That's a Beautiful Sentence. Cut it. | NY Book Editors
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That's a Beautiful Sentence. Cut it.

Depositphotos 204292098 s 2019

As Georges Simenon edited his work, if he came across an especially beautiful sentence, he did something very odd. He cut it. “Every time I find such a thing in one of my novels it is to be cut,” he said in a Paris Review interview.

Beautiful sentences are there to have an effect, to draw attention to themselves. Their style overwhelms the content. When you come across a gorgeous sentence in a paragraph, it stands out and disrupts the even tone of your narrative. It’s as if you had paved a road and a rose bush sprang up in the center. It’s beautiful, but it doesn’t belong there and it impedes the flow of the narrative.

An excerpt from the Simenon interview:


Just one piece of general advice from a writer has been very useful to me. It was from Colette. I was writing short stories for Le Matin, and Colette was literary editor at that time. I remember I gave her two short stories and she returned them and I tried again and tried again. Finally she said, “Look, it is too literary, always too literary.” So I followed her advice. It’s what I do when I write, the main job when I rewrite.


What do you mean by “too literary”? What do you cut out, certain kinds of words?


Adjectives, adverbs, and every word which is there just to make an effect. Every sentence which is there just for the sentence. You know, you have a beautiful sentence—cut it. Every time I find such a thing in one of my novels it is to be cut.


Is that the nature of most of your revision?


Almost all of it.


It’s not revising the plot pattern?


Oh, I never touch anything of that kind. Sometimes I’ve changed the names while writing: a woman will be Helen in the first chapter and Charlotte in the second, you know; so in revising I straighten this out. And then, cut, cut, cut.

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