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What Makes Something a Good Quote?

Part of what I love about Goodreads is their bank of quotations. Some are what authors have said and others are actual novel lines. What I find amazing is that most of these quotes are pretty good, even though they are taken out of context. I didn’t really understand how difficult this is until I tried to find good quotes to pull from my own books. 

It’s hard to grab a line or two from a book with over 300 pages and make it stand on its own. When I first tried to pull quotes, I thought about how great they were. So emotional. Such impact. Then, a few hours later, I re-read the quotes and wondered why I pulled them in the first place. Then I remembered. It wasn’t the quote. It was the set up. I think books are like that. I don’t fall in love with a character/story because of one thing. I fall in love because of the entire picture.  For a quote to be good, it not only has to be insightful and eloquent, but it also has to be so without any background from the novel. That seems like a tough task considering I lived and breathed my novels for a few years at a time. 

Another thing that makes pulling quotes difficult is that what speaks to one person may not speak to another. I actually find this a challenge when selecting my daily quotes for my Twitter and Facebook feeds. Sometimes I find very few “likes” on quotes that I thought were brilliant. It all depends on the background we bring to the quote. On that same note, I think it also depends on our mood at the time of reading it. We might be going through something at that moment that appeals to us more than if we read it at another time. 

I was trying to think of the things that make a quote good. I came up with three characteristics that I need.

1. It needs to stand on its own. Some of the best quotes I have tweeted are from novels I have never read. Yet, even without knowing the context, I still loved the idea behind it. However, if a quote does speak to the novel, it has to directly correspond to a well-known scene: an example being, “Frankly, my dear. I don’t give a damn.”

2. It needs to speak to something outside of the novel. I typically don’t highlight things in novels. But, the ones that catch me are lines that are insightful. They tell me something philosophical about the world or human nature. I love those quotes. Although, I have been known to love quotes that describe common things in a different way.

3. It needs to be short. Sometimes I’ll find paragraphs upon paragraphs in Goodreads. My attention span continues to get shorter and shorter. I don’t want a whole book or a whole scene. I want a line, at most three. 

I am curious. What attributes do you look for? What characteristics cause you to highlight lines in the novels you read?