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~~ Epigraph from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling


I love poetry. There’s no rhyme or reason (so did not mean that as a pun) when I write a poem. The rhyme, the rhythm, the cadence–anything quantifiable–goes down on paper without planning. This is how I like to start my novels, an epigraph of sorts, smack-center on the page preceding ‘Chapter One’.

My intent (for the epigraphs in my novels) is writing a transitional piece where the reader’s outside world–grocery lists, dinner planning, work issues, kids–fades away. It’s the time to quiet the mind and set the tone and emotional voice of one of my characters, who is usually not the narrator.

In the beginning I want just the emotional depth of the narrator (of the poem, not necessarily of the novel) to come through. Their pain or joy or loss. I want the poem to tug at the reader’s heart. By story’s end, I expect the poem to make clear sense and be another perspective (from a different angle) of a specific event. This event, no matter how minute, is the turning point, the one thing that changed everything for that character. It may occur in the character’s past, during the opening pages, half-way through or in the last chapter. It’s where I reveal the intense impact two seconds or one minute or an hour had on shaping their life. A dead give-away for the reasons they make the decisions they do.

My favorite is from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. For me, it’s a great example of setting the tone. Instead of a poem, it’s a quote, and yes, it does foreshadow, which is not my intent when I write one, but it still sets the mood of the story (and in so few words).

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: If they give you ruled paper, write the other way. — Juan Ramón Jiménez

I know epigraphs are subjective, some readers loathe them and skip to chapter one, and some readers love them. I write mine for both, but mostly for reader’s willing to take an emotional journey alongside my characters. So hop on the magic carpet and enjoy the ride!



Decide if an Epigraph is what your story needs with these helpful links:

Essay On Epigraphs

The 25 Greatest Epigraphs in Literature