I was reading online what someone thought were the best fifty-one lines ever from literature.
It was an impressive list of famous authors throughout history whom most of us know, or should know.
There was a line by Shakespeare (yes, just one oddly enough). Others were by Robert Frost, J.D. Salinger, Charles Dickens, etc.
As a writer I found them all to be great lines and secretly jealous. Would I ever write a line that would someday make it into the top fifty-one? Of course, that would mean that for my line (or even yours) to make it onto this prestigious list, then one of the other famous lines would have to be removed, which seems unlikely. My best chance, I guess, would be if the list was expanded to sixty or seventy for one of my lines, yet to be written, to have a chance to be included.
I’d imagine there is a list somewhere of the worst fifty-one lines ever written, but I could be wrong. In order for anyone to know that it was one of the worst ever, it would have had to have been published and with the wall of editors that a book must have to go through, I am assuming that many of the worst lines ever written – and I would bet more than a few were created by famous writers – never saw the light of day.
Still, I think people would definitely enjoy more the list of clunkers as opposed to the list of perfection. For some reason I would find the list much more entertaining if I found out that Dylan Thomas not only wrote “Rage, rage against the dying light” but also “Her round head was covered by a silk scarf like a fine piece of imported cheese.”
I have written many a bad line over the years, most of which were soon deleted. That really was a mistake on my part. I should have held onto them for posterity, not to mention being ready when submissions for the worst fifty-one lines of all time are being accepted.
As the editor of a weekly newspaper I get many submissions for possible publication that contain lines that would be shoe-ins for nomination to the list. Most of them occur when people, who don’t like something they read and think they can do better – much like someone who has a bad meal out then aspires to open a restaurant – use an overabundance of metaphors and similes to try and make some sort of literary mark. Usually their pieces end up like a bowl of alphabet soup with too many letters. (See what I mean?)
One person even explained at one point in his article that what was to follow was a metaphor as if that was how to properly introduce one. If he was going to go that far he should have explained that not only was it a metaphor, but it wasn’t going to be a very good one. (I will not repeat it here for the sake of a lawsuit since it would be very easy to prove it was his since I do not think it possible that two people on the same planet could have thought of it.)
Some of the similes range from the totally uncreative such as “His hair was like a bird’s nest” to the working too hard to try and be creative such as “His hair was like an eagle’s’ nest which had just been attacked by a lion.” (Yes, I have seen some that were very close to these.)
As someone who writes (I don’t like to call myself a writer, that puts too much pressure on me) I have written many bad lines, metaphors and similes, but I realized later which were awful and which weren’t so awful. (I think and I hope.)
Writing a bad metaphor and thinking it is a great metaphor is like proudly serving to dinner guests your famous Alfredo sauce made with skim milk.
Writing a bad metaphor and realizing it is a bad metaphor is like eating your own Alfredo sauce after going to a fine Italian restaurant for the first time.
Based on the above two sentences, I have yet to decide what or where I will be eating tonight.
I doubt any of the lines I have written here today will ever compete for one of the best lines ever written, but that’s okay with me.
If I keep plugging along at this inborn passion I have to write, something that is beyond my control. I’m sure I will create more than a few that will make the list of the fifty-one best lines ever written by me.
That will be just enough to keep me going and that works for me.
Brendan is the author of “The Flatlander Chronicles” and “Best Of A F.O.O.L. In New Hampshire” which are available at www.BrendanTSmith.com