Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Tiny Note on Style

Because it's Thanksgiving week - and I have a great, great deal to be thankful for, and not enough time at the moment to go there - I have only a small post but I hope an interesting one.

One of the sweet catch-phrases that I began to hear repeated over and over during my explorations of the writing craft, especially once I started my studies at Vermont College of Fine Arts, is "kill your darlings." Meaning, "get rid of what you love the most; it's likely to be precious overblown baloney-oil."

Now I'm reading Stephen King's brilliant On Writing (more on that another time) and he quotes Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (correctly) to "murder your darlings." Quiller-Couch - who went by the pen-name "Q" (I love this, it brings to mind Bond and am wondering if I want to be known as "F"...but on second thought, no) - created this memorable aphorism in a series of lectures delivered in 1913-14 and later published under the title On The Art of Writing. Q says:

To begin with, let me plead that you have been told of one or two things which Style is not; which have little or nothing to do with Style, though sometimes vulgarly mistaken for it. Style, for example, 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.’

This then is Style. As technically manifested in Literature it is the power to touch with ease, grace, precision, any note in the gamut of human thought or emotion.

There you have it. Ease, grace, and precision. Darlings, begone.

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