1. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Opinions on using an obscure quote to open your novel

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by GingerCoffee, Nov 6, 2014.

    One that people won't likely understand but if they look into it they will.

    This is the quote:
    I know exactly why I'm using it and what it refers to. And hopefully by the end of the book readers will get the symbolism. I posted a thread about the essay so some of you might recognize it.

    It relates to an important theme in the book. I'm not so much looking for, would you or wouldn't you use it. Rather, I'm wondering what people think readers' reactions to a mysterious quote would be.
     
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  2. Lemon flavoured
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    Lemon flavoured Active Member

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    I quite like the idea of using a mysterious quote (either real or fictional) in that way. If nothing else it might make people keep reading to find out what the hell you mean with it.
     
  3. Darkkin
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    Darkkin Reflection of a nobody Contributor

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    If it fits go with it. I love odd sayings and quotes, especially old ones. :agreed:
     
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  4. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    There is nothing wrong with including it, especially if it relates. Some will certainly find it intriguing. However, many readers will have long forgotten the quote at the beginning by the time they reach the end. In addition, I will venture to say that a good number will either skip over it and/or won't give the 'confusing' or 'obscure' quote a second thought.
     
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  5. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sorry, TWErvin2, I disagree...I think that (unless it's hidden on a page of its own) it will function as a "hook"...as in, the reader will keep on longer than he otherwise might, just to find out what it means. But God help you, Mr. Author, if you break the implied contract and it makes no sense even after reading all the way to the end!
     
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  6. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    I, for one, would find it intriguing. Anytime I come across a quote at the beginning of a novel, I wonder why the author has chosen to put it there. I love when I when I reach that point in the story where I think: Ah! That's why. It doesn't much matter whether I recognise the quote or not, it just adds to the mystery.

    Yup... my feelings exactly. I'd feel cheated.
     
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  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    If the quote fits, it fits. However, I do agree with TWErvin2 that most readers will forget about the quote. It doesn't even have to be an obscure quote. I don't think most readers think about or even care about the connection between the quote and the story/novel/chapter (even if that connection is obvious).
     
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  8. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    I like it, and I probably wouldn't forget about it entirely.
    I mean, cannibal llamas; that's soooo cool!

    One of David Wong's book opens with an analogy to Locke's Socks dilemma and Theseus' Ship.
    Also, penis monsters.
    However, what I remember the most about that opening in the quandary rather than the penises.
    So, maybe I'm just the sort of reader who enjoys those things (Not the penises, in this case) and it stuck.
    I'd use it, if I'm making a point or bringing something across, my readers will get it too as I'd be targeting them more than the simple and clueless :3
     
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  9. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I own a book, I can't even remember what it's called, which is split into three sections, and each section has an invented quote. If that can, why can't you?

    Edit: Earth Abides by George R. Stewart, it's a damn good novel actually. I highly recommend it.
     
  10. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've read the original article, so it's hard for me to judge this one in terms of 'would it annoy me in a book' - for me, it was just, 'oh, yeah, interesting article'.

    I would be sure, though, that the quote makes sense in the context of your book, not in the context of the original article. Like, if by the end of the book, you've referred to cannibal camelids, okay. But if you've just shown a bunch of women fighting, or explored the idea of constructed reality vs true reality... readers still aren't going to understand the quotation. And I'm having trouble imaging what your book would be about that it would actually reference the article, so... I'm not sure how it will work.
     
  11. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    I personally would not bother reading a book that starts with a quote that makes no sense thinking the whole book will end up that way for me. However I have seen authors quote lines of well known poetry at the beginning of each chapter to give you a hint about what is to come, that I can enjoy and generally feel that often I gain a new perspective on that bit of poetry.
     
  12. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I think it's a great idea so long as it has something to do with the book where the reader eventually understands it, (even if the readers has to go search online for it)

    I love, love LOVE books with those defining moments that make you - as a reader - stop and think "oh, wow! That's what that means!"
     
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  13. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    It does, but not in the exact way that you are describing. Having read the article you come very close but don't interpret the quote in the context I'm using it. It's not exactly about a "constructed reality vs true reality.." Rather it's about perceptions and descriptions of reality vs true reality, and the acceptance of those misperceptions despite the evidence they are not consistent with reality.

    How would an opening quote be the only thing you know about a book you pick up to read? Wouldn't you know something more about the story than the quote after the dedication?
     
  14. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    But are you actually going to mention llamas? Because otherwise, without reading the article, I'm not sure anyone would be able to draw a connection between the quote and the theme.
     
  15. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Mentioning llamas would be taking the quote much too literally. It's not even literal in the original piece. Think symbolically, not concretely.
     
  16. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, I know that, because I've read the original article. But you can't lift a metaphor from one work and shoehorn it into another without giving the reader enough context to understand the metaphor. So if the OP doesn't mention llamas, the reader will have no idea what the quote is about; if the OP does mention llamas, it'll just be a weird llama reference that makes no sense.

    It's like if someone started a book with a reference to eating Irish babies. The readers who've read (or at least know about) A Modest Proposal might get the reference, but nobody else would. But A Modest Proposal is super-famous and we can reasonably assume that most educated people in the western world know about it, so it might be a reasonable way to start a book. The Women Have Always Fought article is much less known, so people reading the quote will just think it's a random, strange quote about llamas.

    Is the assumption that everyone who reads the book is going to go look up the original article?
     
  17. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Needless to say, I don't agree with that.

    Much as I hated discussions of symbolism in literature when I had to read "The Old Man and the Sea" in high school, I'm purposefully using symbolism now in my own book. For example, the book opens with a symbolic event: an animal is released from a trap only to end up right back in it having not learned from the past, having not adapted. Some people adapt, others dislike change to the degree it threatens to become their downfall.

    Not everyone who reads the book needs to see the symbolism, the story is enough without it. If the reader understands the prevalence of different interpretations of reality in the society, they will either understand the quote or they will have forgotten it. If they don't see the fungible realities, I won't have done my job as the author.
     
  18. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    is called an epigraph. Epigraphs are very normal practice.

    An epigraph never functions as a "hook" for me, but it can subtly enhance my experience of reading the book by implanting a theme in the background of my mind, a theme my mind often wanders back to, a theme that colors my perception of the story.

    The last novel I read with an epigraph has this as its epigraph:

    As the tide washed in, the Dutch Tulip Man faced the ocean:
    "Conjoiner rejoinder poisoner concealer revelator. Look at it, rising up and rising down, taking everything with it."
    "What’s that?" Anna asked.
    "Water," the Dutchman said. "Well, and time."
    — Peter Van Houten, An Imperial Affliction

    Somehow, I think my experience of reading the novel would have been quite different (something would have been missing) without that epigraph. It is extremely hard to identify, but it has something to do with a mental picture of the tide rising and falling on a beach and some concepts my mind associates with that picture. My mind kept wandering back to that when I was reading.
     
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  19. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, symbolism is lovely, but it has to be based in something!

    A trapped animal that's released and then returns to the trap could work because it's easy for a reader to interpret that - they don't need any larger context to understand it. But a random quote about a carnivorous llama isn't something a reader could be expected to interpret if they hadn't read the article.

    I mean, seriously... you think someone could read "“All those cannibal llamas. It makes it really hard for me to write about llamas who aren’t cannibals.” and then read a novel about "perceptions and descriptions of reality vs true reality" and say, 'Oh, I get it, the cannibal llamas are a perception of reality! Even though I've never in my life ever heard anyone mention llama cannibalism, I'm able to decode this phrase and realize that it stands in for 'common misperception'. Sure, that makes sense!'

    Symbolism? Yay. Metaphors that only make sense if the reader has also read and can fully recall a fairly obscure internet article? Boo.
     
  20. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Having the symbolism woven into a quote at the beginning gives the reader the choice whether to ignore it or not. The quote doesn't contain a spoiler or a missing piece of the jigsaw so it's no big loss if it's not there but because it's there, it gives the reader a little extra thing to think about.

    There are two quotes at the beginning of my true life book, both my own quotes and one is "I don't have a family tree, I have a giant redwood."

    Anyone reading just that will think "and, your point is????" but once you've read the book and understand that I have two fathers, a second cousin who married someone who turned out to be my second cousin by marriage, a step daughter, two step-step daughters, two adopted kids that are half brother and sister, one of which has a full brother and half sister and the other of which has a half sister who is also a cousin and two more half brothers on the paternal side .......... then you begin to understand that the quote refers to the fact that a giant redwood has far, far more branches than a normal family tree.
     
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  21. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    @BayView, well, we'll just have to see when the book is finished if the symbolism works:
    All those cannibal llamas (everyone else's distortions of reality)
    makes it hard to write about llamas that aren't cannibals (our own ability to stick with real reality despite the pressure of others' beliefs).​
     
  22. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that can be understood fairly clearly. It's based on your readers' understanding of relative tree sizes, which is more or less common knowledge.

    Yeah, again, I understand that, because I've read the article.

    Is there anyone here who hasn't read the article? Would you have been able to make the interpretation GingerCoffee is making?
     
  23. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I haven't read the article, and my interpretation of that llama quote has nothing at all to do with distortions of reality.
     
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  24. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Or in my distortion of reality, all those llamas with hats who savagely murder humans.
     
  25. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    The idea is not for the book to explain the quote. And people are trying here to judge the quote without reading the book.

    In order to understand the quote's connection to the story one would likely need to read the essay, even after reading the book. But you'd have an idea about the concept, 'what cannibal llamas?'
     

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