Some conversations just stick with you, and often, when the conversation is over and you’ve had a few days to digest it, you think of that thing you should have said. In this case, it was one of those things that needed to be said, but was left better unsaid; unless of course your goal is to hurt feelings.
As with most people, writers seek out those inspiring quotes from those who have been successful in our field. These quotes are often motivating, or enlightening, some of us turn them into words to live by.
“The first draft of anything is ****” – Ernest Hemingway
I love that quote, because regardless of how great you feel about that brain purge, well, Hemingway said it best. I’m pretty sure it was a direct quote, though I have failed in finding the source of the interview and where he put it into print. Too lazy to pursue it any further, especially since this is a well known quote of his…
There is a problem with these quotes. Many times, like a quoted bible verse, the quote is taken out of context and the meaning is twisted and reformed into something that agrees with a belief we already hold. This harkens back to one of my other mantra’s “Research, research, research.”
During the conversation the other day, one of the individuals involved quoted Lewis Carroll. Taken at face value, this quote bothered me. It seemed incomplete, and, well, wrong.
“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop” – Lewis Carroll
This quote has the aura of being profound, so it must be good. Right? The person who used this quote is an aspiring writer, and they strongly believe in those words, because Lewis Carroll said them. If an accomplished writer said those words, they have to be true.
“I could tell you my adventures – beginning from this morning, but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” – Lewis Carroll
Taken at face value, this quote appears to be in conflict of the first quote. But, according to the presentation, this quote is something Lewis Carroll said. Again, if an accomplished writer said those words, they have to be true.
Let’s take a gander of other “quotes” from established authors. Feel free to pass judgment, since that is what we have done with the two quotes from Lewis Carroll.
“You probably mean well, but handing these people food is the worst thing you could do for them.” – Brandon Sanderson
“There are lots of guys out there who write a better prose line than I do and who have a better understanding of what people are really like and what humanity is supposed to mean – hell, I know that.” – Stephen King
“I am a disappointed drudge, sir. I care for no man on earth, and no man on earth cares for me.” – Charles Dickens
“Many that live deserve death.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
“If you’re in trouble, or hurt or need – go to the poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help – the only ones.” – John Steinbeck
Interesting quotes, to say the least. If we take them at face value, as the aspiring writer has taken the Carroll quote, we come to some bothersome conclusions. Sanderson is selfish, King is humble, Dickens had no friends, Tolkien and Steinbeck were cynics.
Every quote on this post has one thing in common: They were pulled from works of fiction. They didn’t come from an interview, nor were they quoted from books about writing, all of them came from works of fiction: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Elantris, Misery, A Tale of Two Cities, The Fellowship of the Ring, and The Grapes of Wrath.
I know. The argument is that the writer’s thoughts are often brought out in their works. So, the first Lewis Carroll quote is how he feels about writing. Okay, I can accept that. As long as you can accept that Brandon Sanderson believes feeding people who can’t feed themselves is the worst thing you can do for them. I can accept your blind devotion to that single quote as long as you hold that same devotion for EVERY phrase in that book.
I write words that would never come out of my mouth. My characters say things that make me cringe. Now, I could be pompous enough to believe I am the only one, but the truth of the matter is; when a character says something in a book, it does not always reflect the author’s beliefs. I find it difficult to believe someone would be naïve enough to think otherwise. But, if you are using a quote from a work of fiction as your mantra on how to write a story, well, that’s a tad bit on the naïve side.
On the other hand, if you just like something a character said and you want to use it as your mantra, then by all means, use it. Just credit the character. Don’t put words in the author’s mouth.
“And I mean it.”
“Anybody want a peanut?”