The Temptation of a Great Line

The devil knows what he knows from getting older, and not from being the devil.

No, I didn’t write it, although I wish I had. A Cuban friend said it to me and mentioned her grandmother as the source. But I think a lot of grandmothers had similar admonitions.

Whatever your trouble—money woes? kids? cranky boss? anemic writing life?—this line seems to cover it all.

I’ve wanted to use the line since I first heard it.

But what does a writer do with a great line? Save it for the moment when you need a line that says just this, that experience breeds the kind of wisdom none of us is born with. For the writer, who recognizes the beauty of a line that perfectly sums up a certain kind of situation, it isn’t easy to wait to use it.

But wait you must, because there’s another great line attributed to William Faulkner that every writer should take to heart: kill your darlings. When you fall in love with a phrase, a line, a paragraph, remember that it only works if it works where you place it. If not, kill it, difficult as that is, or it will muck up your work with irrelevancies.

Any great lines haunting you? Comment here and be liberated.

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo credit—nicodoremus1, sxc. Thanks, as well, to G.S. who gave me the line.

This entry was published on October 21, 2011 at 2:42 am. It’s filed under Mechanics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.