1. SAGMUN
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    SAGMUN Member

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    In defense of 7 words: “It was a dark and stormy night, …”

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by SAGMUN, Nov 20, 2007.

    In defense of 7 words: “It was a dark and stormy night, …”

    Agreed. Bulwer-Lytton should have stopped at “night” Rather than write 52 additional words; that were unnecessary. Style aside, he violated the 14th century philosophical principle of parsimony, Occam’s Razor: One should not go beyond what is necessary to explain anything,

    Agreed: He was given to florid prose.

    BUT, the above statments aren’t reasons for rejecting the precise and evocative, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Madeline L’Engle knew this, She used the words for the opener of her Newbery Award Winner, A Wrinkle in Time. She understood that children are closer to their memories, with all that impies, than adults.

    Are the 7 words part of the stuff that earns a Pulitzer or Nobel? No.

    Does the 7 words evoke a memory of a frightful night hidden beneath bed covers? Yes.

    Does the 7 words set the mood for what’s to come in A Wrinkle in Time? Yes.

    Let’s not blame 7 words for the sins of 52 words.
     
  2. Heather Louise
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    Heather Louise Contributing Member Contributor

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    Errm, what? Although I had to laugh as I think "it was a dark and storym night" is one of the most used openings, second best to "once upon a time". I am always using it if I find myself stuck. And I do think the author can do something with it, in shorter sentences. I think that works better when opening with that line.
    Heather
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If it was night, don't we already expect it to be dark? And can't we be more descriptive than "stormy"?
    or if you really want to simplify:
    Particularly to begin a story, "It was a dark and stormy night" is weak, even standing alone. It has no teeth, no vitality.
     
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  4. SAGMUN
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    SAGMUN Member

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    Cogito you're right about lacking vitality and teeth. But the opening is about creating a mood.

    A night can be dark because of an overcast sky or bright because of a clear sky with a full moon.

    Stormy does raise questions: Wind? Rain? Sleet? Snow?

    L'Engle in Wrinkle in Time weaves through the narrative additional storm discription.

    What would you say about "Call me Ishmael." or "Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary.…"

    Your clean second version is my preference.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i like 'The night was dark and stormy' better, actually... has more punch, imo... ;-)
     
  6. Frost
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    Frost Contributing Member

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    Please no. I'd prefer the first seven words.
     
  7. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    My issue with the sentence is starting with a pronoun with no referrent.

    The night was dark and stormy. might be a marginal improvement, but it is still passive. And, for most of us who live outside the arctic circle, night presupposes darkness.

    Frankly, if I pick up a story and see "It was a dark and stormy night," I'm probably not going to read any farther. The cliche and it being used by Snoopy for all of his works typed atop his dog house, really evokes no mood for me -- only a giggle.

    Just my tuppence,
    Rosalinda
     
  8. tehllas
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    tehllas New Member

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    7 words query

    I can totally see what you mean about not having teeth, but I have to disagree about the use of "dark." I wouldn't say that all nights are dark especially stormy ones. Dark could be describing the lack of stars in the sky, or simply that there was no prevalent lightning in the sky. Usually though, in my experience there aren't too many storms that don't like up the sky. Instead of the sky being lit up by the lightning, it was stormy, but somehow dark as well. Throwing stormy into the mix at all gives me more of a feeling that dark (in this instance) isn't a color or light description, rather a description of mood. Obviously, the writer could be and probably is referring to both the mood of the night and the light itself, but in this case I'd say he's saying that the feeling of the night is a dark one.
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    we'd have to consult the shade [sorry for the pun!] of lord lytton, to know for sure, wouldn't we, t?
     
  10. Edward
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    Edward Active Member

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    I have no problem with the phrase "It was a dark and stormy night.". It being a cliche doesn't preclude it from being good, it is indeed evocative of certain feelings. With only those seven words the reader is given a great deal of information. If for no other reason than the phrase being so widely recognized world wide, it gives a sense of a heavy rain, the moon only slightly peaking through the thick clouds. The rain drowns out all noise but the intermittent thunderclap.

    Albeit, it's better if the next sentence actually describes everything I just did, because otherwise it relies to heavily on the familiar. But then again, maybe I just like it for it's quaint familiarity myself.
     

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