Removing and Reviving the Darlings

MarilynDavisatTIERSStarred Page By MarilynDavisatTIERS, 12th Apr 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Tips

Although several writers recommend, “Killing your darlings”, do you have some paragraphs, titles, or summaries that you cannot abandon? Learn how to replace your darlings and when you cannot kill them, how to salvage the orphaned darlings.

What Are the Darlings and Why Do These Writers Want Them Gone?

Darlings are those unnecessary words, phrases, paragraphs or even whole chapters of a book that just do not work at this time. “Murder your darlings” was a phrase first coined by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch in 1914, or Chesterton according to George Plimpton, or William Faulkner or Stephen King.

I will not quibble about who said it or when; however, I will note that several famous writers agree with the idea of removing all unnecessary words.


Part of the problem is that writers use unnecessary or imprecise words when they are stuck, when it is easier to use bad modifiers, or when they have to meet a deadline or word count. The other problem is that writers become enamored of some words. These darlings can be the words themselves, or the types of words that do not add value, but the writer likes them.

How to Spot a Darling a Mile Away

In the heading, I have a darling. Writing, “a mile away” is unnecessary. It adds nothing to the statement, sounds trite, and can annoy readers who will understand the message with, “How to Spot a Darling.”

Extra words are sometime amateurish. Many new writers add them thinking that they will clarify a passage. For instance, “You will avoid unnecessary words when writing tightly and succinctly. “ That sentence also has a darling.

• Tightly means: strong, forcefully and compactly
• Succinctly means: briefly or in a few words

Therefore, what I wrote in the initial sentence defeats the purpose when I include those words. What is a better sentence? Use strong words to convey your point.

Purple Prose – Overrun with Darlings

The term Purple Prose was created by the Roman poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus, who compared it to sewing patches of purple cloth onto clothing, as purple dye was highly expensive; therefore, having purple-dyed clothing was a convenient, if not overly tacky, sign of great wealth.

A Cypress Tree Adds Nothing

Flaccus states in Ars Poetica: "If you can realistically render a cypress tree, would you include one when commissioned to paint a sailor in the midst of a shipwreck?"

Purple Prose shows up when your writing is:

Too wordy
• Elaborate, extravagant, fancy, florid, or melodramatic
• Written with words that defocus the reader
• Filled with words that do not add value
• Too trendy, friendly, or sly using the wink/wink/nod/nod approach often enclosed in parenthesis
• Referencing yourself as in, “In my opinion” or “I thought I would write about something different"


Purple Prose tends to read as grammatically disconnected, or qualifies and explains more, however, these types of darlings tend to digress, are added as an afterthought or they just get in the way of the article.

Dark and Stormy Night Is Already Taken

Since 1982, the English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored a contest named after the writer who gave us, “It was a dark and stormy night.” It is the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

Dark and Stormy Nights Just Breed

As if dark and stormy night were not enough purple prose, here is the entire first sentence:

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” — Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)

When Even Snoopy Uses It

If a cliché or purple prose finds its way into a cartoon, like Peanuts, it is bad. However, other trite words show up in the form of adverbs.

Adjectives and Adverbs: When are They Darlings?

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives and other adverbs. Since they have that much power, there are places that adverbs work. However, if modifying the verb, adjective or other adverb weakens the original intent, you have defeated your purpose in strong writing.

The most overused adverbs often end in “ly”. Check each article before it is published using a “search” or “find” to see which of the adverbs you can remove because they weaken the verb or it does not need further definition. This is a list of the most commonly used weak adverbs.

Weak Adverbs

Adjective and adverbs that only add words, not strength or value are a good place to begin when you want to pare down the darlings. (25 words) That sentence is okay, however, the following is better: Take out adjectives and adverbs that do not add strength or value to your article. (15 words)

This means I have removed ten words without changing the meaning and written a stronger sentence.

All the Other Darling Parts of Speech

It is not just adjectives and adverbs that writers use. It is also nouns and weak verbs. Some things better writers avoid are:

Words that are cumbersome or scholarly if you do not usually use them in other writing

People learn your style, voice and vocabulary, and they do not like pretentious, erudite, academic, or studious wording, just for the sake of words.

Flowery, overly vivid, dramatic, flamboyant, or just too wordy sentences

Just Remember: “It was a dark and stormy night…..”

Words that attract attention and disrupt the sentence flow

All of the words in an article should compliment and add to the context of the entire article. Some writers make the mistake of putting in the equivalent of one-liners simply because they are catchy when they do not add worth to the entire article. If you find that you get excited about a particular group of words, or think to yourself, "Wow, I nailed that one", it might be time to see if that is just an ego driven darling. Learn to edit the darlings, revise your article and have a better writing experience.

Orphaned Darlings: I Will Use Them Someday

Darlings are not always about overly wordy passages. They are sometimes great passages without a home; therefore, I call them my orphaned darlings, not to be confused with orphans and widows from typesetting.

There is nothing wrong with the orphaned darlings, in fact, sometimes there is a lot right with them, they just are not complete on their own, or they are two degrees off from the main point of another article.

Each writer has some passages that will work in a future article. Put these orphaned darlings in their own file and review them periodically. Certainly if the first sentence begins with a dark and stormy night, that one may have to go, however, if the writing is tight, you might have the beginnings of your next article just waiting for a home.



For additional articles by Marilyn Davis

Wikinut is a community of writers supporting each other and producing quality articles. It is a good site to build your article portfolio, find advice on writing as well as information on many topics. With International writers, there are varied perspectives on issues, ideas, and interests. I would encourage you to check out Wikinut and see if you cannot find a home for your orphaned darlings.


Credits
Editing, Shipwreck and Peanuts: Wikimedia Commons
Dark and Stormy Night Covers: Peter Thorpe
Weak Adverbs and Parts of Speech: Marilyn Davis

Tags

Editing The Darlings, Kill The Darlings, Leave The Darlings Out Of Your Writing, Removing The Darlings, Reviving The Darlings, Saving The Darlings For Future Writing

Meet the author

author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
A Certified Addiction Recovery Empowerment Specialist, with 25 years of abstinence-based recovery. I write about addictions, recovery, life lessons and general writing tips.

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Comments

author avatar Phyl Campbell
13th Apr 2014 (#)

I don't think I have thought about Ars Poetica in years. I remember it being the favorite of an old pen pal of mine. Another great piece for your grammar blog or book.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
13th Apr 2014 (#)

Good morning, Phyl, somethings remain for a reason. Thanks for the comment. Hope you are well. ~Marilyn

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author avatar Fern Mc Costigan
13th Apr 2014 (#)

I do learn a lot with your posts my dear Marylin, thank you again and again for your one of a kind posts, cheers!

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
13th Apr 2014 (#)

Good morning, Fern, thank you. I do think that they can be helpful to people who want to improve their writing - let's hope so anyway. ~Marilyn

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author avatar Connie McKinney
13th Apr 2014 (#)

Great reminder for all of us, Marilyn. Look, I just did it without even realizing it. Lol All of us is a darling.
Great reminder for everybody, Marilyn.
I always think of the classic advice from Strunk and White: Omit needless words.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
13th Apr 2014 (#)

Good morning, Connie - I still rely on Strunk and White as well. Thanks for mentioning them. Not everyone is familiar and this may serve as a reminder. ~Marilyn

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
13th Apr 2014 (#)

Thought provoking and instructive, thanks Marilyn. We tend to overlook the basics - siva

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
13th Apr 2014 (#)

Good morning, Siva, sometimes we have to take a step back and evaluate our writing from the basics. Thanks for the on-point reminder. ~Marilyn

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author avatar C.D. Moore
13th Apr 2014 (#)

I would agree. Good points to remember when writing prose especially non fiction. But what about poetry?

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author avatar C.D. Moore
13th Apr 2014 (#)

Come to think about it. I wouldn't want to use a darling in poetry either.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
13th Apr 2014 (#)

Good morning, C.D. I do not write poetry; however, I think each writer has to decide if their writing is conveying their message in strong nouns and verbs, or adjectives and adverbs that add value. My perception is that poetry does allow more adjectives and adverbs, but that may just be looking at the writing from the outside. Thanks for the comments and giving me something to think about, C.D. ~Marilyn

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author avatar GV Rama Rao
13th Apr 2014 (#)

Excellent piece about the mechanics of writing. Thanks for sharing. I thought purple prose referred to erotic writing.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
13th Apr 2014 (#)

Good afternoon, GV - since Purple Prose has been with us for so long, it might very well have had a different connotation at some point. Thank you for the comment. ~Marilyn

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
13th Apr 2014 (#)

Hey that set of scribbled notes look as if they have come from the book I am editing right now. To let you know the word that the author of the book I am editing has become enamoured with and he thinks it adds value because it is an action novel is the word "suddenly", yes the action takes sudden shifts but this can be conveyed by other words.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
13th Apr 2014 (#)

Good evening, Peter, you do realize that "suddenly" is on the list of overused and ineffective adverbs :) It is difficult to get people to quit using them....maybe this will be a helpful reminder. Thanks for the comment and another example. ~Marilyn

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author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
14th Apr 2014 (#)

I love the dark and stormy night references, every writer was, at one time, introduced to that line.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
14th Apr 2014 (#)

Good evening, Mark, I somehow missed thanking you for moderating and the Star. So that is first. As to your comment, unfortunately, some writers have continued the relationship with dark and stormy night verbiage :) I always liked the Peanuts addition of "Once upon a time...." Thanks for the comment. ~Marilyn

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author avatar wonder
14th Apr 2014 (#)

Very interesting and incisive,to build good language skills and cleanse the dust between words.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
14th Apr 2014 (#)

Good morning, Wonder, I like that idea of the dust between the words - sweeping them out makes sense. Thanks for the additional image. ~Marilyn

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author avatar spirited
15th Apr 2014 (#)

Nicely written instructional piece.

I reserve the judgement whether to follow it exactly though at all times.

At least if we know what is good writing we can decide then whether and when to break the rules.

I for one like to break rules, so I will not always do this in my writing.

I write to raise questions in the reader's mind. I do not necessarily write to give the right answers.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
15th Apr 2014 (#)

Good evening, Spirited - and some rules should be broken sometimes for authenticity and interest. I also break them when it serves a purpose. It's just nice to know the rules and why.
Thanks for the comment. ~Marilyn

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author avatar Stella Mitchell
17th Apr 2014 (#)

I had a friend from Holland who has since died Marilyn , and she was melodramatic and her words were purple on purple ...one of her favourite darlings was OohLa La ! She said it in answer to everything and with such drama she could have won an Oscar , had she been nominated ...but, one day when my son and daughter in law were having a disagreement she waltzed into the room with her usual flair and said those words out loud , and we all laughed so much that it broke the ice and all turned out well .
I was grateful for those familiar ,darlings and therefore have a tendency to overlook others , and if truth be known ...I am as guilty as the next of using quite a few myself , as I am sure everyone has noticed .
Many blessings to you and yours
Happy Easter
Stella ><

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
17th Apr 2014 (#)

Good morning, Stella, what a loving memory of your friend. Thank you for including it. It is rather like Spirited said about some rules need breaking. I have my own favorites and my grammar checker alerts me; sometimes I choose to keep an OhhLaLa in because it is just needed, much like your friend. Thank you for the comment and the personal share. ~Marilyn

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author avatar snerfu
17th Apr 2014 (#)

Hello Ms MarilynDavisatTIERS, I am pleased to see your insight clearly, but to put my words succinctly, there is no getting around words, big or small. Mastering them is the challenge. I look forward to your articles.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
17th Apr 2014 (#)

Good afternoon, Snerfu, what a kind comment, glad the message was clear for you. And you are correct, mastering the words is the challenge for all of us. ~Marilyn

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author avatar Carol
25th Apr 2014 (#)

Thank you Marilyn, very useful tips to help us get better.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
25th Apr 2014 (#)

Good morning, Carol, thank you for the comment. I think we all need helpful tips and I'm glad this one seems useful to you. ~Marilyn

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