Q&A - What's your favorite line you've ever written?
By Giancarlo Riccobon, Daniel Boyko, and Yong-Yu Huang
My favorite line comes from the first draft of a short story I’m writing (untitled as of yet). What makes “Untitled as of Yet” so special is that, while I was writing it, I threw my writing process out the window. Normally, I’m a strict adherent to the “Know Thine Ending” doctrine, but for “Untitled as of Yet,” I didn’t know the ending. I didn’t even know if all the scenes I was writing would even fit into the same story. I just rode the wave of excitement that came from freewriting. Only after I had several seemingly unrelated scenes was I able to put them together into something cohesive, and only then did I know how the story would end.
Anyway, my favorite line comes from a scene where the speaker is trying to understand why her boyfriend Sal quit the Boy Scouts while one badge away from becoming an Eagle Scout. So the story toggles between the narrator in the present and her imaginings of Sal. After picturing Sal as a much younger kid, when he first developed his fear of swimming, she finally arrives at the moment Sal decided to quit.
“So he launched himself off the diving board, down the ladder, across the poolside, and into the locker room, where he hid in the showers until his dad came for him.”
It was a really fun line to write. It’s ironic and understated, yet at the same time, it has an important emotional significance to my characters. Plus, it embodies the breathless, reckless energy that makes “Untitled as of Yet” so fascinating to me. This line actually surprised me when it first popped into my head, just like how my change in writing process surprised me.
One line that comes to mind right now is a line from a poem I wrote a while back. It explores the tradition of having oranges around during Lunar New Year celebrations (they are supposed to bring luck to the household) and, at that time, I really wanted to write something that delved a little into my Taiwanese background. So, I ended up writing a poem about oranges and superstition!
The conclusive line of the poem goes “we are citrus hoarders / because fortune is a thief / in the night.”
The poem ends like that because I wanted to convey the idea of how I don’t think fortune is something that is guaranteed even if someone follows all the traditions and rules. I view it as something fleeting and very unstable, and to be perfectly honest, I thought it was such a dramatic ending.
One of my favorite lines (because choosing one is just so, so challenging) comes from a narrative story I wrote for a statewide essay contest. The theme of the contest was the environment and discussing some of the potential impacts of global warming and climate change.
For my piece, one of my characters is an ex-marine biologist who wants to imbue within his grandson the same sense of appreciation for the environment that he proudly boasts. He feels it is important that the young understand the beauty of nature, and the line below is how I personally picture him describing his fascination for marine biology:
“His wrinkles seemed to glow with affection, his white beard ruffled with amusement, and his smile grew as he spoke.”
This line really resonates with me because it embodies everything that I feel environmentalists are: passionate and enthusiastic to share their love. It shows how eager this character is to simply talk about his deep passion, and I hope that other readers can visualize his face lighting up with pure joy. For me, I also personally like the slight playfulness of some of the details, especially word choices like “wrinkles” and “ruffled.” Moreover, especially for people who have a strong relationship with an older family figure, my goal was to bring back childhood memories of this figure’s raw fervor for a certain cause—whether it be cooking or baking, classic cartoons or beloved films, or even just what they did for a living.
Even though sometimes we write things that we’re not big fans of, on good days we end up with a line or two that make us smile when we re-read our work. Those are the lines hidden somewhere in a short story or in a poem that add an extra level of meaning, even if it’s only apparent to us. They are the lines that we write for––all the hours spent laboring over a piece are rewarded when we carve out lines like these that make us proud to be a writer. These lines are examples of how our love and passion for our work really shine through.
After all, writing, at its core, is not meant to please anyone else––literary magazines, publishers, or other writers––but ourselves. It’s one of the purest forms of self-expression, and it’s incredibly important to remember that is why we write.
Daniel Boyko is an Executive Managing Editor at Polyphony Lit and the Blog Contributor Liaison of Voices.
Yong-Yu Huang is a First Reader at Polyphony Lit and a blogger at Voices.
Giancarlo Riccobon is a First Reader at Polyphony Lit and a blogger at Voices.