I will never be guilty of unconscious plagiarism, not because of my ethics but because of my memory. Never in this world could I steal from another writer without knowing what I am doing.
From the beginning, I have had this weird total recall for turns of phrase.
What do I remember?
Examples from books:
Which fairly famous writer was fond of the adverb “obscurely” in dialogue? As in: “Not yet,” Ben said obscurely.
Answer: Shirley Jackson. She liked that construction and I don’t know of any other writer who does. I kind of like it myself.
Another example: Who wrote “It seemed to want to happen”?
Answer: Russell Hoban in Turtle Diary. This is a line I would love to steal, but I won’t.
Examples from movies:
“Is that clear?
“No, but it’s consistent.”
—What’s Up Doc
“Does salt work against the supernatural?”
“The Montusi bush men thought so. But they’re extinct.”
“And you really are a gardener, aren’t you?”
Even more to the point, why do I remember?
I am a writer, so recalling things I have read is not so unusual. The lines usually reflect some quality of the writing that I admire.
On the other hand, the lines I remember from movies tend to be from outer space. Such as the following:
“You tell municipal lighting we’re going to candlepower in fifteen minutes.”
That line is from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Not long ago I saw the movie and was slightly pleased to hear that line again, because I remembered it right down to the inflections in the actor’s voice.
I’m really sure I’ll never want to steal that one though.
Why did it stick? “Candlepower” is a good strong word, but that doesn’t explain it.
Please share some lines that you can’t forget. They couldn’t be nuttier than mine.
“You know you’ve got the brain of a four-year old child, and I bet he was glad to get rid of it.”
Groucho to Chico, Horsefeathers