(To survey other elements and author quotes, visit the Elements of Fiction home page)

“Hugo makes characterization an issue of free will all the way down to the roots of human personality.” Ayn Rand

“No fiction can have real interest if the central character is not an agent struggling for his or her own goals but a victim, subject to the will of others.” John Gardner

“One interesting field is the problem of free will. This is the question of whether you can discover enough about yourself, whether you can accept enough about your own past, to become what we call an authentic character: someone who is in control of his own life, able to withstand all its anxieties. To me, any novel which doesn’t have something to say on the subject of whether and why the characters are authentic or unauthentic is difficult to take seriously. It is merely an entertainment.” John Fowles

“The ability to choose is what makes us human.” Ulf Wolf

“The Romantic school of literature approaches life on the premise that man has free will, the capacity of choice. The distinguishing mark of this school is a good plot structure.” Ayn Rand

“The important thing about you is what you choose to make happen—your values and choices.” Ayn Rand

“If man has no choice, you cannot write a story about them, nor is there any sense in reading one.” Ayn Rand

“While predictable, predetermined actions have a comic interest for me, it is the free act, the acceptance of grace particularly, that I always have my eye on as the thing which will make the story work.” Flannery O’Connor

“The novelist does not write about general beliefs but about men with free will, and [that] there is nothing [in our faith] that implies a foregone optimism for man so free that with his last breath he can say No.” Flannery O’Connor

“An absence of free will in these characters would mean an absence of conflict in them, whereas they spend all their time fighting within themselves, drive against drive.” Flannery O’Connor

“The writer who denies that human beings have free will is one who can write nothing of interest. Stripped of free will—robbed of all capacity to fight for those things they aspire to and avoid those things they fear—human beings cease to be of anything more than scientific and sentimental interest. For the writer who views his characters as helpless biological organisms, mere units in a mindless social structure, or cogs in a mechanistic universe, whatever values those characters may hold must necessarily be illusions, since none of the characters can do anything about them, and the usual interplay of value against value that makes for an interesting exploration of theme must be a cynical and academic exercise.” John Gardner

“The character must be self-determined and have the power of choice.” Ulf Wolf

“Every detail that enters the story will have an influence on the degree to which the characters suffer and eventually on what they choose.” John Gardner

“What starts the novel on its dangerous course, in other words, is not Mickelsson’s bad luck (that is background information which must somehow be worked in) but Mickelsson’s active choice, his quest decision.” John Gardner