Saturday, August 13, 2011

Definitive Phrases

Guest Blogger: Dean Miller

Every so often I come upon a sentence or phrase the sticks with me. It may paint a clear picture in my mind, appeal to me in a philosophical manner, or simply sound good to my ear. What makes them standout is the phrase can be taken out of its context, stand alone, and still create an image or feeling that is memorable, even without its supportive structure. I like to call each of these a “Definitive Phrase.”

A perfect example of a definitive phrase comes from the classic film Gone with the Wind, when Rhett Butler (played by Clark Gable, my Mom’s favorite) tells Scarlett O’Hara (played by Vivian Leigh); “Frankly my Dear, I don’t give a damn.”

A second comes from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, when Juliet proclaims; “O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?”

Music lyrics have the same power to paint a memorable image. Dan Fogelberg describes a chance taken in the words of his song In the Passage; “But I cast my fate with the wife of Lot. I turn my gaze around.”

The music group Cake has several vivid images in their hit Short Skirt, Long Jacket. My favorite is; “With fingernails that shine like justice. And a voice that is dark like tinted glass.”

Another favorite was penned by Steve Goodman and made famous by Arlo Guthrie in the 1972 Song City of New Orleans. The lyrics read, “And the graveyards of rusted automobiles.”

The book Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach contains many definitive phrases. A couple I enjoy are; (1) "What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly," (2) “Here is a test to find whether your mission on Earth is finished. If you’re alive it isn't."

Finally, I offer two of my own taken from my blog postings. They are: “It was there, amidst the chaos of weather and waves, I felt alive” from An Unnamed Memory, and “I am nothing that I write, and yet it is everything in me” from Solitary by Choice.

What are your favorite quotes from your work or a different source?
Share one to two below in the comments section below. Maybe we’ll uncover the next definitive phrase.

Dean K Miller is a member of NCW. His blog, "And Then I Smiled" can be found at: He writes a monthly on-linefly fishing article for Elkhorn Fly Rod and Reel, and just debut an on-line serial titled "The River Zen" found at  An FAA air traffic controller for 23 years, he lives in Loveland, CO with his wife and three daughters. He spends whatever free time he has left fly fishing on the Big Thompson River.


Marlena Cassidy said...

I love the one from Short Skirt, Long Jacket. There's just something about it that rings true.

I can't think of any from my works. I did like this line a lot when I wrote it though: "It was perfect. Or as perfect as broken things could be."

Edna Pontillo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Edna Pontillo said...

Dean, your piece provoked a lot of thinking for me, much as the Friday Question of the Week about the current theme song for my life did. Some lines that my husband and I have bantered back and forth have been lines from plays we were in, “They say it may rain Friday.” from Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple or “Ready when you are, C.B.” from the play by the same name. I’ve kept a favorite journal for many years where I note lines I’ve read that have moved me to feel, think, or even write. These might not be famous, but were certainly not obscure in my life, like “I think being old means being able to laugh at the things that were once breaking your heart.” (I qualify as old, by the way.) As I was reading through them this afternoon, so many others bring back wonderful feelings about the book or poem I was reading at the time.

After my thinking about your post and what I’ve copied into my favorite journal, what I’m left with is not just the power of words in our lives and relationships. Spoken words, of course, the intended or unintended comment, conversation piece, or quotes that we put in the baby book are sweet or bitter when remembered. Rather that those words, phrases, sayings, poems, plays, essays, song lyrics, articles, speeches, those books that we treasure and that move us to whatever feeling are word that were written by a writer. Is it any wonder, then, how hard we work at our craft? Or how much we value the craftsmen who do it so well?

To answer your question, finally (and circuitously), I would tell you that the lines that now are my definitive phrases come from the excellent book on the craft of writing that I am currently reading. The book is Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain and the lines (so far and among others) that have grabbed me are 1) “Just because you’ve walked on carpets doesn’t mean you’re qualified to weave one.” And 2) “Only if you stand ready to make mistakes today can you hope to move ahead tomorrow.” Words not only to write by, but also to live by. Thanks again. (P.S., I’ve put Illusions on my reading list! And your two quotes from there into my journal!)

Kay Theodoratus said...

I present a writer with a blank slate. I never remember turns of phrases for long ... they need to be repeated repeatedly before they sink in. And, I still forget them.

I'm a joke teller's perfect audience.

April Moore said...

Some of my favorite quotes come from song writers, like Greg Brown. His songs are like short stories:

As he stands there in the door, there's no room for him anymore. She lies there saying, "Honey take one last look."

But yesterday I had a vision, beneath the tree where we once talked, of an old couple burning their love letters so their children won't be shocked.

You shoulda married someone, a whole lot more like you-- drink coffee in the little cafes, and you could go out shopping too.
I shoulda married someone, who likes to camp and fish, and make love for two days straight, And you say, "don't you wish".

Patricia Stoltey said...

I like the song phrases too, like "Whatever will be, will be," but my favorite is from Robert Frost: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

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