Thursday, July 18, 2013

Add richness to your memoir’s chapters by using epigrams

Have you considered including epigrams at the beginning of your memoir’s chapters?

An epigram is a concise saying that illuminates or summarizes the important message in a chapter.

An epigram's value is this: it helps make your story relatable and memorable for your readers. 

It can be a proverb, a quotation, or something clever. Or perhaps a Bible verse or a line from a song or poem.

It can be an adage, a maxim, a witticism, a precept, a pithy saying, or a prayer.

You can find materials for epigrams all around you. The supply is almost limitless.

If you’re like me, you’ve saved poems and quotations everywhere—in journals, in filing cabinets, in computer documents—and you’ve underlined passages in books, you’ve highlighted verses in your Bible, and you’ve memorized song lyrics.

They caught your attention because they have a special meaning for you, and that means some of them could make powerful epigrams for your memoir’s chapters.

Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

“A dog is a man’s best friend.” (English proverb)  

"Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better." (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) 

"Lord, send someone else to do it!" (Moses, Exodus 14:13) 

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)

“When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.” (Corrie Ten Boom)

“The Bible is … a thin place through which the presence of God breaks into this world and bursts with unpredictable consequences into our lives.…” (Chris Webb, The Fire of the Word)

“’Tis good to give a stranger a meal, or a night’s lodging … and give courage to a companion.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

“When elephants fight, the grass gets hurt.” (East African Proverb)

“One person is thin porridge; two or three people are a handful of stiff cooked cornmeal.” (East African Proverb)

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” (Chinese proverb)

“A man of knowledge uses words with restraint.… Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.” (Proverbs 17:27-28)

“A fool and his money are soon parted.” (English proverb)

“Our life is too short for pettiness, angry words, wounded feelings, crushed souls. Perhaps the measure of life is not in its length, but in its love.” (John Burroughs)

“At times God will seem like an unkind friend, but He is not; He will appear like an unnatural father, but He is not; He will appear like an unjust judge, but He is not.… Not even the smallest detail of life happens unless God’s will is behind it. Therefore, you can rest in complete confidence in Him.” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest)

“No man is an island, entire of itself.…” (John Donne) 

"God does not give us overcoming life—He gives us life as we overcome. The strain of life is what builds our strength.... Overcome your own timidity and take the first step." (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest)

"Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping … will return with songs of joy." (Psalm 126:5–6)

“The test of courage comes when we are in the minority; the test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority.” (Ralph W. Sockman)

"You have never been this way before." (Joshua 3:4)

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” (Abraham Lincoln)

"From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded." (Luke 12:48) 

"We have the idea that God is going to do some exceptional thing, that He is preparing and fitting us for some extraordinary thing by and by, but as we go on in grace we find that God is glorifying Himself here and now, in the present minute." (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest)

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

 “Sometimes faith is the absence of fear. Other times faith may be choosing to believe God even when your heart is melting with fear. Perhaps, then, faith is tested by what we do with fear, not whether or not we have it.” (Beth Moore, Breaking Free)

“… A single candle can both defy and define the darkness.” (Anne Frank)

 “He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea. Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord.” (Psalm 102:17-18)

“Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”( G.K. Chesterton)

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross)

“We are not meant to be seen as God’s perfect, bright-shining examples, but to be seen as the everyday essence of ordinary life exhibiting the miracle of His grace.” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest)

“Humility is the most difficult of all virtues to achieve; nothing dies harder than the desire to think well of oneself.” (T.S. Eliot)

“God is already working on Plan B even as Plan A lies in shambles around your feet.” (John Claypool)

“Courage is contagious. When a brave young man takes a stand, the spines of others are stiffened.” (Billy Graham)

“It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change … but it’s that in between place that we fear. It’s like being between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There’s nothing to hold onto.” (Marilyn Ferguson)

“The will of God is never exactly what you expect it to be. It may seem to be worse, but in the end it’s going to be a lot better and a lot bigger.” (Elisabeth Elliot)

“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” (Edmund Burke)

“… I can honestly say that out of the deepest pain has come the strongest conviction of the presence of God and the love of God.” (Elizabeth Elliot)

“There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.” (Willa Cather)

“The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all.” (Walt Disney)

What are some of your favorite sayings? 
Leave them in the comments section below. 
Who knows? One of them 
might be exactly what someone else is looking for!


  1. I have seen this done in several novels and one memoir, and, of course, Christian writings, and love this technique. A friend used her own haiku with her historical fiction book. I also love it when a poem or quote is used at the very front of the book, to set the tone.

    1. Oooh, I really like the idea your friend used: her very own haiku! What a treasure that must be! Thanks for sharing that with all of us.


  2. "Everything that God brings into our life is directed to one purpose: That we might be conformed to the image of Christ." -Erwin Lutzer, Pastor of Moody Church in Chicago

    1. Victoria, what a powerful quote, and of course it is based on Bible verses. That would be a great epigram. How are you doing on your memoir? Hope all is well with you, sweet friend. :)