Inspiring lines

Discussion in 'General Writing Discussion' started by HareBrain, Mar 16, 2012.

  1.  
    HareBrain

    HareBrain Lagomorphing Staff Member

    Joined:
    Oct 13, 2008
    Messages:
    5,478
    I don't know if this has been done before, though I know Hex did a one-off a few months ago. I want this to be a thread where we can discuss brilliant lines we've come across in our reading, in particular ones which exhibit unusual and/or skilful word choice or structure -- lines we wish we'd written ourselves, basically. Maybe if we can work out why they're so good (assuming we agree that they are) we can apply some of the lessons ourselves.

    I'll start with one that keeps coming back to me, from The Water Theatre by Lindsay Clarke.

    For me, that line conjures up exactly what is being described with an inspiring precision. There are several reasons it works, I think. Many of the words are short and earthy: log, shift, grate, spark, dark, which works well with something as primitive as a fire. The word "grate" not only shows the physical object, but the noise it implies reinforces the sound of the log shifting. "Quickening" is probably the best thing about it. I always love it when verbs are used inventively; I think it's one thing we as writers should all put more effort into. Quickening implies not only giving life, but speed, perfect for a flurry of sparks.

    "Constellation" is slightly more problematic, only because it sounds a little much when read aloud. But I'll forgive it that because of its suggestion of stars on a cold winter night, which emphasises the fireside feel.

    Finally, although some rhymes can be intrusive in prose, I really like "sparks in the dark".
  2.  
    springs

    springs Juggling life

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2011
    Messages:
    8,386
    That's lovely.

    I love Captain Corelli's Mandolin, there are so many lines in it. But there is a pasage I read again and again - the book falls open at it - which ends with this;

    "The man's mad, and he's a wop, but he's got nightingales in his fingers."

    I've never tried to disect why I like it, but the dialogue is very natural, and it tells us somehing about Corelli. And the nightingales - it's at the end of a scene where it describes how Corelli played the mandolin, so beautifully with sly glissandos, and sonorous middle range notes. And how Correlli was so linked to the mandolin, the music came from him and Antonia (what he calls it) together.

    So to have the beautiful paragraph summed up in one simple word gives the reader a chance to say, yes, that's what I just imagined.

    Plus, it's funny, in a non forced manner.
  3.  
    Hex

    Hex Mod in tooth and claw Staff Member

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2011
    Messages:
    3,352
    It's the first line of Peter Matthiessen's At Play in the Fields of the Lord

    I read it years ago and I've never forgotten the image.

    I find it hard to analyse what I find beautiful about the sentence, but the punctuation (!) is part of it. TJ has talked a couple of times about long sentences needing perfect punctuation and I love this one for the way the commas and the semi-colon make the language unambiguous and also give it a beautiful, lyrical flow.

    I think it's the balance of the sentence, the way the words make a rhythm that really pleases me.

    (well, that was incoherent...)
  4.  
    HareBrain

    HareBrain Lagomorphing Staff Member

    Joined:
    Oct 13, 2008
    Messages:
    5,478
    I think part of its appeal is the contrast between the "wop" insult and the poetic compliment. Contrast like this is often effective. Plus the nightingales bit is quite funny, in an absurd way -- especially if you've got the kind of brain, like mine, that attempts to picture it literally.
  5.  
    springs

    springs Juggling life

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2011
    Messages:
    8,386
    Which maybe raises an interesting question. I considered not posting it cos the term is offensive. But de Bernieres is describing a setting where it is common place, where the Italians are the agressors. The use of it combined with the compliment tells us something of the speaker's character, and their innocence, and as this is just before the horror closes in on them all has a particular pathos.

    Hex, I love that, it reminds me a bit of Lord of the flies, a line about Simon where a little bubble of air escapes as he dies.

    So, of course, I had to spend half an hour hunting through my books to find it, and than another lovely half hour reading scenes from it;

    "The strange, attendant creatures, with their fiery eyes and trailing vapours, busied themselves around his head. The body lifted a fraction of an inch from the sand and a bubble of air escaped from the mouth with a wet plop."

    Nothing fancy, there, just brilliant description, a pinpoint of imagery that Golding does so well.

    I think I'll have to ban myself from this thread, I will get nothing done...
  6.  
    HareBrain

    HareBrain Lagomorphing Staff Member

    Joined:
    Oct 13, 2008
    Messages:
    5,478
    "Wet plop" is a great ending to the sentence. I read some advice once that you should, where possible, structure the sentence so the important word or phrase, or the one with the strongest impact, comes at the end.

    More from The Water Theatre. This describes an Italian mansion:

    Comparing the chandeliers with jellyfish was inspired (though I understand that actually using the word "jellyfish" would have made it seem ridiculous), but it's the genius of the first line that really gets me. Why is that more effective than just saying "The house was silent"? But it is. It works.
  7.  
    Ursa major

    Ursa major Bearly Believable Staff Member

    Joined:
    Aug 7, 2007
    Messages:
    14,243
    I suppose it works because it does not only provide an example of silence, but makes the stillness all encompassing: there's no sound, no movement, no life.
  8.  
    HareBrain

    HareBrain Lagomorphing Staff Member

    Joined:
    Oct 13, 2008
    Messages:
    5,478
    True. It also suggests the house is slightly removed from normal reality, which might have been intentional (and certainly works in the context).
  9.  
    Hex

    Hex Mod in tooth and claw Staff Member

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2011
    Messages:
    3,352
    You're right, Ursa -- it's because a painting is more than just still. That's clever.


    I love this sentence from Hexwood. I love all of Hexwood, actually, and choosing one sentence is a struggle. But I did.

    This is just after Mordion has killed a rabbit that was dying in pain.

    I want to write like this so much. Perhaps sentences like these explain my comma addiction (I know what I like, but not how to use them).
  10.  
    HareBrain

    HareBrain Lagomorphing Staff Member

    Joined:
    Oct 13, 2008
    Messages:
    5,478
    That's very good. The long sentence with all the clauses suggests to me the little movements back and forth to find the right place -- and the end, when it comes, is sharp and precise.

    I also like "long, strong" -- for some reason suggesting Mordion is a larger-than-life character. And the repetition of "just" is timed just right.
  11.  
    TheDustyZebra

    TheDustyZebra Ninja agent Staff Member

    Joined:
    Nov 26, 2009
    Messages:
    3,621
    Although the very best prose, to me, will always be Pat Conroy, I can't think of anything of his at the moment. Two of my other favorites come to mind, from Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It:

    I've always loved the second line of this one, but I left the first line in for context:

  12.  
    HareBrain

    HareBrain Lagomorphing Staff Member

    Joined:
    Oct 13, 2008
    Messages:
    5,478
    Lovely repetition and use of a threesome in the second one, TDZ.

    I noticed that in two examples -- that one and the chandelier -- the writer has used no commas, when many of us would have.
  13.  
    TheDustyZebra

    TheDustyZebra Ninja agent Staff Member

    Joined:
    Nov 26, 2009
    Messages:
    3,621
    Yeah, Norman doesn't seem to be a fan of commas. If I'd been writing that one (and of course, I'd have had to think of it first), it would have had several commas. I think he was running short on them that day. But I read it with commas, regardless. :D
  14.  
    paranoid marvin

    paranoid marvin Run VT Erroll!

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2007
    Messages:
    1,686
    Two of my favourite lines come from one of my favourite novels:


    'If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - for ever.' The imagery in this single line describes an eternity of pain and misery; so much summed up in just 18 words.

    'It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen'. The most intruiging first line from a novel that I have ever read; who on earth would not want to explore further?
  15.  
    springs

    springs Juggling life

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2011
    Messages:
    8,386
    One to emulate PM. I love this, it's not a line as such, but the - there's a techinical term - sentence at the beginning to sum up the book. (and would we could all do it as effectively.

    Then wear the gold hat, it that will move her;
    If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
    Till she cry "Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
    I must have you!"

    It's by Thomas Parke D'invilliers, at the start of Gatsby, and I think it could be a 75 worder on the book....
  16.  
    Abernovo

    Abernovo Accident-prone, allegedly

    Joined:
    Sep 13, 2011
    Messages:
    2,380
    Two good lines from an amazing book, PM. This thread is turning up some good book recommendations.

    My own addition is not the type of thing I would write. However, I'd give my eye teeth* to produce such vivid imagery.
    Angela Carter, The Company of Wolves

    * What exactly are eye teeth by the way?
  17.  
    springs

    springs Juggling life

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2011
    Messages:
    8,386
    I like that one, Aber, but I really like Angela Carter. (one day we really need to raid each other's book shelves....;))

    Eye teeth, as far as I know - write this down I'm answering a techical ish q. and if I'm wrong be gentle - are the little sharp incisors either side of the front teeth. Canines, I think.

    Now, I'm off hunting for something else, but it's really long and I'll email it to you, far too long for this thread... give me 10.

    HB, this thread is the downfall of me, I love it!
  18.  
    Ursa major

    Ursa major Bearly Believable Staff Member

    Joined:
    Aug 7, 2007
    Messages:
    14,243
    Yes, eye teeth are the upper canines, i.e. the canines in the upper jaw. They are not incisors, which are the front teeth beween the canines. Behind the canines are the premolars and then the molars. Depending on the species of mammal, some of these may be absent. (As with many anatomical features, human beings have all four types; we're the jack-of-all-trades mammal, although we do have one very important specialisation.)
  19.  
    Behni

    Behni Juno

    Joined:
    Nov 17, 2010
    Messages:
    21
    I cry whenever I read Under Heaven by G.G. Kay, but the line that gets me first is when Zian says, "I follow a fading dragon over hills and rivers".
  20.  
    Hex

    Hex Mod in tooth and claw Staff Member

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2011
    Messages:
    3,352
    That's lovely, Behni. I like the unexpected combination of 'fading' and 'dragon'. Guy Gavriel Kay always makes me cry (especially Tigana). I haven't worked out yet how he does it and I don't want to spoil the book for myself by over-analysing.

    @Aber -- That's a wonderful piece of writing. re eye teeth -- what Ursa said. They're canines -- the teeth that are especially noticeable on a vampire. They're used for tearing into flesh.

    And because, like springs, I find this thread irresistible, a couple of examples of description. I struggle with description -- writing and reading it. I especially detest reading long passages of it. They make my brain go 'lalala' no matter how brilliantly they're written. Relic of my mis-spent youth.

    Diana Wynne Jones does wonderful light touches of description. Here are two of my favourites from Fire and Hemlock:

    And a description of a sinister, fae pond:

    Last edited: Mar 17, 2012

Share This Page