The love of language: favorite quotes for writing

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction and Writing Resource' started by JediGaladriel, Aug 2, 2003.

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  1. JediGaladriel

    JediGaladriel Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Sep 3, 1999
    This thread is to collect up that intangible element of "good writing"--pro or fan, SW related or not. It's not so much for discussing the merits of "said" replacements or debating the great adverb question, and it's not for saying, "Isn't this a lovely thought?" Lots of lovely thoughts can be expressed in clunky prose or maudlin poetry (I've done much of both). It's for quoting very brief bits of text that you simply love as a writer. Maybe the sound of a sentence is beautiful, maybe it's a startling metaphoric image. Just things you love for no reason other than great use of language.

    So, the idea is to give a quote (no more than a sentence or two) that really has that "whammy" effect in terms of language, then try to say what it is about it that works for you.


    To start, Stephen King got me to go read T.S. Eliot's poetry just through one line:

    I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

    The line itself is so evocative--it's aggressive and intrusive... you can almost see cold eyes as this "invitation" is issued. And the dust. How is dust an element of fear? What is it fear of? You can think of swirling clouds of dust, of dust in an attic, of dust in a sunbeam. All of it is a symbol of something old, something left behind and left untended. It's decay and desertion. Dust is a haunt, dust is death, dust is the dissolution of form, both in its creation by slow decomposition and its coating effect that dulls corners and edges. Because of the power of that single line, I could feel fear in a handful of dust--a shapeless fear of inevitability and mortality.

    It's not the literality of the line that makes it work, it's the metaphor itself. Why is fear like dust? It's a startling, disturbing image, and it absolutely demands to be considered.

    Not bad for ten words, eh?
  2. sethnakht

    sethnakht Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 14, 2002
    Brilliant thread, although whether my taste is acceptable or not remains to be seen.

    I start with the obvious, for myself--Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway. I push this book onto people but nearly always, their reaction is divided: some love it for its prose, while others, less inclined to savour words, impatient for a quick, easy read, hate it to pieces. I claim to be of the former sort.

    To me, the very first line of the first chapter is particularly striking. It is a very simple, quite famous sentence--

    Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.

    --ringing of extraordinary strength. For an author to begin a book with the very source of her book's title--the main character's name-- is jarring in itself; but the simplicity and clarity of the sentence are a shock. We know nothing of Mrs Dalloway before opening the book, and yet in this one sentence we understand she must be a woman of some wealth, to have an option of someone else buying her flowers for her, to even have the option of buying a friviolty like flowers. We understand she is a woman on an errand. Somehow, perhaps because of the simplicity, the act of buying flowers has become exceedingly important. It is no longer just an ordinary moment in an ordinary woman's life.

    And then Woolf continues:

    For Lucy had her work cut out for her. The doors would be taken off their hinges; Rumplemayer's men were coming. And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning--fresh as if issued to children on a beach.

    What a lark! What a plunge!

    The vivid impression given by these paragraphs is astonishing. So far, we have done very little but explore this one woman's goals for the day: to buy flowers and make sure her servant sees to the door being replaced. And yet never do the actions seem droll. Morning, and the act of going out into it, are described with joy--How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave, the kiss of a wave... There is suddenly a beauty to the act of walking out a door into a chill morning. This ability of Woolf's to transform the everyday into something so bright it could almost be alive is fantastically exceptional.

    Don't know if I quite fit in with what you were looking for, JG, but at any rate, I look forward to seeing what other people have to offer.
  3. JediGaladriel

    JediGaladriel Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Sep 3, 1999
    Definitely! Great use of voice there.
  4. sethnakht

    sethnakht Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 14, 2002
    I forgot to ask--which poem of Eliot's was that, exactly? I'm very intrigued by that one sentence, and would like to read the poem in its entirety.

    (You said King got you to read Eliot? I'm curious as to whether he used the poem in one of his books, and how.)
  5. CYNICAL21

    CYNICAL21 Jedi Padawan star 4

    Jul 8, 2001
    Bravo, JG - for a marvelous topic. Now - where to begin. I have often claimed that I write because of a lifelong love affair with the English language - and my favorite authors - ALL - seem to share that passion with me.

    So - I'll submit, as my first offering - a snippet from Plato's Republic: "Everything that deceives may be said to enchant."

    How is it, I've always wondered, that such a short, simple, pithy remark can stir the mind to flights of imagination? Isn't that - ultimately - the secret (or not so secret) desire of every writer?

    I also adore his droll observation - from the same source: "No human thing is of serious importance."

  6. JediGaladriel

    JediGaladriel Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Sep 3, 1999
    sethnakht, the poem is "The Waste Land," a long poem about the barrenness of modern life. King used stanzas of it as epigraphs in his novel, The Waste Lands the third in the Dark Tower series, and one of the characters used that line as an epigraph on a paper for school. I like "The Waste Lands," but on the whole, my favorite Eliot poem is "Ash-Wednesday."

    I just picked it up again; I forgot my first irritation when I tried to read it, so fair advice: get an addition with editorial notes. Eliot slips into German, Latin, and Greek without explanation a few times. Nothing to make the poem unreadable if you only speak English, but frustrating if you want a translation.

    I also adore his droll observation - from the same source: "No human thing is of serious importance."

    Very .sig-worthy. :)

    (And by the way, since I'm harping elsewhere on stereotypes, I want to point out that just because we're quoting Eliot, Woolff, and Plato here in the first three posts doesn't mean that you can't quote the pops, too. I'm going to do an all-King post at some point, because frankly, despite the "slumming it" attitude that even his friends among the critics take, I love the way the man uses language. So don't feel obligated to stick to the classics, just to good writing that works on an artistic level.)
  7. Lady_Moonbeam

    Lady_Moonbeam Jedi Youngling star 3

    Aug 4, 2002
    Great topic, I even said so out loud as I was thinking about what to write in response. :)

    I usually find that poetry helps me write prose often enough, and (while I'm sure I'll think of other examples later) the first thing that I can think of is the poem "The Unknown Citizen" by W.H. Auden. This was used at the end of a piece I saw, and if you haven't read this poem, it's well-worth your time. It consists of a description of a very average man, who is clearly deceased, and various statistics that prove he was, again, average for his time. It would be a commonplace, even boring, poem, except for the last set of lines that resonated with me long after I read it:

    "Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
    Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard."

    This bittersweet twist at the end serves as a subtle reminder about how little we know about those around us, despite what we may choose to believe. Needless to say, I already have plans to use this quote.

    And, JG, the Dark Tower series made me check out T.S. Eliot's poems, as well, and I'll agree, some are amazing. I also like Sylvia Plath's creepy poems that seem to border on the edge of madness, stepping in and out of reality.
  8. sethnakht

    sethnakht Jedi Youngling star 1

    Dec 14, 2002
    Point well taken, JG--I just stumbled onto the poem myself. Much obliged for the advice. Interestingly, The Waste Lands reminds me somewhat of W.B.Yeats's The Second Coming, another dark poem. In the spirit of this thread I'll quote some of it now:

    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all around it
    Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    These lines have always struck me as particularly grisly--the image of a sphinx, considered by many cultures a guardian of sorts, awakening as an awesome monster, bent on incomprehensible revenge . . . it incites a thrill of fear. There's plenty of symbolism behind all of this, which I won't go into here, but the pure terror inspired by the words alone is noteworthy.

    And then, of course, there are the famous last lines:

    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

    For some reason that always has reminded me of Anakin . . .

    LM: Sylvia Plath--ooh, now I'm reminded of Daddy! Frightful poem, that was.

    And JG, I agree with you about Stephen King. His style is -- I don't know -- refreshing. I absolutely am frightened by his stories (have you read Apt Pupil? Scariest story I read in my life, but it was damn brilliant, too.)
  9. CYNICAL21

    CYNICAL21 Jedi Padawan star 4

    Jul 8, 2001
    Totally agree about King, JG. Although I concede that his popularity is due largely to the scope of his imagination and the bizarre twists he finds in the most ordinary items (a Buick 8 that provides access to some strange alien world - I mean, who else would even think it?) but I believe his greatest gifts are twofold: an affinity with the language that makes the commonplace morph into something extraordinary when transformed by his magic - and a genius, almost unmatched by ANYONE, for exploring and exposing the relationships between the truest, deepest of friends - boys and/or men - from cradle to grave. It might have been displayed at its purest in Stand By Me - but it plays a fundamental role in all his work, including such horror classics as It and Dreamcatcher. And I do adore his tendency to quote classic rock music. Always makes me want to stand up and shout, "Long live the Lizard King!"

    As in: "The days are bright and filled with pain.
    Enclose me in your gentle rain."

  10. Fate

    Fate Jedi Master star 3

    Apr 22, 2003
    I'm always finding myself intrigued by quotes... [face_mischief]

    Here's one of my latest:

    No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main... any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

    It's just... haunting, tragic, and inspiring, all at once. ;)

    Edit: Oh, and Cyn... your signature is another one. [face_love]
  11. Qwi_Xux

    Qwi_Xux Jedi Master star 4

    Oct 5, 2001
    Very interesting. It's amazing when you really think about the affect of words on a person. They can evoke such strong emotions and you can't describe the effect they have on you.

    Something that struck me very deeply when I read it was a quote from The Dragonbone Chair, by Tad Williams. "He who is certain he knows the ending of things when he is only beginning them is either extremely wise or extremely foolish; no matter which is true, he is certainly an unhappy man, for he has put a knife in the heart of wonder." That just digs deep into my very core whenever I read it.
  12. geo3

    geo3 Jedi Master star 4

    Sep 29, 2002
    I'm always delighted and admonished when I am reminded of Shakespeare's perfect remedy for melancholy from "Much Ado About Nothing" -

    Benedick to Beatrice: "Serve God, love me, and mend..."
  13. Cam_Mulonus

    Cam_Mulonus Jedi Master star 4

    Jul 29, 2002
    I am a big fan of villains when I write, so naturally, one of my favorite films is The Wrath of Kahn.

    Khan's quotes of Moby Dick got me to read the actual book. THere is SO much hatred in Ahab. These are quote from TWoK, since I lost my copy of MD.

    To the last, I grapple with thee! From Hell's Heart, I stab at thee! For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee!

    Such strong, yet believable hatred for the nemesis. It is Ahab that inspires me when I write Darth Irae.
  14. Melyanna

    Melyanna Jedi Padawan star 4

    Jul 19, 2001
    One of my favorite quotes, which I find highly amusing in reference to fan fiction, is from Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest: "The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means." ;)
  15. obaona

    obaona Jedi Master star 4

    Jun 18, 2002
    "All that is required for evil to truimph is that good men do nothing." -- Edmund Burke.

    Not only a quote that I personally believe in (and try to live by), but something I think about it when I write Obi-Wan or Luke, because I think that they think in a similar fashion, or would believe/live by it. :)
  16. Shaindl

    Shaindl Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Jun 18, 2002
    Sethnakht already mentioned Woolf and she had an amazing number of great quotes:

    Literature is strewn with the wreckage of those who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others.

    It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

    I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.

    Odd how the creative power at once brings the whole universe to order.

    And of course,

    A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.

    A Room of One's Own is such an incredible book. Run to find it if you haven't read it. The part on Shakespeare's sister is worth the price alone.

  17. JediGaladriel

    JediGaladriel Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Sep 3, 1999
    What is it that you like about the quotes wordwise (as opposed to philosophy-wise)?
  18. Cascadia

    Cascadia Jedi Padawan star 4

    Apr 15, 2002
    This is a lovely idea for a thread, JG. I like reading all these. :) Sometimes I feel like I really love a certain word or phrase, like what you're saying. Here's a quote from a story I've been reading recently - The White Tribunal, by Paula Volsky. I recently stumbled upon her stories and fell in love with her elegant style.

    He thought he smelled the stars, and he thought he tasted time, and he thought he heard black lilies drinking midnight.

    It stretches your imagination and sounds lovely, I think. Especially in the last part where each each word gets more ... I'm not sure how to describe it; it just increases in bizarreness as it goes.
  19. Shaindl

    Shaindl Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Jun 18, 2002
    JG, sorry - I guess I should have answered your question, right? Blame it on Darth Boss who hasn't given me much time to think at all today... :D

    I've always loved the way that Woolf strings words together - there's always something poetic in it. Plus, in doing so, she always made so many pertinent and practical comments; the quotes I listed tell us to listen to our own opinions and instincts, to have confidence and faith in what we write and to keep at it until it's finished. And that last, famous quote has always been a mantra of mine - it just seems eminently practical to me to say make space (both literal and figurative) to do your own thing. :)

  20. Darth_Tim

    Darth_Tim Jedi Master star 4

    Feb 26, 2002
    Since Cyn brought up classic rock:

    The following lines from an Iced Earth song ("Stormrider") inspired the Vader poem I'm currently working the imagery, especially the last two lines.

    As I travel through the astral plains
    I see the break ahead
    As though the sky has burst in flames
    Before the storm I dread
    Lightning breaks across the sky
    Blackish blue at night
    Riders ride on dismal clouds
    I scream at heavens light

    Storming demons travel through the night
    The time is almost here
    I lay in a jacket of steel
    My scream no one hears

    Hmm...good question, JG, I'll have to think about that one.

  21. Fate

    Fate Jedi Master star 3

    Apr 22, 2003
    Here's another really haunting one:

    First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew.

    (Here's the heart-wrencher)

    Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.

    -A poem by Pastor Martin Niemoller, who spent eight and one-half years in a Nazi concentration camp.

    It's just sort of interesting, in a horrible kind of way, how indifferent we can be to the suffering of others, living in our own little bubbles of worry and petty concerns... until the same suffering is heaped upon us, and we're shocked that nobody cares; that the world can go on spinning merrily without us. [face_plain]

    *steps off soapbox*
  22. lordmaul13

    lordmaul13 Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Oct 18, 2000
    Here is two of my favs.

    The first from The Parable of the Old Man and the Young by Wilfred Owen.

    Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

    But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
    And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

    The poem in it's entirety can be found [link=]here[/link]

    I think a tiny piece of the despair Owen felt over the senseless destruction of so many lives in WW I peeks through those so few words. I like that poem because so much is said in so few words, especially the last couple lines.

    And from everyone's favorite story: The Lord of the Rings.

    All shall love me and despair.

    How can one love and yet despair? The contradiction is what I like. If Galadriel had taken the ring all would have loved her but it would have been a meaningless, forced love imposed by an outside will. It wouldn't have been real.

  23. Darth_Leia_6669

    Darth_Leia_6669 Jedi Padawan star 4

    Apr 26, 2003
    Excellant topic! I decided to throw out my absolute favorite line ever. I'll be 80 with Alheizmers (sp?) and I'll remember this line.

    Death makes angels of us all and gives us wings where we had shoulders smooth as raven's claws.
    --Jim Morrison, Feast of Friends.

    This line always makes me think that there's something beautiful waiting for us once we cross from this world into the unknown of death. Not that I'm wanting to find out first hand anytime soon, but it gives me comfort listening to this poem when I'm grieving for a loved one.

    Hey Cyn- Crystal ship is my 2nd favorite Door's song. That song is simply beautiful! What book did King quote it in?

    Also, I wanted to ask, is this only for quotes from literature, or can we use songs as well? I don't read that much anymore, and most of my favorite quotes from either songs, of anime that I watch. Are these acceptable as well?

  24. ivylore2

    ivylore2 Jedi Youngling star 2

    Nov 5, 2001
    Ooooh!!!!! Wonderful topic!

    I confess to being obsessed with words, copying them down for fear I'll lose them. I hoard them in notebooks. I have scraps of paper which contain bits of editorials I find reading the morning paper.They have their own file on my harddrive. (No laughing! Or, not too much laughing!)

    KSR? ?They would go mad, a hundred people confined in tanks and sent to a poisonous, cold dead planet, a place to which winter in Antarctica was like paradise. ? A prison universe, like the inside of your head when your eyes are closed??

    I love the notion of horror existing in our minds more than in reality. This last sentence screams quietly, and it is one of the few quotes that evokes Star Wars; to me it is Han Solo in carbonite.

    Again, KSR. ?No one lives in direct contact either with truth or with reality??

    How profound yet utterly simple. We are only interpreters; there is no purity in interpretation, no absolutes.

    John Irving It seemed to Homer Wells that there had been so much waiting and seeing to his life, and now there was something else to wait and see about.

    This line made me love Homer. That's all I can say.

    Joyce Carol Oates might be overly descriptive at times, but I can wallow in her beautiful writing happily. Her detail is so rich in her short stories that I can spend an hour pouring over ten pages. (Sorry if this is long. It wouldn't do it justice to cut it.)

    I can remember what led to the blackness and what followed after it- not clearly, but to a degree, as, waking vague and stunned from a powerful dream, we retain shreds of the dream though we remain incapable of making them coalesce into a whole; nor can we "see" them as we'd seen them during the dream. So I can summon back a memory of the black rectangle and I can superimpose depth upon it - for it could not be flat, like a canvas - but I have to admit defeat, I can't "see" anything inside it. And this black retangle is at the center of that Sunday in July 1969, and at the center of my girlhood.


  25. CYNICAL21

    CYNICAL21 Jedi Padawan star 4

    Jul 8, 2001
    JG - wordwise - as opposed to philosophy-wise? I think the only people who are going to know what you're talking about are the ones who had an ongoing, cradle-to-grave love affair with the language - and you can count me in.

    I love the lyrical in language - the assemblage of words and sounds that assume a quality that's almost musical. Lovely poetry does that - and prose with heart - and I'm not putting it very well, but I'm willing to bet that you know what I mean. I adore the romantic poets - and Shelley in particular - for that very special ability - and Spencer and Wordsworth, as well, for being able to paint a vision so vividly with words that it comes alive for the reader. Like an image captured in the reflection in a dewdrop, there's a crystalline purity, an undiluted beauty that steals the breath away. Pablo Neruda, among the moderns, also has that gift - and Dylan Thomas had it - when he chose to use it.

    I also find myself grabbed - and immobilized sometimes - by the aura of strength of certain words and images, stunned by the power of a particularly appropriate metaphor.

    Later - maybe today, but more likely over the week-end, I'll post a few examples of what I mean. I don't want to risk getting the source wrong, or mangling the phrasing, by depending on my very porous memory. And I DO believe that Master King is one of the very best at creating evocative paragraphs - letting his readers see, through his eyes.

    Gotta run, for now. Later, all.

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