Sunday, December 26, 2010

Little Quotes that Talk Big

I love quotes. In fact, I think Bartlett's Familiar Quotations would be a great book to be stranded on a deserted island long as I had some paper to write with too, that is.

Quotes motivate, inspire and some get ingrained in our psyche and become old, familiar friends. I can turn to them again and again when I feel like I expect too much from my words to even get started. My favorite quote, although not to be found in Bartlett's, is:

"Blah, blah, blah...GOLD!"

I found this one years ago in Joel Saltzman's great little writing craft book If You Can Talk, You Can Write. In that mysterious method of creation of an analogy, the author thought to compare panning for gold to writing, and I think of this little gem often. It "talks big" to me as a perfect analogy for the writer's seemingly tenacious belief that effort will be rewarded -- even when all you seem to find is sand, sand, sand. And when the words do sift out, the writer recognizes the gold following a dry spell of bland words with almost disbelieving, giddy relief.

Then, the process begins again. A writer has to sift through a lot of words to find anything of value, but all we need is a glimmer of the shiny stuff to give hope to keep looking for more.

Another thing, besides being motivational, that I love about quotes is that they can inspire words in a way similar to a writer's prompt. It's like the quote is a nugget of a universal truth that can be taken out of context and used as a building block to something completely different. Often, the author's intended meaning of the complete work is miles apart from a portion of it, but that's okay. There's nothing wrong with saying thanks for the idea and expanding it to our own ideas.

One method for this is when an author uses the quote to preface a chapter. I love this method in stories and I always wonder which came first for the author; the quote or the chapter? I personally find it hard to go back into my story and try to match what I wrote to a quote, but thereverse seems easier; write a chapter loosely around a quote. For instance, in a chapter where the hero begins a deception, I couldn't help but think of the line:

O, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive. - Sir Walter Scott

This was a little quote that talked big to me and I liked the foreshadowing at the beginning of the chapter. The quote set the tone. And in front of Part II of my book, for the same reasons, I put my own words:

And all my heart’s desires
Beat their way into existence
As soon as I took your hand

Yes, it was literal. She did take his hand...and life changed forever. :)
Quotes can do a lot, whether my own words or someone elses. Usually it is hard to pin down which inspiration came first, but I think I have an idea what I'm looking for but don't know it until I see it. Currently, I have a couple of quotes I'm thinking of using for my chapters of "River of Tears." For instance:

You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war.
-- William Randolph Hurst (attributed instructions to artist Frederick Remington in Havana Cuba [March 1898]

To me, this fits for my hero being a photo-journalist and ideas for the plot. Another is:

There are two ways of spreading light; to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. -- Edith Wharton

This one seems to sum up the feeling of inadequacy in my heroine who thinks she is the "mirror." I'm not sure where that quote might go, but it does have a place for the overall theme.

Sometimes I find the words and it's a wonderful feeling. More often I don't. Oh, well. *sigh* I'll keep panning for gold. Or maybe Bartlett's will help me out...

What do you love about quotes? Favorites? Do you have any little quotes that talk big for your characters or your plot?


  1. I like the thought of using quotes for my chapters, but I've never done it. I think I would probably do it after I've written the chapter, because I may not know what the chapter is going to be about first.

    I love books of quotations though. I've used them to come up with titles for my books, and while I'm searching I end up getting lost inside the book. It would be a lovely book to have on a desert island!

    I think the quotes you've picked are lovely ones, and really add to what I know about your story. :)

  2. Donna, I agree that sometimes you might not know what the chapter is going to be about first so a quote would come in later. I think sometimes, because writing has so many layers, the appropriate quote more often comes somehwere in the middle of the process. How's that for a compromise? LOL For instance, when I was naming my scenes for my scene progress chart I could see the theme in the rough draft. Then it's a smaller step for finding the quote that expresses that theme more eloquently. Maybe I'll add a quote column to my chart. :)

    I'm glad you liked the quotes I've picked! :)

  3. This might actually help me figure out my scenes with my NaNo WIP. I kind of have a progression in mind, but maybe the quotes would clarify it even more.

    One of the funniest use of quotes was in a book by Toni McGee Causey, called When A Man Loves A Weapon. Each chapter started out with quotes about the heroine, only they were from current writers, as if they actually knew the character. Very funny.

  4. That does sound funny -- the quote use in the When A Man Loves A Woman book. What an original idea!

    One interesting marketing tip I read in an interview with Debbie Macomber talked about ways be a "value-added author" by giving something extra as a way to keep readers loyal. She included using a quote at the beginning of a chapter, or maps or recipes as examples of being a value-added author. Here's the interview:

  5. Oops, I read that title wrong and changed "Weapon" to "Woman." LOL


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