Some time ago I came across this quote by John Irving:
“And when you love a book, commit one glorious sentence of it—perhaps your favorite sentence—to memory. That way you won’t forget the language of the story that moved you to tears.”
As I thought about which sentences I would choose, I realized that this could apply to writers as well as to readers. Which of us has not at some point been inspired by a book, and wanted nothing more than to write something equally beautiful? As writers, we should take note of good writing and study what makes it good.
Start a list. Write out your favorite excerpts: the ones that make you cry, or make your heart pound, or fill you with wonder. Examine them; see what makes them beautiful, why they move you. And then commit them to memory, or read the list through every so often. When you study great prose, it will influence your writing.
With that in mind, here are a handful of excerpts that inspire me:
He flung himself out the doorway—and stopped.
Across the street the Roman soldier stood alone under the broiling sun.
Haltingly, Daniel walked, not after Jesus, but across the road, till he stood before the boy. He had to try twice before the words would come. “My sister will get well,” he said, his voice harsh. “The fever has left her.” A quick guttural sound burst from the soldier. Daniel looked away. Who could believe that a Roman—?
“I think she would want to say good-bye to you,” he said.
The soldier waited, not understanding. Daniel looked down the road and caught the white flash of Jesus’ robe. Then he straightened his shoulders.
“Will you come in to our house?” he asked.
The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare
Someone must have burst the membrane over one of the high windows and there had been no leisure to mend it; a long sunbeam slanted through the hole, straight across the hearth, and where the thread of smoke curled upward through the sunspot it was a blue a wild hyacinths. It seemed to Frytha the most perfect thing she had ever seen; unbelievably perfect; the slow curls and eddies like fern fronds made of jewel-blue air; no, like running water, water eddying among stones, like the Sell Beck above the mill dam. Suddenly she was remembering, across the years, little birch-bark long-ships on the Sell Beck, and Ari Knudson’s voice came to her so clearly that he might have been speaking beside her. ‘That is our Shield Ring, our last stronghold; not the barrier fells and the tottermoss between, but something in the hearts of men.’
Odd, that she should remember so clearly something that she had not truly understood at the time….
The Shield Ring, by Rosemary Sutcliff
At exactly the moment when Maureen turned Phantom over to Paul there was the sound of a ringing neigh in the distance. It speared the morning stillness. It seemed to come, not from the sea, but from the Spanish galleon, back across the ages.
Phantom’s ears pricked. She jerked her head in the direction of Assateague Island. Tremblingly she listened. The bugle came again, strong and clear. It brought Grandpa Beebe bounding over the gate, running toward Phantom.
“It’s the Pied Piper!” he yelled. “He’s coming to git the Phantom.”
Paul and Maureen strained their eyes toward the island of Assateague, but all they could see were the white spumes from the billows, and skeins of mist rising from the sea. Then suddenly one of the whitecaps seemed to be flying free. It was the foaming mane of the Pied Piper, racing in with the billows.
Misty of Chincoteague, by Marguerite Henry
Are there any sections or particular sentences in books that have inspired you? Feel free to share your favorites in the comments!
12 thoughts on “A Word on Inspiration”
I love the Bronze Bow, too!
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It’s been a favorite of mine for years, and the writing is so well done. 🙂
This is wonderful, Emily! I never read this quote by Irving, but I love the idea of treasuring and thinking about those beautiful lines in literature and learning from them for our own writing.
Your choice of quotes are wonderful too. I love Rosemary Sutcliff so much, and that quote from “The Shield Ring” was so moving when I read it. I also love “The Bronze Bow”!
Hmm, I think some of my favourite quotes would be from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”, also from Narnia, all the books by Rosemary Sutcliff had some of the most beautiful quotes and from “North and South” and from “To Kill a Mockingbird” and so many other favourites. . . it’s hard to choose!
Here are two that I love though: “On some such nights as this she remembered promising herself to live as brave and noble a life as any heroine she ever read or heard of in romance, a life sans peur et sans reproche; it had seemed to her then that she had only to will, and such a life would be accomplished. And now she had learnt that not only to will, but also to pray, was a necessary condition in the truly heroic. Trusting to herself, she had fallen.” – Elisabeth Gaskell, North and South
“I sometimes think that we stand at sunset,” Eugenus said after a pause. “It amy be that the night will close over us in the end, but I believe that morning will come again. Morning always grows again out of the darkness, though maybe not for the people who saw the sun go down. We are the Lantern Bearers, my friend; for us to keep something burning, to carry what light we can forward into the darkness and the wind.” – Rosemary Sutcliff, The Lantern Bearers
I love your choices! The quote from The Lantern Bearers is another of my favorites. I nearly used some examples from The Lord of the Rings and Narnia, but I ran out of room. To be honest, I had forgotten about To Kill A Mockingbird, but there are some exceptional quotes from that one. 🙂
Thanks for sharing!
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I have to say that one of my greatest inspiring moments is in a story written by The Hero Singer….. so I can’t say it. : )
Lovely blog post, Emily! 🙂
Here are three quotes I thought of:
“You want to dig the red heart out of every month in the year, and hold it pulsing before them.”
~A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter.
Her descriptions. O.o I’d love to write like that.
And then this:
She nodded. “I know; but you’re HELPING it—don’t you see?—and of course you’re glad to help it! And so that makes you the gladdest of any of us, all the time.”
The doctor’s eyes filled with sudden hot tears. The doctor’s life was a singularly lonely one. He had no wife and no home save his two-room office in a boarding house. His profession was very dear to him. Looking now into Pollyanna’s shining eyes, he felt as if a loving hand had suddenly been laid on his head in blessing.
~Pollyanna, by Eleanor H. Porter
And one more:
“He braced himself upright against the cold stones, putting out his will to force the walls back, fighting the evil sense of suffocation. He was doing as he had told Esca to do, thinking Light with all the strength that was in him, so that in his inner eye, the place was full of it: strong, clear light flowing into every cranny. Suddenly he remembered the flood of sunset light in his sleeping-cell at Calleva, that evening when Esca and Cub and Cottia had come to him in his desperate need. He called it up now, like golden water, like a trumpet-call, the Light of Mithras. He hurled it against the darkness, forcing it back—back-back.”
~The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliff
I love that one—although he was pagan, it reminded me of the Jesus as the light and how the light pushes back the darkness.
Thanks for sharing, Carrie-Grace, I love your choices. The excerpt from Pollyanna I especially like. There is something so dear and heartwarming about it. 🙂
I’ve thought about quotes to share, and there are simply too many. But part of a book’s charm for me is always one with vivid lines I want to save. Montgomery, Sutcliff, Stratton-Porter (who had the best descriptions of food I’ve ever tasted…er…read) and Paul Murray Kendall stand out in my mind. Oh yes, and Tolkien. But he’s a given.
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Oh, but Stratton-Porter’s description of the drink Angel makes in Freckles!! Every time I read it I can taste it in my mind. You’ll have to tell me about Paul Murray Kendall’s lines…I’ve not read him yet, so I am curious about what parts strike you. 😉
This is a section from the Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. It’s so simple and sad that I love it. You don’t get quite the right effect taking it out of context, but here it is anyway:
“Then something began to hurt Mowgli inside him, as he had never been hurt in his life before, as he caught his breath and sobbed and the tears ran down his face.
‘What is it? What is it?’ he said. ‘I do not wish to leave the jungle, and I do not know what this is. Am I dying, Bagheera?’
‘No, Little Brother. Those are only tears, such as men use,’ said Bagheera. ‘Now I know thou art a man and a man’s cub no longer. The jungle is shut to thee henceforward. Let them fall Mowgli, for they are only tears.’
So Mowgli sat and cried as though his heart would break; and he had never cried in all his life before.”
I wanted to put the whole of the Jungle Book and the whole of the Second Jungle Book and the whole of the Just So Stories down here. But that being less than practical, I decided not to. 😉
This was a great idea, Emily.
Wow, I love this. I haven’t read all of The Jungle Book, but I specifically remember this part. It’s definitely worthy enough to go on my inspiration list! (As is, like you said, the whole of The Jungle Book, etc.) 😉