Writing: “Why is all the rum gone?”

One of the most desirable attainments I think a writer can achieve is a Line. A phrase or a word that people adopt:

To call someone a scrooge is because of Scrooge. The name became so well-known with miserly behavior and negative attitudes it was adopted into the lexicon of the English language. Dickens was a master “please sir, I want some more” and “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Quoth the raven is another great example. Who doesn’t get a little shiver when they hear that Line? Or a line about “Romeo, wherefor art thou Romeo?”

Movies really ran away with it:

  • “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
  • “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
  • “There’s no place like home.”
  • “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
  • “You can’t handle the truth!”
  • “You had me at hello.”
  • “Run Forest, Run!”
  • “I’ve always liked going South. It feels like walking downhill.”
  • “I see dead people.”
  • “Just keep swimming.”
  • “I am Groot.”

I may have just gone through my Plex collection/friends’ Plex collections and looked at movie titles. If I remembered a good quote (and was confident I remembered it right), I added it. And I can’t speak for anyone else but those memories aren’t just the words. They are inflection, facial expression, and even emotions.

I do understand that people remember emotions. Juliet’s cry for Romeo is memorable because it speaks to that longing that most people have felt at some point. Not necessarily for a specific person. Maybe for an ideal or a personal goal. A longing that clutches your gut. You dream about it. You wake up thinking about it. Plotting for it. Contemplating to what lengths you would be willing to go…

If you’ve never felt that, you haven’t lived. The quote probably passes you by with a confused twitter.

But how are these line made? Let’s just start by letting me say: I don’t have the answer.  I expect a memorable quote in literature is 1000 times harder since movies got made. With movies, a good actor conveys the emotion in their tone of voice and body language. In literature, the author has to create that tone and build that face – without spending so much time building it that that’s all they’ve done.

There is something to be said that the most memorable quotes tend to be short. I can memorize more than three words, but three words is easy. And when tied into emotional recall – short and powerful. It’s like a mental wrecking ball or C4.  Compact and leaves a big ‘ole crater to build its own place in the mind.

In writing, I think it’s important to play on the power of those little words. The little sentences. I was reading an article recently and the sentences were unnecessarily complicated. The writer wanted to sound smarter (in my opinion!) so was using a lot of long sentences of meandering ideas.  It’s not that they “rambled” per say, but it would not be comfortable to read aloud!

I think part of the reason Lines work so well is they feel natural. They feel comfortable in the context and the character. Your mind turns letters into sound and hears the emotion. The reader feels the emotion. And then you just have to grab them with the hook. That’s how writers eat.