In the movie, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Josey (Clint Eastwood) stands in the darkened corner of a bar in Santa Rosa, Texas. It’s post Civil War and Josey is a confederate outcast, refusing to pledge his allegiance to the Union. A bounty hunter arrives to take him to justice…
You're wanted, Wales.
Reckon I'm right popular. You a bounty hunter?
A man's got to do something for a living these days.
Dyin' ain't much of a living, boy.
"Dyin' ain't much of a living, boy." It’s one of my favorite movies and one of my favorite lines. The movie is based on the book Gone To Texas by Forrest Carter.
It’s been said that every good story has one completely unforgettable line. It causes me to consider whether these memorable quotes are the premeditated work of master storytellers or pure accident—the work of characters just being themselves.
I have always believed that fictional characters can take on a life of their own. A kind of metaphysical transference between author and character.
I recall writing this line without so much as a thought. The character had completely taken charge and decided what to say.
I heard Elmore Leonard say once, in an interview with the late George Plimpton (Paris Review), that he would name a character a certain name and couldn’t get him to talk. He would change the name and couldn’t get him to shut up. Another way of saying, perhaps, that fictional characters become independent of the author who creates them.
Still, you have to give the writer credit. Book and movie characters aren’t real, but writers who are able to fully immerse themselves in their characters psyches, breathe a special kind of life into them.
It’s magic! The work of muses! And for the writer, a thrill like none other.
What’s your take on it? And while you’re at it, what’s your favorite book or movie line?