Monday, April 20, 2009

Mentor Monday: Murder Your Darlings

I didn't have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.

--Mark Twain

When I was first learning my craft, I wasn't fond of following assigned word counts. It was important to tell my story in my way. That included using as many words as I needed.

It wasn't long afterward that I learned that less is actually more – much more.

As Twain alluded to, it's very, very easy to write something long. To write tight you need to pare your words so each earns its place. This helps eliminate redundancy. Say it perfectly one time, you don't need to say it again.

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch suggested you 'murder your darlings'. I don't necessarily advocate that – you might wipe out something really good. But, sometimes there are small edits you can make that distill your writing into something tight and highly readable.

This is Quiller-Couch.

Some suggest cutting your manuscript by 10%. That means if you have a thousand words, cut 100 of them. Impossible? Perhaps, but try it anyway.

This cutting is the part I especially like – at this point, I know I'm almost done. It's a challenge to see if I can do away with the words not earning their place in my prose.

Case in point: this article started out at 540 words, but with some judicious editing, I've gotten it down to 275.

I'd make it even shorter, but don't have time.

For more suggestions on writing tight and other writing tips, type in Mentor Monday in the search box at the top of this blog.

Or go here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"A hundred times consider what you've said,
Polish, re-polish, every colour lay,
And sometimes add, but oftener take away..."

John Dryden, First Poet Laureate