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

“A good book is one that, for its time, is wise, sane, and magical, one that clarifies life and tends to improve it.” John Gardner

“I hold that a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature.” John Steinbeck

“The ordinary novelist does not argue; he hopes to show, to disclose. His persuasions are all toward allowing his reader to see and hear something for himself.” Eudora Welty

“A brilliantly imagined novel about a rapist or a murderer can be more enlightening than a thousand psycho-sociological studies.” John Gardner

“The business of art is to reveal the relation between man and his circumambient universe, at the living moment.” D.H. Lawrence

“Man will become better only when you make him see what he is like.” Anton Chekhov

“A durable narrative . . . will enlighten and delight, a representation of life that is also larger than life.” Philip Gerard

“The end of writing is to instruct; the end of poetry is to instruct by pleasing.” Samuel Johnson

“It [The Art of Writing, William Sloane] releases the aura of one good man’s mind, whereby the aura around the saying—as always happens in the best writing—becomes even more useful than the thing said.” John Ciardi

“We are making God believable to, as I’ve said before, an audience not adequately equipped to believe anything.” Flannery O’Connor

“This is the great task that affective communication performs: it enables us to feel how others felt about life, even if they lived thousands of miles away and centuries ago. It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish.” S.I. Hayakawa

“I got a letter from an exmonk the other day, who claimed that The Magus had got him out of the monastery. I told him, not really. It had just given him a nudge along the way. I think that’s all one can ask of the novel. It can’t change society, but it can push people a little bit or show them the way.” John Fowles

“As the figure of the poet-priest found in every old society makes clear, it is impossible to distinguish between the primitive artist and the primitive holy man. Cows and horses were the same thing in the days of the Devonian fish. If they differ now it’s because they’ve adapted to different functions.” John Gardner

“Human beings have their great chance in the novel. They say to the novelist: ‘Recreate us if you like, but we must come in,’ and the novelist’s problem . . . is to give them a good run and to achieve something else at the same time.” E.M. Forster

“. . . by the end you feel you have lived many lives: which is perhaps the greatest gift a novel can give.” Ursula K. Le Guin

“A novel is not the literary medium in which to advocate political action of a direct kind, simply because it never works. It has of course in the past helped remedy various social outrages. But I think its main power, in this context, is in enlarging or focusing sensibility—changing climates a little, not inspiring action directly.” John Fowles

“I strongly feel that the novel is not dying. And that the greater complexity of technique caused by its added self-consciousness does or can fulfill the ultimate purpose of both explaining and teaching more.” John Fowles

“If the people who read that book feel continuously that they are being added to and believe, at the end, that there is more to them than there was before, the work of nonfiction has succeeded. The same can be said of fiction as well.” William Sloane

“The Kings of Egypt, the Tibetan priest behind his ceremonial mask, the Roman political exile, and the embittered Harlem youth are presented to us by the novelist, the poet, and the playwright, at levels of vivid and intimate description, so that we learn how they lived, what they worried about, and how they felt. When the lives of other people, of whatever time and place, are examined this way, we discover to our amazement that they are all people. This discovery is the basis of all civilized human relationships. If we remain uncivilized—whether in community, industrial, national, or international relationships—it is largely because most of us have not yet made this discovery. Literature is one of the important instruments to that end.” S.I. Hayakawa

“It’s not that literature doesn’t save soul; I suspect it has a better record in that department than the church. But God help the writer who pulls up to his desk with soul-saving in mind.” Will Blythe

“I ask a great deal of a book: astonishment, transformation, art, and nothing less.” Pat Conroy

“Many thrillers and mystery novels, for instance, completely captivating ‘reads,’ melt from our memories as soon as the plot is solved. Because the gripping plot, the persuasion of continuity, is not only complete but is all there is to the book. We’re left with no ideas, no impressions that challenge or provoke us to thought, no intriguing patterns that tease us into comprehension on a higher level, no experience of beauty, no significant new understanding of ourselves or the world. In short, there’s nothing to possess.” Philip Gerard

“How to be usefully didactic without being preachy? One solution in fiction is to let characters act like characters—to say and do the things those characters would plausibly say and do.” Philip Gerard

“I decline to accept the end of man.  It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure; that when the last ding-dong doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of this puny, inexhaustible voice, he will still be talking. Refuse to accept this.  I believe that man will not merely endure; he will prevail.  He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.  The poet’s, the writer’s duty is to write about these things.  It is his privilege to help man by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be a record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillar that help him endure and prevail. “ William Faulkner

“Our objective as storytellers and writers isn’t to make money—there are faster and easier ways of doing that.  Our objective is to change people by putting our stories in their memory; to make the world better by bringing other people face to face with reality, or giving them a vision of hope, or whatever other form our truthtelling might take.” Orson Scott Card

“Easy to say it is not a great book. But what qualities does it lack? That it adds nothing to one’s vision of life, perhaps.” Virginia Woolf

“A book is an ax for the frozen sea within.” Franz Kafka