arthur quiller couch

mysteryspotillusions asked:

hi! so they say “kill your darlings”. I was wondering if you have a solution to “all characters are my darlings and I can’t seem to make them do anything wrong or even bad”? somehow even my antagonist turned out nice, and not even in a creepy way :(

In this often misinterpreted bit of writing advice, “darlings” does not refer to characters but to extraneous things in the story. According to Slate, the earliest origin of this quote is from a writer named Arthur Quiller-Couch, who in a 1914 treatise on writing said:

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.” 

In other words, if you find yourself off on a wordy but beautiful tangent, go ahead and write it out, but then get rid of it. Why? Because wordy tangents are like experimenting on a canvas. The end result might be terrible but it’s allowing you to practice your skills, play with new techniques, and potentially discover elements that can be used later on.

“Kill your darlings” has evolved over the years to refer to getting rid of anything extraneous, no matter how much you love it. This can sometimes mean getting rid of unnecessary characters, but it should never be taken to mean that you have to kill characters for the sake of killing them, or make them do things that are wrong or bad just for the sake of drama.

Having said that, I totally get the pickle you’re in. As writers, all of our characters tend to be our “darlings,” even the ones that are supposed to be horrible. That often makes it difficult to do things demanded by the story. When this happens, there are a few things to consider:

1) If the character has changed from what you originally planned, like your villain who turned out not to be a villain, consider whether or not this change might actually work better for the story. Maybe this is an opportunity to write about a villain gone good, or to have a newer, more evil villain emerge. Sometimes, when our characters and plots take unexpected turns, that’s a little auto-pilot inside your head saying, “This will work a lot better.” It’s like a little Jiminy Cricket on our shoulders trying to guide us to a better story.

2) Part of being a writer, though, is learning to understand and do what’s best for the story. If this means re-focusing your character and putting them back on the bad path, then that’s what you’ve got to do. Ultimately, it will just lead to a more complex and interesting character.

3) Being a writer is a little bit like being a god. You’re all-powerful, you bring these people into being and hold their fates in the palm of your hand. It isn’t easy by a long shot, but it will get easier over time. Each time you have to wrangle a character back into your control, the easier it will be to do it the next time. And, in time, you’ll start to get a feel for letting the characters have a little free will without letting them walk all over your story plans. :)

Have a writing question? I’d love to hear from you! Prohibited topics: portrayal of diverse characters, emotions, specialist knowledge questions (medical, etc.), “how to portray/describe,” asking for tropes/cliches; broad, vague, or complicated questions. See master list & main site for more info!


Last month, we made a post featuring some of the work of Arthur Rackham, one of the preeminent British illustrators of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  This month, we’ve decided to feature a few other similarly prolific illustrators from that time period.  These Edmund Dulac illustrations come from Arthur Quiller-Couch’s 1910 edition of The Sleeping Beauty and Other Fairy Tales.  

Reproduced as the final colour plate within the volume of fairy tales, retold by Quiller-Couch, entitled In Powder and Crinoline ( first published in 1913). The drawing is titled ‘Czarina’s Archery ’ within the printed book and accompanies the story ‘The Czarina’s Violet ’.
In his preface to the book, Arthur Quiller-Couch wrote : “ The genius of the young artist who has illustrated this book may be left to speak for itself, as it assuredly will…”
Illustration : Kay Nielsen.
Source: sothebys.

karuvapatta  asked:

Hello! Do you have any tips about editing? Whenever I re-read my work, I fix typos and minor mistakes but I can never bring myself to really *change* something. So the final product is essentially a slightly more polished version of the first draft, and I'm afraid that's a terrible writing habit to have...

The bad news: It is a bad habit to have.

The good news: You’re not alone with this problem.

The better news: It’s a straightforward fix

The issue isn’t a lack of skill, but rather lack of mental preparation.

At work, I teach a course all about editing called, Kill Your Darlings. Long before it was a movie starring Dexter and Harry Potter, it’s a pithy saying writers tossed around. It’s been attributed to some of the most prolific authors of our time, including Faulkner and King, but it’s much older. It was first attributed to a scholar named named Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. It came up in a lecture titled On Style at Cambrige University in 1914. The full quote is:

“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.”

Not just kill, mind you. Murder. First degree, depraved heart murder

Why are they darlings? My theory is because of what Descartes said. Cogito ergo sum. I think, therefore I am. Our writing no matter the genre of from, is an extension of ourselves. The pain is tangible when we start removing those hard won words. Most people aren’t prepared for that when they sit down to edit. 

So, what can you do? Here’s my top tips.

  1. Let it rest. Seriously. You need time away from your work to edit properly. At least 24 hours. 48 hours is better. The bigger the piece, the longer you should wait. If you’re sitting on a novel, a month is generally good.
  2. Give yourself time. If you think it’ll take you a two hours to get through a piece, give yourself four. 
  3. Make it enjoyable. I like making a nice cup of tea and turning on some instrumental music. No lyrics. Lyrics are too distracting for me. Noisli and Coffitivity, are two of my favorites to music.
  4. Read it out loud. Your ear will catch what your eyes will gloss over.
  5. Be ruthless. If you used a red pen, it should look like a murder scene. Don’t like that word anymore? Gone. Is this scene doing nothing but taking up space? Adios. 
  6. Control-F or Command-F in many word processors is a shortcut to find a particular word. Type in some frequently used words and see how many appear in your piece. Consider substitutions. Pro tip: Check the definition in a dictionary so you’re sure of the meaning. Some words may be synonyms, but have slightly different meanings.
  7. Do multiple passes. One pass, focus on structure. Another, making verbs stronger. Another getting your crutch words out of there. Do not try to do it all at once. It’s overwhelming.
  8. Resist the urge to write! You are editing now. Your job is make your piece stronger.

Good luck,


Marjorie and Margaret. Illustration by Arthur Rackham. Arthur Rackham’s Book of Pictures. Intro by Arthur Quiller-Couch. London: William Heinemann (1913).

Rackham was fortunate in obtaining Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. ‘Q’ not only admired Rackham’s work; he also thoroughly understood a child’s instinctive longing for the imaginative and fanciful. 'To this instant, constant, intellectual need of childhood no one in our day,’ he wrote, 'has ministered so bountifully or so whole-heartedly as Mr. Rackham.' 


A few pages from “Cinderella” in The Sleeping Beauty and Other Fairy Tales by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, with illustrations by Edmund Dulac: published by Hodder & Stoughton Ltd. Our copy is one of an inexpensive edition published for Boots UK (then the Boots Pure Drug Company Ltd, Nottingham).

This provenance itself is of interest. From Colin Wilson’s Snobbery with Violence:

The Boots Booklovers’ Library was begun in 1899, at the instigation of the first wife of the manufacturing chemist, Jesse Boot. More than two hundred of the firm’s branches were equipped with library facilities by 1909. In the mid-1930s, when circulating libraries were at the peak of their popularity, there were book sections in four hundred and fifty branch shops. From the beginning, the Boots Library was operated on a “loss leader” principle. Shelves were always at the back of the shop and as subscribers passed through to change their books they became potential customers at the chemists’ counters. The subscription was kept deliberately low. Originally half a guinea a year, it increased only slowly to thirty shillings. The service was being used by between a quarter and a half a million people in the 1930s, despite competition from the new chain libraries, and it has been claimed that the library was buying for its 340 branches one and a quarter million books a year at one period. It was the last nationwide circulating library to succumb to the social and economic changes after the second world war: final closure came in February 1966.

The end-of-term inundation of work, and a stream of days and nights delineated by emotion alone: anxiety and reprieve, frustration and exaltation - and amidst it, like the haunting memory of a dream, I hear whispered that ancient call that Quiller-Couch once spoke of, and I persevere in the eternal hope of finding that low door in the wall that others have found before me…

Know you her secret none can utter?
Hers of the Book, the tripled Crown?
Still on the spire the pigeons flutter;
Still by the gateway flits the gown;
Still on the street, from corbel and gutter,
Faces of stone look down.


Like Arthur Rackham, Kay Nielsen was an illustrator whose works were very popular in the early 20th century, during what’s called the “golden age” of children’s illustration.  His work was often featured in deluxe gift editions filled with numerous, large, full-color illustrations, like this 1923 edition of The Twelve Dancing Princesses and Other Fairy Tales by Arthur Quiller-Couch.