Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Is Your Book Quotable?

Is Your Book Quotable?
By Brad R. Cook

To quote or not to quote, that is the question… It was the best of quotes, it was the worst of quotes… My name is Inigo Montoya. You quoted my father. Prepare to die…

I might be having a little fun, but quotes from books are the gems of writing. I often wonder how the great quotes come about. Do writers craft these while they write, are they the product of a thousand rewrites, or does the universe flow through an authors fingers to unveil the hand of god.

Quotes are what readers remember. Authors spend a hundred thousand words crafting a book, but it is these few, yet perfect words, formed into a beautiful phrase that will linger in a reader’s mind.

Quotes are one parts of a book that brings immortality. Characters, climaxes, twists, and themes will carry on, remembered well past the point that plots and themes have faded from memory. But Quotes define books, define authors, and even time periods.

Quotes can impart universal wisdom, heal the soul from tragedy, capture a moment in time, or make us laugh. Some people horde quotes, others live by them. They are passed around, and recited everywhere, from graduations to casual conversations. Often they are repeated by people who haven’t read the book they came from.

So, is your book quotable? Having written tens of thousands of words, there has to be one or two sentences that define a moment, sum up the book or theme, or are so wonderfully crafted that word hounds will want to devour them. But how do you know?

I can’t tell you how to write a quote. Such greatness is for the hand of god, or the intricate weaving of true wordsmiths. But I can help you find the diamonds in the rough.  

      1 - Look for them while you edit – I still don’t know if anyone types a sentence, sits back, puts their hands behind their head, and says, “That’s it, call the English teachers, I got a new poster quote for them.” I suggest as you edit, look for the phrases that make you say – “Wow, I wrote that?”

      2 - Quotes can come from narration, but often will be found in dialog. The narrator can turn a beautiful phrase, but many quotes come from the voice of a character imparting their wisdom to the others in the scene and the reader.

      3 - Ask your readers what line stuck with them – readers are devourer of words, and have been trained by countless novels to find the gems amongst all the boring words.

Some examples of great quotes

One of my favorites of all time:
“But no living man am I! You look upon a woman.” – Eowyn from The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Shakespeare was a quote god, I’m not sure if his contemporaries were that bad at writing or he was just that good, but there are so many…
“To be or not to be, that is the question.” – Hamlet
"What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet." – Romeo and Juliet
“Love looks not with eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.” – A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Other great quotes from literature:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” —A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

“And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” —The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

"We are not always what we seem, and hardly ever what we dream." –The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” —The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

“Most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution.” —Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

“My dear, I don’t give a damn.” —Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

“There are few people whom I really love and still fewer of whom I think well.” —Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin

"Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing." –To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

“Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” —The Princess Bride by William Goldman

"There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all." –The Picture Of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

I’ll leave you with one of mine, from my novel Iron Horsemen:
“Remember – they’re just machines. Steam and oil may be the blood flowing through their veins, but it’s the driver’s soul that is their heart.” – The Tinkerer from Iron Horsemen by Brad R. Cook

What are some of your favorite quotes from books? Let us know in the comments.

Brad R. Cook, author of the YA steampunk series, The Iron Chronicles. Iron Horsemen - and Iron Zulu -  He currently serves as Historian of St. Louis Writers Guild after three and half years as its President. Learn more at, on Twitter @bradrcook, or on his blog Thoughts from Midnight on tumblr

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