That question bedevils some writers in their production of words for public consumption. I am often beset by the conundrum in my writing. It’s a sticky question that I’ll lay out for you below. And I’ll do it quickly, no long post today.
There is a school of thought among many authors and editors that the flow of the story is paramount. You must not interrupt that flow with anything flashy, superlative, or daring that brings the reader out of the story. The idea is that you will submerge the reader in the tale so effectively that they will continue reading and lose track of reality.
There is another school, to which I belong, that says that an elegant, witty, snappy, jarring sentence or paragraph is a joy to the serious reader. It is one of those moments when you sit back, put down the book for a moment, and contemplate what an elegant and beautiful thing you have just experienced. You can taste the food, feel the mood, marvel at the clever dialogue, or simply say, “Wow. That guy can really write.”
It is something that I’ve always enjoyed as a reader. Whether it was Len Deighton, Tom Clancy, The Apostle Paul, or Lee Child, I love it when the author has gifted me with an outstanding piece of prose. Something so shatteringly clever or beautiful that I want to write it down and repeat it out loud a week from now.
Great movie dialogue is similar. It pulls you out of the story for a moment and makes you laugh or weep. It makes you consider your own life and how that sentence on the screen reflects what you know. I recently watched an old war movie from the 1940s. It wasn’t a big thinker of a movie in any way. But a couple of bits of dialogue keep running through my head because it is just how I would have loved to express the thought. One I remember is a scene where an older woman is talking to an older sailor at a USO dance. I will paraphrase because I may have dropped a word in her dialogue.
“I understand you recently got a raise?”
“Yes, I did.”
“How will you spend the money?”
“Oh, some on women, some on beer, the rest foolishly.”
That elegant, wonderful sentence made the movie for me. Is it wrong to want to gift a reader with something similar in one of my books?
What is the most memorable sentence you’ve ever read in a book or heard in a movie? And, more importantly, why do you remember it?