Don’t we all want to grab our readers’ attention right from the word go? But that doesn’t happen all the time, does it?
One of the hard parts of writing a novel, article, or even an essay, is getting the introduction right. A good start hooks the readers in, giving them a taste of what is in store for them, and your ability to sculpt the words in a way that entices them can make them want to read more.
But what if you can’t come up with the right catchphrase and the right string of words that help your writing to stand out?
Here’s where a brilliant epigraph can come in handy and empower your writing.
“What’s an Epigraph?” you ask.
An epigraph is a short quote, a proverb, a verse, lyrics of a song, or quotes by famous people and fictional characters.
Epigraphs are usually used at the beginning of a piece of written work to set the theme and tone for the upcoming paragraphs. You can even use epigraphs in the middle and at the end of your work to keep the readers engaged throughout their journey. I’ll get to that in a minute.
So, how do you empower your writing with brilliant epigraphs?
Let’s begin with an example to see how an epigraph works:
Say you’re writing an article or essay about how television media and social media news cannot be completely relied upon. You can begin your work with a quote like this one:
This gives an interesting perspective to your readers, who are welcomed by a metaphoric introduction in place of a standard question or statistic.
You can then continue writing about how the media can misinterpret facts and lead people into believing something not true. (US Elections)
Epigraphs can be used at the beginning, in between paragraphs, and at the end of your topic. Use them well to:
Give a grand opening
Think of those attractive ads that you see online. The ones that make you want to click and view what’s in there. Epigraphs play a similar part in grabbing the reader’s attention and raising their interest and curiosity to read further.
It’s that grand opening that gives the readers a clue of what you’re going to say and identifies the train of approach that your story will take. So keep it relevant and timely so that your readers can easily relate to the theme.
Example: If you’re writing an essay on the role of criminal lawyers in the legal system, you can start with a quote from a TV Series
Serve as “Bucket Brigades”
Not all topics can be interesting, right? While reading long-form content, your readers may start losing interest somewhere in the middle. Since most of the readers are short on time, a big block of text amidst a dry topic may put them off.
What do you do in such cases? Introduce epigraphs in the middle of such dry paragraphs that will serve as bucket brigades. Bucket brigades are phrases or words that are used as a break between the content to keep your readers engaged.
Bucket brigades were used by old-school copywriters while writing long (often boring) sales letters for their clients. An epigraph can serve as a perfect break, rest for the reader’s eye, and an engaging start to the next paragraph.
Example: If you’re writing a book report on Hamlet, you could use the actual quotes from the play to act as a break between two paragraphs.
Make a strong conclusion
A strong conclusion to your topic highlights the important points, recaps the entire article in a few sentences, and can often impress your readers more than the beginning.
Once they finish reading an article, a powerful conclusion will nudge them to take the next step of sharing it with their networks, following your work, or simply bookmarking your page.
Having a relevant epigraph at the end can summarize your entire work in a creative manner by giving your readers something beyond the standard conclusions.
Example: If you’re writing an article on how to overcome depression and stay strong, you could end it with a quote from a book series.
Where to use Epigraphs
Epigraphs were meant to be the literary device used to engage a reader’s imagination and curiosity while reading a work of fiction. Fictional writing differs from academic writing and epigraphs may not be suitable for academic writing.
How’s it different?
- Epigraphs that are used in fictional writing play the role of eye-catchers and the text that follows may or may not completely resonate with the used epigraph.
- Academic writing uses quotations and numbers as evidence to support the research and the text emphasizes the author’s critical thinking and analytical approach.
While writing a research paper, it’s advisable not to use witty quotes that has no relevance to your research. Instead, use quotations from reputed sources that solidifies your writing and evidences your work.
Having said that, nowadays, you can use epigraphs in all other types of writing – in a book, article, essay, poem, memoir, or an autobiography; epigraphs don’t always have to be used in fiction only.
Finding the right quotes
If you scour the internet, you’ll find all sorts of quotations said by different people that may look fancy. It’s tempting to use them but you must remember that your quotes can even mislead the readers if not used right.
While researching your topics, you may come across certain interesting pointers and texts that may or may not be completely useful to your topic but are somehow related and relevant. Make a note of them and use them at different intervals between paragraphs where you think your article may lose the reader’s’ interest.
The main thing to keep in mind with an epigraph is that the chosen text should relate to the story at hand. It may not be the basis of your writing but it also shouldn’t take the readers off the topic.
If used well, epigraphs can foreshadow events to come (start), highlight a point that the author wants to make (end), or introduce a new theme to a new section of the work (middle).
Since we have spoken a lot about epigraphs, what to use and where to use them, let’s see how to write them in accordance with two famous writing styles.
The epigraph should be treated as a block quote and should start half an inch away from the left margin just like starting a normal sentence. Don’t use quotation marks around the quote.
To cite the source, go one space below the quote and write the author’s name, put a comma and the source’s title in italicised format. The credits should be flushed to the right side of the page.
Example: The first epigraph in this article (By Neil Gaiman).
Start writing your quote by leaving two inches of indent space from the margin on either side, basically, center aligning your quote. Add quotation marks around the quote.
To cite the source, go one space below the quote and write the author’s name and the source. Right align the citation while keeping it within the margin of the epigraph.
Example: The other examples in this article.
Epigraphs are different from Epitaphs and Epigrams. Use them properly wherever necessary. You can read about them here.
Choose your epigraphs well to quickly grab your readers and keep them engaged in your writing.