I have a confession: I am a thief.
You caught me. I extract what happens in my life to craft stories. I will gladly describe places I’ve visited and put them my stories, have my characters address problems I have faced (or my friends and family), or base chunks of dialog off real life conversations and one-liners. Of course, I dress those things up, maybe apply some foundation to further the disguise, and add a touch of rouge to make it more dramatic. When that chicanery falls short, though, you have to know where to look to give it that last coat of gloss to finish the whole charade. That’s when I turn to stealing other people’s quotes.
Please do stand upon the shoulders of giants
It’s important to learn how to be a thief if you are a writer. My favorite thing to plunder is quotes. Quotes from books, quotes from TV shows, quotes from historians, activists, philosophers, it’s all fair game. I turn to quotes as a way to flesh out the type of character I have in my mind—one that I’m unable to translate into words. It’s a nice trick to jumpstart the character I want to convey. I’m not talking about plagiarism. I’m talking about taking someone’s else’s idea and dousing it in your own glitter so you get this hybrid of something old and new. Something that’s yours.
Thievery in Action
In one of my short stories, I have a character who criticizes a certain group of people. He asserts that the allure of that group is just a facade when you’re on the outside looking in. If one were to really dig deep, they’d find the ugliness. I was stuck trying to figure out a way for that character to articulate that in a conversation. Until I stumbled upon a quote from Netflix’s The Crown:
“Who wants transparency when you can have magic? Who wants prose when you can have poetry? Pull away the veil and what are you left with? An ordinary young woman of modest ability and little imagination. But wrap her up like this, anoint her with oil, and hey, presto, what do you have? A goddess.”The Duke of Windsor
Even though the duke was talking about one person, Queen Elizabeth II, I could take the gist of what he was saying and apply it to the group of people my character was describing. In the end, here is how I transformed the quote into something that was my own:
“People having a good time?” I ventured.
“Wrong. That’s just what they want you to perceive. There are a select few in this room who wake up in the morning, look themselves dead in the eyes and admit, ‘I am a savage monster.’ No, they’re all living in a made-up construction trying to avoid that truth,” he said. “They’ve created a space to live where if they make the clothes fancy enough, if they laugh just hard enough—make the mirage just tangible enough, then they can live forever in their castles in the sky. They all traded transparency for magic, and you, like your predecessors, will do the same.”
And as the Duke of Windsor said, Presto!
I make it a habit to read random quotes throughout the week. I study the dialog in the stories I’m reading or the shows I’m watching. One day, I know one of those witty, beautiful sentences will help spur me to create something just as good (fingers crossed). So, if you’re in a rut trying to express something, traipse through these sites and start looking for things to steal:
[Photo credit: Hitori Sushi]