81 staggering lines in literature.

Written by Cole Schafer


If you were to throw a dozen or so copywriters in a room and ask them what matters more in regards to the craft –– one’s ability to write or one’s ability to sell –– there’s a fair chance a fight would break out.

It’s hands down one of the most strongly debated topics in the world of copywriting with both sides arguing a strong case.


Well, because copywriting is quite a bit different from writing. Unlike writing, copywriting exists to get the reader to do something, buy something, sign-up for something or share something.

I go into great detail about this difference in my top-secret copywriting guide, How to write words that sell like a Florida Snow Cone Vendor on the hottest day of the year.

But, for today’s article, all you need to know is that copywriting exists to elicit an action in the reader. That’s tremendously different from writing.

Some folks think you can be a subpar writer and still be a great copywriter as long as you know how to sell. Others argue that to be a great copywriter you need to first be a great writer.

While I can’t say I have an opinion, I will say this… it doesn’t matter how prolific you are at sales… if people don’t want to read what you’re writing you’re not going to get very far.

When aspiring copywriters reach out to me about learning copywriting one of my first pieces of advice is to learn how to write and write well.

Some of the best copywriters I know have backgrounds in English or journalism or creative writing (or were just born with some serious writing chops). I think anyone can gain a deep understanding of the psychology of selling and the basic principles of copywriting… but honing your writing takes both thoughtful practice and time.

I would also argue that what could have been some of the greatest copywriters never chose to write copy at all because they were just too damn good at writing… if any copywriter thinks that Stephen King or Ernest Hemingway or John Steinbeck or Virginia Woolf wouldn’t kick their ass in a copywriting showdown then they’re sorely mistaken.

Many old school copywriters point young aspiring copywriters to books like The AdWeek Copywriting Handbook, The Gary Halbert Letters and Scientific Advertising to become dangerous in the copywriting game.

I think this is sound advice. But, with this, I think aspiring copywriters should also be reading great writers (like everyone I named a few sentences back).

If you can learn to sell like Ogilvy and write like a poor man’s Hemingway… you’re going to make the brands you work with and yourself an assload of money.

I consider myself a writer first, copywriter second. Unlike other copywriters, when I sit down to write for a brand I’m not just trying to sell something, I’m trying to write something that will be the prettiest most powerful thing my reader reads all day.

I practice this on a weekly basis with my newsletter, Sticky Notes.

All copy –– be it a headline or an email subject line or a 3,000 words behemoth of an article –– begins with one damn good sentence.

What better place to pull inspiration for crafting damn good sentences than from literature?

Below, you will find 81 staggering lines in literature. They will make you feel something. But, let them do more than this for you… let them serve as examples of what it looks like to write well.

81 staggering lines in literature.

I’ve curated 81 of the best lines in literature… they’re staggering. I imagine I will add a few more to this list, as I stumble across them. Though, these should keep you occupied for now. If you work through them quickly, remember… you could do worse things for yourself than reading them two times, three times and four times over. They were written by some of the most prolific writers to have ever lived.

Isn't it pretty to think so?

–– The Sun Also Rises.

They were involved in that awkward procedure of getting to unknow each other.

— The World According to Garp.

You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how.

–– Gone With The Wind.

We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness.

— 1984.

If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you.

–– Winnie The Pooh.

Sometimes I can feel my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I'm not living.

— Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

I'm sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody.

— Franny and Zooey.

Everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else.

— Infinite Jest.

You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget.

–– The Road.

In our village, folks say God crumbles up the old moon into stars.

— One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.

— The Catcher In The Rye.

She wasn't doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.

— A Girl I Knew.

It is a truth universally that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

— Pride and Prejudice.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

— A Tale of Two Cities.

Dear God,' she prayed, 'let me be something every minute of every hour of my life.

— A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Time is the longest distance between two places.

— The Glass Menagerie.

My dear, I don’t give a damn.

— Gone With the Wind.

By the time we arrived, as evening was approaching, I felt as sore as a rock must feel when the waterfall has pounded on it all day long.

— Memoirs of a Geisha.

Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit em, but remember that it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.

—To Kill a Mockingbird.

I think of my life as a kind of music, not always good music but still having form and melody.

— East of Eden.

We dream in our waking moments, and walk in our sleep.

— The Scarlet Letter.

And in that moment, like a swift intake of breath, the rain came.

— Other Voices, Other Rooms.

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

— The Fellowship of the Ring.

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

–– Anna Karenina.
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aurelio Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon that his father took him to discover ice.

— One Hundred Years of Solitude.

As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.

— The Fault in Our Stars.

Beauty is an enormous, unmerited gift given randomly, stupidly.

— And the Mountains Echoed.

It sounds plausible enough tonight, but wait until tomorrow. Wait for the common sense of the morning.

–– The Time Machine.

There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there.

–– American Psycho.

She had waited all her life for something, and it had killed her when it found her.

–– Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.

–– Wuthering Heights.

She says nothing at all, but simply stares upward into the dark sky and watches, with sad eyes, the slow dance of the infinite stars.

–– Stardust.

The only lies for which we are truly punished are those we tell ourselves.

–– In a Free State.

A screaming comes across the sky.

–– Gravity’s Rainbow.

It was a pleasure to burn.

–– Fahrenheit 451.

The curves of your lips rewrite history.

— The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Forty minutes later he was up in the sky.

–– The Book of Strange New Things.

The sun had not yet risen.

–– The Waves.

You exposed your penis on national television, Max.

–– Sellevision.

She was seventy-five and she was going to make some changes in her life.

–– The Corrections.

Hell is empty and all the devils are here.

— The Temptest.

And the rest is rust and stardust.

–– Lolita.

A book should be an axe to chop open the frozen sea inside us.

— Summertime: Fiction.

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.

–– On The Road.

Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.

— The History of Love.

Each time you happen to me all over again.

— The Age of Innocence.

And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good.

— East of Eden.

I miss her, with a never-ending ache that I did not think was possible, that crowds out any other feeling and certainly all my reason, and any good sense.

— We Love You, Charlie Freeman: A Novel.

It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.

― The Alchemist.

He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking.

–– Anna Karenina.

It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.

— To Kill A Mockingbird.

Get busy living or get busy dying.

— The Shawshank Redemption.

Very few castaways can claim to have survived so long at sea as Mr. Patel, and none in the company of an adult Bengal tiger.

–– Life of Pi.

He is coming, and I am here.

–– The Time Traveler's Wife.

Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart.

–– Charlotte’s Web.

The old man was dreaming about the lions.

–– The Old Man and the Sea.

And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea.

–– Rebecca.

I know so many last words. But I will never know hers.

–– Looking For Alaska.

When the day shall come, that we do part,' he said softly, and turned to look at me, 'if my last words are not ‘I love you’ – ye’ll ken it was because I dinna have time.

–– The Fiery Cross.

The knife came down, missing him by inches, and he took off.

–– Catch-22.

His body stirs beneath the sheets. He twists his head from one side to the other. His eyes, she sees, are open. Then she feels a pressure on her hand and he speaks his first words for a week. 'Keep going, El,' he says, 'Keep going.' And so she does."

–– The Hand That First Held Mine.

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

— 1984.

So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.

–– Perks Of Being A Wallflower.

And presently, like a circling typhoon, the sounds of battle began to return.

–– Vile Bodies.

But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.

–– A Moveable Feast.

Mother died today.

— The Stranger.

Stay Gold, Ponyboy.

–– The Outsiders.

It was the day my grandmother exploded.

— The Crow Road.

Vaughan died yesterday in his last car-crash.

— Crash.

Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I’ve come to learn, is women.

— Middle Passage.

High, high above the North Pole, on the first day of 1969, two professors of English Literature approached each other at a combined velocity of 1200 miles per hour.

— Changing Places.

All children, except one, grow up.

–– Peter Pan.

The moon lives in the lining of your skin.

— The Essential Neruda.

In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart.

— The Diary of Anne Frank.

You were at the age where you could fall in love with a girl over an expression, over a gesture.

— This Is How You Lose Her.

Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.

— Slaughterhouse-Five.

It was strange the way he loved her; a sidelong and almost casual love, as if loving her were simply a matter of course, too natural to mention.

— The Art of Fielding.

So it goes.

— Slaughterhouse-Five.

I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

— Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.

Her legs swing complete afternoons away.

— From Rockaway.

Two people in love, alone, isolated from the world, that's beautiful.
— The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

By Cole Schafer (everything except the 81 staggering lines you just read).