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

“Write about what you know and write truly.” Ernest Hemingway

“When the soul wishes to experience something she throws an image of the experience before her and enters into her own image.” Meister Eckhart

“The writer’s business is to contemplate experience, not to be merged in it.” Flannery O’Connor

“After all, we do not write to recapture an experience; we write to come as close to it as we can.” Norman Mailer

“The good creative artist is a man who has learned to drop at will almost anywhere he wishes in his experience, recapturing an infinite variety of impressions from the past—though he may have no clear idea of where in his past they come from. “ John Gardner

“The fact is that anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days. If you can’t make something out of a little experience, you probably won’t be able to make it out of a lot.” Flannery O’Connor

“First of all, read and think. All good books are distilled experience. Stay away from creative writing courses.” John Fowles

“—the individual experiencer, the ‘green man’ hidden in the leaves of his or her unique and once-only being.” John Fowles

“I read some stories at one of the colleges not long ago—all by Southerners—but with the exception of one story, they might have all originated in some synthetic place that could have been anywhere or nowhere. These stories hadn’t been influenced by the outside world at all, only by television. It was a grim view of the future.” Flannery O’Connor

“The medium of literary art is not language but language plus the writer’s experience and imagination and, above all, the whole of the literary tradition he knows.” John Gardner

“The medium of any given art is everything that has ever been done in it, or everything the artist is aware of in his tradition. The medium for the first sculptor may have been mud, but the second sculptor worked with a more complex substance: mud and his experience of the first sculptor’s work.” John Gardner

“The articulation which satisfies an artist is directly analogous to that which satisfies a preacher: an interpretation of the experience of his own time and place, summed up in the person of the artist or preacher, developed through the medium of the whole tradition of, in one case, art, and in the other case, doctrine.” John Gardner

“To speak of ‘tradition and individual talent’ is to speak misleadingly, though not incorrectly. We would do better to speak of the convergence of tradition and the individual artist’s moment.” John Gardner

“I read a novel for the purpose of seeing the kind of people I would want to see in real life and living through the kind of experience I would want to live through.” Ayn Rand

“Good writing is true writing. If a man is making a story up it will be true in proportion to the amount of knowledge of life that he has and how conscientious he is; so that when he makes something up it is as it would truly be.” Ernest Hemingway

“I sincerely believe the best thing for a young writer to do is to get the hell off the campus and go and work it out on his own.” John Fowles

“Every writer has to work within the frame of his own material. For the beginning writer, it is important to select scenes that he can handle. If yours is an historical noveltry not to have a log cabin raising unless you know how they were actually built. Do not attempt a scene of madness unless you know what you are talking about.” William Sloane

“The first requirement of a writer is that he know something. The second requirement is not remarkably different. The wise writer writes about what he knows and never about what he knows nothing.” William Sloane

“The infinity of differences in our feelings towards all the many experiences that we undergo are too subtle to be reported; they must be expressed. And we express them by the complicated manipulation of tones of voice, of rhythms, of connotations, of affective facts, of metaphors, of allusions, of every affective device of language at our command.” S.I. Hayakawa

“Human life . . . is ‘lived’ at more than one level; we inhabit both the extensional world and the world of words (and other symbols). ‘Living other people’s lives in books’ means, as we shall use the expression here, symbolic experience—sometimes called ‘vicarious experience.’” S.I. Hayakawa

“In the enjoyment and contemplation of a work of literary or dramatic art—a novel, a play, a moving picture—we find our deepest enjoyment when the leading characters in the story to some degree symbolize ourselves. . . . As we identify ourselves with the people in the story, the dramatist or the novelist puts us through organized sequences of symbolic experiences.” S.I. Hayakawa

“The differences between actual and symbolic experiences are great—one is not scarred by watching a moving-picture battle, nor is one nourished by watching people in a play having dinner. Furthermore, actual experiences come to us in highly disorganized fashion: meals, arguments with the landlady, visits to the doctor about one’s fallen arches, and so on, interrupt the splendid course of romance. The novelist, however, abstracts only the events relevant to his story and then organizes them into a meaningful sequence.” S.I. Hayakawa

“If an author has adequately dealt with tensions that people under all times and conditions appear to experience, do we not call his writings ‘universal’ and ‘undying’?” S.I. Hayakawa

“To symbolize adequately and then to order into a coherent whole one’s experiences constitute an integrative act. The great novelist or dramatist or poet is one who has successfully integrated and made coherent vast areas of human experience. Literary greatness requires, therefore, great extensional awareness of the range of human experience as well as great powers of ordering that experience meaningfully. This is why he discipline of the creative artist is endless: there is always more to learn, both about human experience (which is the material to be ordered) and about the techniques of his craft (which are the means of ordering).” S.I. Hayakawa

“No other Western writer has ever known India as Kipling knew it, and it is this knowledge of place, and procedure, and detail that gives his stories their undeniable authority.” Salman Rushdie