I love coming up with epigraphs, those little quotes, snippets of inspirational verse, bits of lyrics, or lines from a film that authors sometimes stick up at the top of chapters, like philosophical Post-it Notes, to set a certain tone or theme.
Not all my books have epigraphs. When they do, it’s one of the most fun parts of the whole process. Hunting down just the right tidbit to kick off a chapter is like hunting for Easter eggs, and the whole vast world of human experience is up for grabs.
The Secret Language of Money starts off with a stanza from the theme from Ghostbusters, and in its fourteen epigraphs runs the gamut from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Thoreau to Jack Benny to Donald Trump.
In Go-Givers Sell More, which is essentially a set of meditations on the lessons couched within the story of The Go-Giver, we used brief excerpts from The Go-Giver itself to serve as epigraphs for each of its thirty-one chapters.
And in Code to Joy . . . man, was this one fun. Here we went from the Apostle Paul to Obi Wan Kenobi to Tumus the Faun (from the final Narnia book) to Dicky Fox, the cheery mentor in Jerry Maguire.
I suppose if you gathered up all these epigraphs and strung them end to end, you’ve pretty much have my whole life philosophy in there somewhere.
Just to share the fun: here are the chapters of Code to Joy — together with the epigraph that opens each one.
Introduction: Stefanie’s Question
Something is not right.
— Miss Clavel, in the middle of the night, in Madeline
1. An Interview with Yourself
What do you do with the mad that you feel
When you feel so mad you could bite?
When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong…
And nothing you do seems very right?
— Fred Rogers, on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood
2. Seven Self-Limiting Beliefs
Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?
— Chico Marx, in Duck Soup
3. The Flea and the Elephant
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do,
I do not do — but what I hate, I do.
— The Apostle Paul, in Epistle to the Romans 7:15 (NIV)
4. A Disturbance in the Force
I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.
— Obi-Wan Kenobi, in Star Wars
5. Your Personal Code to Joy
I think I can, I think I can …
— The Little Engine That Could
Just click your heels together three times and say,
“There’s no place like home.”
— Glinda, in The Wizard of Oz
7. Taking It to the Next Level
The further up and the further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside.
— Tumnus the Faun, in The Last Battle, C. S. Lewis
8. A Rich Life
Hey, I don’t have all the answers. In life, to be honest,
I failed as much as I have succeeded. But I love my wife.
I love my life. And I wish you my kind of success.
— Dicky Fox, in Jerry Maguire
Conclusion: A Deeper Joy
Here comes the sun.
If you were writing your life’s book, what would be some of your favorite epigraphs?