Monday, February 9, 2009

Do you read epigraphs?

by Karen Harrington, author Janeology

I have a confession to make: I didn't know the term 'epigraph' until I published my book. When I was working with my editor, I kept referring to it as the 'quote page.' He quickly schooled me on the use and importance of epigraphs. When I told him I had the following quote taped to my desk for years while writing my novel, Janeology, he just said "Yes!"

"In almost every generation, nevertheless, there happened to be some one descendant of the family gifted with a portion of the hard, keen sense, and practical energy, that had so remarkably distinguished the original founder." - Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of Seven Gables

Because the theme of my book centers on the genetic inheritance of multiple generations of one family, this epigraph felt like a gift. And it still thrills me a little to see the name Hawthorne on the opening pages.

And here’s the one I’ve chosen for my next work, Prodigal Son.

He who seeks revenge should dig two graves. – Chinese proverb.

Intriguing, huh? This simple phrase sets the perfect ominous mood for this story.

But I have another confession. Until I had an epigraph of my own, I tended to give them a cursory look in my hurry to get to Chapter One. Now, I linger on the epigraph page. I understand that, through her epigraph, the writer wants you to catch a whiff of what's to come, provoke a question, or set a mood. It has even been suggested that an epigraph is like the appetizer to the great meal that awaits.

What about you? Do you like epigraphs? Do you read them? Skip them? Have a favorite? If you are writing a book, have you chosen an epigraph?

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love epigraphs, for all the reasons you stated and did use them in my first novel. For some reason, I feel it just makes the story that much more personal.