Opening Quotes: Capturing the Essence of a Book

I am a fan of novels that have an opening quote before the story starts. Usually the quote comes from other writers, poets, artists, or the ‘great thinkers’ from our past. The quote sits alone on a blank page, just a line or two generally. That’s all it takes to get the brain thinking, the imagination soaring. To me these quotes are like capturing a little glimpse of what inspires the writer, but more importantly, I love how they capture the essence of the book, in just a handful of words.

The first opening quote I read which stuck with me throughout the years, was one of the two used in Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero (one of the books that inspired me to start writing in my teens). The quote was simple:

‘There’s a feeling I get when I look to the West . . .’ Led Zeppelin.

Yes, it was easy to remember because it’s taken from a great song (Stairway to Heaven), but still that quote always stuck with me because I thought it really, nicely, captured the essence of Less Than Zero: a story about West Coast rich kids and the rather empty lives they were living. There’s something haunting about the quote, almost ominous, and because of that I’ve never forgotten it.

Because I am a fan of the opening quote, I have used them in all of my novels so far, and will keep using them in the books to come. The quotes I choose are based solely on their ability to capture the essence of my plot; to give my readers a quick taste of what’s to come. I find it a bit like tasting the wine before the waiter fills your whole glass.

The quote I used to open Aurora: Darwin was:

‘Life is like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt you represents determinism; the way you play it is free will . . .’ Jawaharlal Nehru (1889 – 1964)

Now, I’ll be honest, I didn’t know who Cover_hi res
Jawaharlal Nehru was before I stumbled upon his quote (click here if you’d like to know more about the first Prime Minister of India who emerged from the tutelage of Mahatma Gandhi), but when I did, I felt like it perfectly summed up the plot of Aurora: Darwin. Captain Saul Harris and Corporal Carrie Welles are thrown into a situation they don’t see coming – they are dealt a hand with which they have to respond. But they have a choice on how they deal with it. They have that free will to try and change the circumstances they are in – to make it out alive. And it is this free will that tests their strength of character, that will test whether they are up for the challenge. Oh, and I just really like the whole analogy with cards. The Aurora crew play cards a fair bit, so again the quote just fit like a glove.

When it came to Aurora: Pegasus, I chose the following quote, again with the aim of trying to capture the essence of the story:

‘We are still masters of our fate. We are still captains of our souls . . .’  Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965).

APNow, of course I knew who Winston Churchill was, but if you don’t, then click here to find out more about Britain’s Prime Minister during WWII). This
quote, to me, not only captures the essence of Pegasus in that the Carrie, Harris and the Aurora team are faced with another situation they must find their way out of, but it also ties nicely with and follows on naturally from the Darwin quote. Yes, the team have found themselves in another situation and yes it is up to them to get out of it. Bad luck may have come their way again, but they are indeed still masters of their own fate. How they play this situation is, again, free will. I also like the part ‘We are still captains of our souls’, which relates rather directly to Saul Harris and his role as captain of the Aurora, but also that he is in control of his soul. It acts as a vague reference to the dreams Harris has been having and his struggle to understand what they mean. Just like Carrie, Harris must become the master of his fate, and he must learn to captain his soul – something which he is fighting rather stubbornly against.

So, that leads me to book 3 in the series, Aurora: Meridian, which is due out on 11 September. This is, in a way, the first sneak peek at what’s in store for readers. The opening quote I have chosen for this book is:

‘What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us . . .’  Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803—1882).

aurora-meridian-DEV03Now without giving too much away, readers will know that both Harris and Carrie have been through a lot over their past two missions. Pegasus left Carrie in a dark place and left Harris struggling to control all that was going on around him. Meridian sees Carrie setting herself up for a dangerous challenge ahead, and sees Harris beginning to question his sanity and his family’s past. Meridian poses an internal journey for them both. Carrie is on a journey of discovering what really matters to her, and Harris is on a journey of discovering who he really is. Will they reach their destination in this book? All will be revealed on Thursday 11 September when Aurora: Meridian becomes available worldwide in both ebook and print formats.

I know, I know, I’m such a tease!





About Amanda Bridgeman

Amanda Bridgeman studied film & television/creative writing at Murdoch University (BA Communication Studies) and has been published by Angry Robot and Pan Macmillan (Momentum Books). Aurora: Meridian was a finalist for Best Science Fiction Novel (Aurealis).