, aye?

    @ Martha – My dear sweet prolific inspiring girlfriend… thank you! About Cyna… this is one rare bird :-) One rare bird.

    @ Yes it is a great new perspective on an old quote from a creative young gal.

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  6. Sarah Jane – Cyna is on her way back over to my house after driver’s ed. I’ll be sure she gets your encouraging message as soon as she walks through the door!

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  7. @sarah jane This is cyna,Thanks for the encouraging words. I plan on doing just that;)

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  8. Debra, trust you to pick a winner! Such wisdom from someone so young! I loved it! I read the Coco Channel quote and literally clapped! I clapped because many aspiring writers believe that using extremely elevated speech or adorning their writing makes their work fancier and smarter. Well, I recognize a phony when I see it and when I come across a written piece with silly words, I stop reading. I believe writing doesn't have to be pretentious to capture your audience. It has to be interesting, appealing, and more importantly, it has to flow. Fancy words don't make for good writing or good flow. On the contrary, it makes it seem like you're trying too hard. Cyna, I like your style! I really do! And I'm with you one hundred percent, sister! I'm crossing my fingers you'll do another post on Debra's blog! :)

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  9. Bella – Confession time. Once I bought a vocabulary book: How to Build Your Vocabulary in 30 Days. A classic with some BIG WORDS. I remember how proud I was of my newly acquired knowledge, and so I used “truculent” in one of my essays for school, and turned it in to my instructor. She wrote me a note and said something to this effect, “If you don’t use words like ‘truculent’ in your every day conversation, then don’t use it in your writing. It sounds artificial.” ;-) No more pretentious writing, thank you!

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  10. Well done well done, loved this, a girl with a right mind....

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  11. Debra,I enjoyed the writing tip from Cyna,I believe she will be a success in the writing world,she sure seems to be on the right path ! Blessings Jane

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  12. @ Jan – A right mind, and a ‘write’ mind!

    @ Jane – The right path and the ‘write’ path!

    Girls, I couldn’t resist the homophone ;-)
    Thank you both for the encouragement!

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  13. Love her wittiness and the touch of sarcasm was the piece de resistance! You go Cyna..keep writing...

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  14. Thanks Savira; I'll pass your words right along.
    Sending you traveling mercies! XOXOX

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  15. I can hardly believe that was written by a 15-year-old! Great advice and very well-written. I know grown-ups (one in particular comes to mind) who REALLY need this advice! Where can I see more of Cyna's writing?

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  16. Linda – I know many grownups who need this advice ;-) Why else would I publish it? I’ll be sharing more of her writing here. Also, I’ll include her blog link next time. XOXO

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  17. This is way so beautiful....thanks for introducing us to this young talent whose writing is way too mature for her age.

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  18. Janu - Her writing IS mature for her age. Thanks for the encouraging words!

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  19. I think the mark of a genuinely creative spirit is the ability to think outside the box (fashion or otherwise). To know this early on is a gift. Too many 'verbal necklaces' indeed can strangle. From what I can tell, Cyan, you wear yours with just the right panache.

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  20. Deborah, oh yes indeed; Cyna is an early awakener. ‘Panache.’ I like that word. Thank you for this valuable encouragement. Have a great weekend, my creative friend.

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  21. One book that I always recall while I write that really has influenced me and I would suggest to anyone and was first introduced to it in college was, "Elements of Style" by Strunk and White. A classic! It's main theme "brevity, brevity, brevity"!.

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  22. Jessica – That’s the book I use with my students. Thanks, and have a blessed weekend!

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  23. Great writing from a 15 year old or any age, and excellent advise! Thanks Debra, for introducing us to Cyna.

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  24. Adriene, you’d be surprised at some of the writing Cyna produces. She’s one of the most prolific young authors I’ve seen, and is developing quite the voice, as I’m sure you can already detect.

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  25. You've got a winner in Cyna, Debra. I'll remember 'verbal necklaces' for a long time to come. I do so believe in the KISS principle when I write. The objective is to communicate not to impress!

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  26. Corinne – It’s clear that you abide by the KISS principle in your writing; you’re always succinct and to the point. You got the elements of style DOWN girl! XOXOX

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  27. Great advice fro one so young. Thank you Cyna. I hope I dont indulge in "verbal necklace"

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  28. Rimly, not to worry, you don't wear too many verbal necklaces ;-)

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  29. What a fabulous piece of advice. Of course, us writers need reminding of getting over caffeinated in our prose. Stephen King said he trims 10 % from everything he writes, which I do know along with those nasty thats and thens. King's comment is imprinted on my brain, as will this post be. Wonderful reminder for us writers .. Debra, it must be in the genes.

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  30. Brenda, if trimming 10% from everything he writes is good enough for Stephen King, it should be good enough for all of us, aye? Think how much he has to trim, that prolific genius! And now this comment from you is imprinted on my brain ;-) Thank you!

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  31. Cyna, You not only give great advice, you take it to heart as well. You have great talent. Each sentence is a lovely piece of work. Nurture it!!

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    1. Lynne – thank you for your most encouraging words. By the way, how is your book coming along? Let us keep each other encouraged ;-)

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  32. followed you from Inspire me Monday blog hop which I just found today

    God Bless

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    1. Thanks Leroy! I went over and followed both your sites ;-) Looking forward to more stories. You are a story writer?

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  33. Great statement- and I wish it weren't true as often...
    Make sure that your frame is not worth more than the art it contains...

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    1. Roy, it’s all too often true ;-( That’s why the advice is priceless!

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  34. You've found true talent in Cyna, her writing seems to flow effortlessly. She is a wise young lady, and her writing is beautiful. Keep up the great work, loved to see more of her writing.

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    1. Debbie, so kind of you to offer this encouragement. I hope you are doing well these days. XOXOX

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  35. Wow, just lovely writing from Cyna. She has an obvious gift we should all aspire to. And I think that I should sit at your feet as well if that is the kind of writing you help to churn out. Thank you for following me.

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    1. Thank you Shelly! It appears that you’re already sitting at the feet that matter most. It’s my pleasure to read your words.

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  36. Wisdom to write by, though I admit to being a bit of a verbal necklace writer (and lover). Sometimes I get so tangled up and enamored by my own lovely words, I forget what I've set out to write ;)

    http://cathykozak.com

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    1. Cathy – I was a serial killer in my novel. From that process I learned to kill those darlings that wouldn’t work. But. I still love those necklaces and I too get tangled up in my own. I can tell from your writing (which I’m about to go read right now) that descriptive language is your forte. And I get so caught up in your jewelry that I have to go back and reread the whole context again. Each phrase is like a poem and refuses the cursory glance.

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  37. Hmmm...I think I may have a different take on this. I think it might be good to write super shine if thats the way it wants to come out. Shine shine shine away. And then..when the shine has been shared to its heart's content...the nice waxy glow will come out on its own more naturally, the writing will sound more authentic. I know for me...I needed a shiny period in my life. When I rushed it, made myself be/write something I wasnt feeling, my writing, well, it just wasnt very good. But when I let myself be where I was, my writing eventually came out just fine, muffins with just the right amount of time in the oven that melted in my happy-to-be-me mouth:)

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  38. Brynne, in considering your writing, I think it tends to be super shiny most of the time. It glows with bright light. And if that’s the way it comes naturally, I say bravo! I thought about last night’s post, how you sat down and produced such masterpiece material seemingly sweat-free. At least that’s how it came across.
    I have a hard time writing what I’m not feeling :-( So contrived and mechanical. But when those ooooh shiny! moments come, I’m just surprised with joy.

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  39. Reposting Debra :)

    This is a very sound advice Cyna. While other writers tend to impress their readers using superfluous words others would use ordinary conversations in everyday life. I'll read both but would appreciate the latter as it comes closer to my heart and experiences.

    You've made your point clear and concise. Very very good

    January 12, 2012 1:13 PM

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    1. Thank you my dear friend, Melissa!

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  40. Very nice info and straight to the point. I am not sure if this is really the best place to ask but do you folks have any thoughts on where to employ some professional writers? Thx :)
    Cheval Floor Mirror In Red Coffee Finish Freestanding

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  41. I tend to ramble and stray all over the place on these two thoughts. With recipes, I rarely follow them to the letter. I'll read something, or see an idea on TV, and then I'll put my own spin on it. Baking is a bit more tricky, as that's chemistry w/ all the specific measurements, but I do fiddle with the flavors. Some of my most requested dishes are ones that I've ad libbed, and for me, that's the fun of it!

    With writing, I tend to write and then walk away. If I don't, I'm way too self-critical and I end up feeling that what I've just written is pure garbage. Taking time away, then coming back to read through it again is my strongest tool. Sometimes editing is required, but usually...and happily, not a great deal.

    I really hope you put the cherries in the tabouleh! :)

    - Dawnie

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