We all know the writing dictum, “kill your darlings.” But I recently learned that the pithy phrase didn’t really originate with Faulkner. According to Melysa Martinez over at Kill Your Darlings ATL,
“The expression actually comes from British author Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. Born in 1863, the poet/novelist/critic is most famous for publishing the “Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250 – 1900″ and “The Sleeping Beauty and other Fairy Tales from the Old French.” . . . Couch argues that “style” is something which “is not—can never be—extraneous ornament.” In an effort to stay on course, he created a practical rule to follow: ‘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.’”
Now, the next time you’re playing in Quiz Night at your local bar, you’ll know the correct answer to who originated the phrase. The following is a bit that I had to cut from “The Rule of Three.” It didn’t fit, but I like it too much to let it go. Lucky for me, I can share my darlings here, and lay them to rest.
The book store had a huge display window that held a miniature town. Every little store and house and church glowed with light. The roofs were frosted with snow, thick globs like the buttercream icing on the cupcakes at the bakery on Orange Street. Trees with long naked branches reached out over the buildings, each of which wore a red-bowed wreath.A banner above the town read, “Christmas in August.”
The Pretty Penny Sister’s Lace Shop, a grey stone cottage with green shutters, was next to Thom Thumb’s Butchery, a white and red building whose sign was swinging in the chilly breeze. The brick chimney of the Eau de Beaute´ perfume shop puffed curls of white cotton smoke. Carolers stood on the steps of the bank, leaning against the ropes of evergreen threaded through its black iron railings.
Girls in bright big-skirted dresses warmed their hands in muffs as they skated across a pond of glass. Boys hid behind the perfectly cone-shaped pines at the edges of the pond, throwing snowballs at the skaters. A bunch of kids were building a snow castle, watched over by a snowman with a coal-toothed smile. In the center of the village square was a tall tree buried in ribbons and tinsel and popcorn garlands, glass balls and little twinkling stars. A gold angel spread her wings at the top of the tree. A father carried a sack of presents on his back across the icy stones of the square, heading towards a thatched house where a mother with gold hair read by the fire to her children. Sticking out of the top of his sack were tiny copies of books I almost remembered—The Night before Christmas, The Polar Express.
At the mansion on the hill they were having a Christmas party. A long line of carriages pulled by white horses waited in front of the house. A girl stepped out of one, helped by a young man in a fancy suit. She wore a white hat over her black curls and carried a tiny dog. Above the village hung a regular-sized paper sign that said “Happy Holidays,” in glittery silver letters. I heard a little bell, and looked closer at the village, searching for a bell swinging in a church steeple or a caroler ringing a hand bell.
But the bell hadn’t sounded in the little town. It was the door to the bookstore swinging open, the sleigh bells on the handle still echoing as a customer exited. I caught the handle and slipped inside.