- Next trainer development cohort 10th - 14th June 2024

Murder Your Darlings

3rd August, 2017

Murder Your Darlings

As we read the menu, a creeping sense of dread overcame us.


Cod with fresh peas, saffron potatoes and a pomegranate and rum sauce


Ribeye steak with hand cut chips, wilted spinach and a raspberry wasabi croquette


Chocolate parfait, with salted caramel sauce and blue cheese ice cream


In the hands of Gordon Ramsay, these weird food combinations might have been surprisingly delectable.


But in the hands of Terry, newly graduated from catering college, in an ‘aspirational’ hotel in rural England, they were, frankly, an abomination.


That extra bit of so-called ‘finesse’ on each dish just killed them. The blue cheese ice cream. The pomegranate and rum sauce. The wasabi croquette.


But you know, we all do it. Especially in our writing. Have YOU ever:


  • shoe-horned in a pun because you thought it was oh-so-clever?


  • added in that extra 300 words ‘for clarification purposes’?


  • deliberately chosen long words or business jargon to sound more impressive?


Well stop. Please. Because you’re not creating a literary feast – you’re spoiling it.


There’s a quote I love, attributed to various writers including William Faulkner. And it’s one you need to remember:


‘Murder Your Darlings’


It advises writes against using personal favourite elements that might not appeal to others. The words or phrases that you may love may in fact be the literary equivalent of blue cheese ice cream, causing your reader to roll their eyes or head for the hills. Instead, remember these three simple tips:


  • Don’t try too hard: simple is always best. Time poor readers will always appreciate clear, easy-to-understand writing far more than over-engineered, flowery pun-fests.


  • Ditch the long words: use, not utilise; plan, not strategise; ask, not enquire. And dump the business jargon (you know who you are Mr Value-Add and Ms. Core Competencies)


  • Edit, edit, edit: Try giving yourself a tight word count to work towards. When you’re finished, try to cut your writing in half again. Even if you don’t quite get there, it will always improve with every edit.


So make sure you’re not adding in unnecessary ingredients in your writing. Trust me, no-one wants a wasabi croquette.


Here’s a handy cheat sheet of shorter alternatives to long words. Please feel free to read it at your earliest convenience. Take a look.

University of Cambridge


- Next trainer development cohort 10th - 14th June 2024

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