Last night, okay it was around midnight this morning, I learned two things. The first is that my window is desperately in need of curtains. The second is that my cell phone emits enough light to write by. In fact, that’s how today’s blog got started, by the glow of phone light, which was sometimes rivaled by the lightning outside. Last night was a “dark and stormy night,” which led me to think of all things creepy: ghosts, goblins, vampires (not the Twilight kind) and ants. Seriously… have you ever woken up to ants crawling up your legs.
Let’s start at the beginning: “It was a dark and stormy night.” How many stories really start that way? It’s not really creepy and far from descriptive. Was it windy? Rainy? Lightning? It tells the reader nothing. Furthermore, it’s repetitive. It’s night. Unless you live in the land of the midnight sun night is going to be dark, eventually. Stormy. Storm clouds blot out sunlight, often making noon look like twilight. “Dark” is simply not needed in that sentence.
Try this instead: The wind howled in the rafters as rain pelted the window. That was a far more descriptive sentence. Still not really creepy, but it gets the point across, the wind is “howling” and rain is coming down hard. Okay, so you don’t know its night. Yet. There is a whole paragraph just waiting to be filled with details such as the night, maybe add a lightning bolt or two that lights up the room, making the children dive under the covers. And then a whole story comes to light. It doesn’t even have to be this particular sentence; there are several ways to rewrite those lousy words.
I challenge everyone to write a paragraph starting with “It was a dark and stormy night.” It can be a short short, or an introductory paragraph to a longer work. I really despise this phrase, for the reasons stated above and maybe because it can give me the creeps on a dark and stormy night. Here is mine:
It was a dark and stormy night. His soggy boots squelched in the mud as he made his way to the house on the hill. As the wind picked up, he pulled his coat tight. In the far distance he heard a wolf howl and he quickened his pace. Taking shelter on the battered porch he shook the mud from his boots before he knocked. He raised his fist to bang more thoroughly on the door when light suddenly flooded the porch. He blinked at the young girl who answered the door, “Is your father home?”
I had hoped that using this sentence would make me appreciate it more. It didn’t. To me, it draws away from the emerging story. There are an endless number of ways to replace those seven words that using them seems to be a bit of a waste. But it’s still good practice to just keep writing.