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

“A piece of fiction must be very much a self-contained dramatic unit. This means that it must carry its meaning inside it. It means that any abstractly expressed compassion or piety or morality in a piece of fiction is only a statement added to it. It means that you can’t make an inadequate dramatic action complete by putting a statement of meaning on the end or in the middle of it or at the beginning of it. It means that when you write fiction you are speaking with character and action, not about character an action.” Flannery O’Connor

“Again, this is a general principle. You can’t write about abstractions. You need to incarnate those abstractions in interesting people, dramatic events, tangible experience. By participating in the experiences of living characters shaping events that matter, the reader also participates in the ideas that underpin the telling—the subtext of scenes, the themes of the larger story.” Philip Gerard

“Good drama always carries an emotional charge, and the charge comes from the struggle of an individual squaring off against antagonists out in the world and within himself.” Philip Gerard

“Fiction is presented in such a way that the reader has the sense that it is unfolding around him. This doesn’t mean he has to identify himself with the character or feel compassion for the character or anything like that. It just means that fiction has to be largely presented rather than reported. Another way to say it is that though fiction is a narrative art, it relies heavily on the element of drama.” Flannery O’Connor

“Drama we want, always drama, for the central, essential paramount affair, whatever it is.” Percy Lubbock

“So ask: What’s the actual test of faith in the story? What crisis causes a woman to take control of her life? What specific event jolts a boy into longing to leave his loved ones and strike out on his own? What do these people look like? Where do they live? What is the immediate source of tension in their lives? What do they want more than anything in the world? What actions will they take to get it? Who or what is out there to stop them? What are they afraid of? How is that fear manifest in the action of the story? How will they confront that fear in an actual scene? What resources can help them face that fear, perhaps even overcome it? What’s the moment of truth—not what does it mean, but what actually occurs in a literal, physical way? Why will any of this matter to us? Before you can mount an epic battle between good and evil, you have to create a plausible Ahab and a great white whale and set them loose on an ocean of story.” Philip Gerard