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

“If a writer is any good, what he makes will have its source in a realm much larger than that which his conscious mind can encompass and will always be a greater surprise to him than it can ever be to his reader.” Flannery O’Connor

“I conceive art as an epiphany, a sudden illumination if not a divine revelation, a slight but definite insight into other lives, a fragmentary clue to the meaning of life as a whole.” James Joyce

“You should be writing for the same reason your reader is reading: to find out what happens next.” Philip Gerard

“The fictional process forces the writer to say more than he thought he could; that is, to make discoveries.” John Gardner

“I can concentrate when I write, but purely because it is a sublimated form of discovery, isolated exploration, my endless combe in leaves of paper.” John Fowles

“You always write for yourself first, to discover yourself first.” John Fowles

“Writing well is an act of discovery.” Philip Gerard

“This is a story that produces a shock for the reader, and I think one reason for this is that it produced a shock for the writer.” Flannery O’Connor

“This particular story was discovered in the process of finding out what I was able to make live.” Flannery O’Connor

“Again and again, in the process of writing, he [the writer] will find himself forced to new discoveries.” John Gardner

“Bernard Malamud has said that great writing leads constantly into surprises, and that the writer should be the first one surprised.” John Gardner

“What the writer understands, though the student or critic of literature need not, is that the writer discovers, works out, and tests his ideas in the process of writing. Thus at its best fiction is, as I’ve said, a way of thinking, a philosophical method.” John Gardner

“When fiction becomes thought—a kind of thought less restricted than logic or mere common sense (but also impossible to verify)—the writer makes discoveries which, in the act of discovering them in his fiction, he communicates to the reader.” John Gardner

“In what I am describing as true moral fiction, the ‘art’ is not merely ornamental: it controls the argument and gives it its rigor, forces the writer to intense yet dispassionate and unprejudiced watchfulness, drives him—in ways abstract logic cannot match—to unexpected discoveries and, frequently, a change of mind. Moral fiction communicates meanings discovered by the process of the fiction’s creation.” John Gardner

“Then once more [the writer] reads from the top, trying to throw himself into the dream so that when he comes to the point where his imagination failed, the dream will keep going of its own momentum, he’ll ‘see’ what the characters must do next.” John Gardner

“The secret room where dreams prowl—these moments are the soul of art, the reason people pursue it.” John Gardner

“The poet who truly dramatizes a conflict, carefully exploring causal-event chains, cannot be sure what the end of his story will be until he gets there. For him fiction is a means of discovery.” John Gardner

“Though the artist has beliefs, like other people, he realizes that a salient characteristic of art is its radical openness to persuasion. Even those beliefs he’s surest of, the artist puts under pressure to see if they will stand. He may have a pretty clear idea where his experiment will lead, as Dostoevsky did when he sent Raskonlikov on his unholy mission; but insofar as he’s a true artist, he does not force the result.” John Gardner

“The true writer’s joy in the fictional process is his pleasure in discovering, by means he can trust, what he believes and can affirm for all time.” John Gardner

“I find myself with a character that for me stands up and casts a shadow, and I find that I want to know her better.” Ulf Wolf

“There come moments in every great novel when we are startled by some development that is at once perfectly fitting and completely unexpected.” John Gardner

“Balzac carefully refrains from making the book hinge on anything so commonplace as a sudden discovery of the young man’s want of faith. The worst kind of disappointment does not happen like that, falling as a stroke; it steals into life and spreads imperceptibly.” Percy Lubbock

“Unless you are discovering some things while engaged in this process of adjusting your material, you are probably not writing. Writing is not a typewriter, a piece of paper, and you. Writing is finding out what you really know, and knowing creates density.” William Sloane

“Part of the potency of this moment is that it is untranslatable. The reader is given a brilliant flash of insight which is beyond paraphrase or abstraction. The only way to retrieve it is to tell the story all over again—just the same way and without leaving anything out.” Madison Smartt Bell

“I write to find out how much I know. The act of writing for me is a concentrated form of thought. If I don’t enter that particular level of concentration, the chances are that certain ideas never reach any level of fruition.” Don DeLillo

“Writing is a concentrated form of thinking. I don’t know what I think about certain subjects, even today, until I sit down and try to write about them.” Don DeLillo

“Writing is exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.” E. L. Doctorow