Beginning-of-Chapter Quotes: Trite or Awesome?

I like quotes. Snippets of life, perfectly succinct. Maybe that’s part of the reason I love journalism, for the vital role quotes play in my stories.

But I’m torn over whether to use quotes in my memoir. Not in the actual narrative — Of course dialogue is essential to my book. I mean the kind that appear before the start of each chapter, quotes that demonstrate the writer’s frame of mind or something important about the character or setting.

Since I love quotes, it seems natural I’d take this route. But it seems kind of… trite. Overused. Old-school.

What do you think? Do beginning-of-chapter quotes add to the book, or are they overused?

Feel free to leave a comment, or participate in this poll, or both!

16 Responses

  1. I think if you can find the perfect quote, go for it. But then again, I use quotes at the beginning of each blog I write so I’m probably a bit biased on the subject.

  2. I continue to enjoy although at times I’m baffled why folks put them in. They also seem to spur my own thinking when I’m writing.

  3. I love them, myself. I think they would be cool to have in a memoir.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  4. I have a quote notebook where I collect the ones I like so you can guess where I fall on this!

  5. Looks like as writers we like including them… But do READERS like them? That’s more important.

  6. I was JUST thinking about this exact thing late last night. I LOVE quotes, and I LOVE when authors use them like that. They’re especially great if you have to really think–why did he/she use that particular quote??

  7. As a writer, I never use them. As a reader, I love them. That’s odd, isn’t it?

  8. Cool poll gadget, Alexis! I voted sometimes – has to be really good stuff for me to like it, and it CAN be overdone and not really spectacularly poignant and cleverly tied into the chapter content.

    Hey I’m guest hosting Marv’s blog today and would love your input on a little literary tag game thingy I got goin’ on. Fun. 🙂

    The Old Silly’s Alter Ego

  9. Meant to say “IF” not spectacularly …

    The Old Silly’s Alter Ego

  10. I like them when they are well grounded and impart something important to the story, and done so with some subtly. I think they are used most often in prescriptive non-fiction (I’ve used them myself).

    However, I don’t like them at the beginning of chapters in memoir because it takes me out of the story. I want to remain in the state of suspension of belief. Many of my favorite memoirs use them though in the very beginning of the book and I like that very much.

  11. I could go either way, but I also think Lindsey has a good point. Are you thinking of using famous quotes? If they are all ones we’ve heard and heard again, I think I’d leave them out.

  12. I think you have your own answer re: beginning-of-chapter quotes.

    Reason #1 – You mention their usefulness to “demonstrate the writer’s frame of mind or something important about the character or setting”

    Reason #2 – you wrote “Since I love quotes, it seems natural I’d take this route.”

    If readers don’t like quotes, they won’t read them anyway. They’ll just skip your chapter titles and the epigraphs/quotes. Let them decide.

    Listen to your heart; forget about a poll. It’s your book; therefore, it should speak of, from, and for YOU!

    Keep writing!

    • Thanks Debra — You make a good point. Of course this is my book! But I haven’t made a decision about this. I’m still in the idea stage. I’ll let you know what I decide!

  13. I think quotes can work if they’re clearly relevant to the content that follows. If the reference is too vague, I find myself forgetting about them, or worse, getting frustrated trying to figure out how they apply to the chapter/section.

  14. Twain’s novel Puddinhead Wilson begins each chapter with a quote that seems odd and out of place, but they all relate to the theme of each chapter. Of course they were sayings by Puddinhead himself, but I thought that Twain did a good job of clever misdirection.

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