Cats, dogs and quotations

When you’ve found a good quotation, don’t drop it dead at your reader’s feet like a cat dragging in a mauled bird from the garden and looking up as if to say ‘aren’t I clever?’ No: treat it like a dog with a bone. Scurry off with it, and gnaw and gnaw away until you’ve cracked it open and sucked out all the marrow. Imagine you are writing about Jack Kerouac’s language. You discover that he wrote, ‘Soon I’ll find the right words, they’ll be very simple.’ After introducing this ‘leading American Beat author of the 1950s and 1960s’, you explain that the quotation comes from a collection of complex Buddhist meditations — which leads you to wonder how likely it was that Kerouac would have found ‘very simple’ words to express his thoughts. You might want to explore why Kerouac said that he would find the right words ‘soon’. Indeed, much more could be said, flowing from the one quotation. Your job, with any quotation, is to introduce it accurately, then expose all the juice and goodness hiding within.

James McConnachie
23 May 2018