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

“The dreaming part is angel-like: it is the writer’s eternal, childlike spirit, the daydreaming being who exists (or seems to) outside time.” John Gardner

“The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping others might then dream along with you, and in this way memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head.” Tim O’Brien

“I merely try to convey what the dream is.” Jorge Luis Borges

“To write the text you have to live in the myth of it.” John Fowles

“There comes a time when you realize that everything is a dream, and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real.” James Salter

“When you are writing hard you really are locked up in another world.” John Fowles

“It is entering your story.” Ulf Wolf

“The spell good fiction can weave.” Stephen King

“Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting.” Robert Frost

“The organized and intelligent fictional dream that will eventually fill the reader’s mind begins as a largely mysterious dream in the writer’s mind.” John Gardner

“Fiction does its work by creating a dream in the readers mind.” John Gardner

“The dream must be vivid and continuous.” John Gardner

“Fiction is not a mirror but a waking dream.” Guy Davenport

“We must be drawn into the characters’ world as if we were born to it.” John Gardner

“In the writing state—the state of inspiration—the fictive dream springs up fully alive: the writer forgets the words he has written on the page and sees, instead, his characters moving around their rooms, hunting through cupboards, glancing irritably through their mail, setting mousetraps, loading pistols. The dream is as alive and compelling as one’s dreams at night, and when the writer writes down on paper what he has imagined, the words, however inadequate, do not distract his mind from the fictive dream but provide him with a fix on it, so that when the dream flags he can reread what he’s written and find the dream starting up again. This and nothing else is the desperately sought and tragically fragile writer’s process: in his imagination, he sees made-up people doing things—sees them clearly—and in the act of wondering what they will do next he sees what they will do next, and all this he writes down in the best, most accurate words he can find, understanding even as he writes that he may have to find better words later, and that a change in the words may mean a sharpening or deepening of the vision, the fictive dream or vision becoming more and more lucid, until reality, by comparison, seems cold, tedious, and dead.” John Gardner

“The story boat is a magic one. It knows its course. The job of the person at the helm is to help it find its own way to wherever it’s going.” Ursula K. Le Guin

“The world’s full of stories. . . . All you need may be a character or two, or a conversation, or a situation, or a place, and you’ll find the story there. You think about it, you work it out at least partly before you start writing, so that you know in a general way where you’re going, but the rest works itself out in the telling.” Ursula K. Le Guin

“The writer must enable us to see and feel vividly what his characters see and feel; that is, enable us to experience as directly and intensely as possible, though vicariously, what his characters experience.” John Gardner

“All through history writers while writing have felt more or less the same.” E.M. Forster

“We know when he [the novelist] is inventing truly, because his passion floats us over improbabilities.” E.M. Forster

“One of the chief mistakes a writer can make is to allow or force the reader’s mind to be distracted, even momentarily, from the fictional dream.” John Gardner

“What counts in conventional fiction must be the vividness and continuity of the fictional dream the words set off  in the reader’s mind.” John Gardner

“If we are to see a perfectly focused dream image, we must be given the signals one by one, in order, so that everything happens with smooth logicality, perfect inevitability.” John Gardner

“Nothing in what I’m saying is more fundamental than the concept of the uninterrupted fictional dream.” John Gardner

“Somehow the fictional dream persuades us that it’s a clear, sharp, edited version of the dream all around us.” John Gardner

“We read five words on the first page of a really good novel and we begin to forget that we are reading printed words on a page; we being to see images—a dog hunting through garbage cans, a plan circling above Alaskan mountains, an old lady furtively licking her napkin at a party. We slip into a dream, forgetting the room we’re sitting in, forgetting it’s lunchtime or time to go to work. We recreate, with minor and for the most part unimportant changes, the vivid and continuous dream the writer worked out in his mind (revising and revising until he got it right) and captured in language so that other human beings, whenever they feel like it, may open his book and dream that dream again. If the dream is to be vivid the writer’s ‘language signals’—his words, rhythms, metaphors, and so on—must be sharp and sufficient: if they’re vague, careless, blurry, or if there aren’t enough of them to let us see clearly what is being presented, then the dream as we dream it will be cloudy, confusing, ultimately annoying and boring. And if the dream is to be continuous, we must not be roughly jerked from the dream back to the words on the page by language that’s distracting. Thus, for example, if the writer makes some grammatical mistake, the reader stops thinking about the old lady at the party and looks, instead, at the words on the page, seeing if the sentence really is, as it seems, ungrammatical. If it is, the reader thinks about the writer, or possibly about the editor—’How come they let him get away with a thing like that?’—not about the lady whose story has been interrupted.” John Gardner

“He must learn, by staring intently into the dream he dreams over his typewriter, to distinguish the subtlest differences between the speech and feeling of his various characters, himself as impartial and detached as God, giving all human beings their due and acknowledging their frailties.” John Gardner

“The writer with a truly accurate eye (and ear, nose, sense of touch, etc.) has an advantage over the writer who does not in that, among other things, he can tell his story in concrete terms, not just feeble abstractions. Instead of writing, ‘She felt terrible,’ he can show—by the precise gesture or look or by capturing the character’s exact turn of phrase—subtle nuances of the character’s feeling. The more abstract a piece of writing is, the less vivid the dream it sets off in the reader’s mind.” John Gardner

“Everyone who has seriously attempted a long fiction knows how remarkably similar writing is, in some respects, to dreaming.” John Gardner

“Other things being equal, the more intensely the artist imagines his dream world, the more fully he surrenders to it, the more passionate his devotion to capturing it in his words, images, or music—or, to put in another way, the deeper his trance and the greater his divorce from ordinary reality—the greater is likely to be the effect of the artist’s work on the reader, viewer or listener.” John Gardner

“So long as the artist avoids what I have described as ‘hollowness’—that obsessive fussing with the trappings of the vision (decorations of the set, language for the sake of language) which substitutes for true intensity—and so long as the artist is a master of technique, so that no stroke is wasted, no idea or emotion blurred, it is the extravagance of the artist’s purposeful self-abandonment to his dream that will determine the dream’s power.” John Gardner

“The author has for the most part absented himself from direct participation in the work and has left the reader to make is own way amid experiences dramatically rendered and symbolically ordered.” Flannery O’Connor

“Your other books I could leave when I wanted to, but this one I might have been dreaming myself.” Flannery O’Connor

“The writer experiences the story less as a person who’s making it up and more as a dreamer who’s dreaming it—which is to say that it’s controlling her as much as she’s controlling it. The story has ‘come to life.’” Madison Smartt Bell

“It is truer of them [fantasy books] than of most books that we can only know what is in them by reading them, and their appeal is specially personal.” E.M. Forster

“That must serve as our definition of fantasy. It implies the supernatural, but need not express it.” E.M. Forster

“Watch a child’s body when he is reading if you want to see the real reader. He wants to get on with the ‘story,’ to be caught up in it, to become it, to take it into himself. In the process he may find much more, but he does so through that delight that is the highest form of entertainment. For me ‘that delight’ means a kind of inner celebration, joyful in a deep sense; an act of receiving from outside a gift, which, by the nature of its reception, makes me more human and less personal. It means also participating in the experience that the work of art is. There is the element of evocation, something good coming out of myself, and an element of growth, of becoming. The whole experience is pleasurable, and perhaps it contains an element of religion.” William Sloane

“Anything a writer does that deepens reader involvement strengthens the fiction. Everything, especially the author’s voice, that corrupts this identification damages the illusion of fiction.” William Sloane

“Every novel is an illusion of reality which the reader accepts as real as long as he is immersed in the book.” William Sloane

“Frequently the feelings to be expressed are so subtle or complex that a few lines of prose or verse are not enough to convey them. It is sometimes necessary, therefore, for authors to write entire books, carrying their readers through numbers of scenes, situations, and adventures, pushing their sympathies now this way and now that, arousing in turn their fighting spirit, their tenderness, their sense of tragedy, their laughter, their superstitiousness, their cupidity, their sensuousness, their piety. Only in such ways, sometimes, can the exact feelings an author wants to express be re-created in his readers. This, then, is the reason that novels, poems, dramas, stories, allegories, and parables exist: to convey such propositions as ‘Life is tragic’, or ‘Susanna is beautiful,’ not by telling us so, but by putting us through a whole series of experiences that make us feel toward life or toward Susanna as the author did.” S.I. Hayakawa

“The good artist should expect no recognition of his toil and no admiration of his genius, because his toil can with difficulty be appraised and his genius cannot possibly mean anything to the illiterate who, even from the dreadful wisdom of their evoked dead, have, so far, culled nothing but inanities and platitudes. I would wish him to enlarge his sympathies by patient and loving observation while he grows in mental power. It is in the impartial practice of life, if anywhere, that the promise of perfection for his art can be found, rather than in the absurd formulas trying to prescribe this or that particular method of technique or conception. Let him mature the strength of his imagination amongst the things of this earth, which it is his business to cherish and know, and refrain from calling down his inspiration ready-made from some heaven of perfections of which he knows nothing. And I would not grudge him the proud illusion that will come sometimes to a writer: the illusion that his achievement has almost equaled the greatness of his dream.” Joseph Conrad

“What I would like would be for it [East of Eden] to read little but to leave a vast feeling.” John Steinbeck

“I think though that I can get the last pages right, if I can only dream myself back into them.” Virginia Woolf