Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Before the catchy first line there's (sometimes) an epigraph. I went to the library yesterday and came home with a bag o' books. Some adult, some YA. Each of the adult novels had an epigraph, but not one of the YAs did. I've wondered about this before--why are they used less often in children's literature?

Lest someone launch into a comment about the pomposity of epigraphs, I'll disclose right now that I've got epigraphs in two of my novels (the epigraphs were also used for the titles). The first was in Come in From the Cold, for which I lifted Joni Mitchell lyrics (and earned a place on her official [fan-run] website!) and the second is in Too Big a Storm, for which I used a line from Margaret Wise Brown's wonderful The Sailor Dog.

There is something about epigraphs, of course, that says "In Case you don't get what this is all about, here's a big fat hint."



  1. That's funny, I was just realizing that this book is going to need one. I always admire epigraphs--I feel the author must have jillions of fabulous quotes jiggling around in their brain. I seem to only have memory for Tim Gunn catchphrases and lines from Buffy.

    When You Reach Me has a great one. "The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious"--Albert Einstein.

  2. Though I think:

    "In Case you don't get what this is all about, here' a big fat hint."
    -Marsha Qualey

    would be a fabulous epigraph.

  3. Like Ann, I am pro-epigraph. Writing's all about making connections, and I love it when a book connects to a larger conversation.

    I believe Marsha (goaded by me) referred in an earlier post to the wonderful epigraph from the movie Talladega Nights:

    "America is all about speed. Hot, nasty, bad-ass speed."
    -Eleanor Roosevelt

    Now there's a conversation starter! Or ender.

  4. Indeed. Imagine venerated Eleanor Roosevelt using the word bad-ass. I am quite fascinated about epigraphs. I had one for every chapter of my first novel about the girl climbing Mount Mckinley. Things like "You must do the thing you think you cannot do." ER herself

    My editor Virginia Buckley said, "Claire, too preachy." In the end they all got cut, but they did give me a focus while revising. Frankly, when three are used on same page at the beginning of a novel, I am thinking overload. But a well-placed, well-written one - right on.

  5. And, funnily enough, I might have just found mine.

  6. In spite of my testy comments (moi?), make no mistake: I am pro-epigraph. Christine's point about the epipgraph making connections rings true to this reader--so often I've investigated a writer just because he/she was quoted.

    And that ER quote(ahem)from Talledega Nights--do you suppose she said it to Lorena or Franklin? I bet Doris Kearns Goodwin knows. Maybe it's time to reread No Ordinary Time.

  7. "Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose."

    That could be an epigraph for any number of YA books out there. [And maybe it already is]

  8. Love the Talladega Nights epigraph.

    I just finished Lit, Mary Karr's latest memoir, and she may be the queen of the epigraph. She uses one before every chapter. Often times they were my favorite parts (not that I didn't enjoy Karr's writing, I did, but I liked her first two memoirs better).

    A YA series that I think makes excellent use of epigraphs (and this may make the more literary-minded among you shudder) is Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Every epigraph she uses is so well chosen, and well, made me alternately squee and sigh with delight.

  9. Oh, and one more YA series with terrific epigraphs: the Gemma Doyle books by Libba Bray. The perfect epigraph really does make me happy. :)

  10. My dear husband tells me that "Winning Ways for your Mathematical Plays" (a book about combinatorial game theory for mathematicians) opens with epigraph for each chapter. Chapter 1's is "'Begin at the beginning,' the king said gravely, 'and go on till you come to the end, then stop.'" from Alice in Wonderland.

  11. My problem is, I keep finding quotes that would make great epigraphs and wishing I could write books to go with them. My most recent candidate: "To say, 'The wind is blowing' is funny. The wind must be blowing, otherwise it is not the wind."
    --Thich Nhat Hanh

    So if anyone could lend me a plot/characters/setting to build around that, I'd really appreciate it.