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

“As a great French stylist has said: ‘The fundamental rule of style is to keep solely in view the thought one wants to convey.’ And he added ironically: ‘One must therefore have a thought to start with.’” Jacques Barzun

“One starts writing, not with a well-shaped thought, trimmed and polished, but with an intent.” Jacques Barzun

“The story does indeed take on a life of its own, asserting its own verities in a fashion which is (however paradoxical it may seem) separate from, though generated by, the intentions of the writer.” Madison Smartt Bell

“Writing is related to character. If your values are sound, your writing will be sound. It all begins with intention. Figure out what you want to do and how you want to do it, and work your way with humanity and integrity.” William Zinsser

“You may ask what will set the caldron of ideas bubbling. Wanting to tell is the answer.” Jacques Barzun

“George Orwell pointed out years ago that bad writing was often a sign of political deceit. Today it is clearly a sign of unlovely moral traits as well—vanity, pretentiousness, pedantry, complacency about one’s ignorance, disrespect toward the listener, and a curious mixture of slavish imitation and desire to appear original.” Jacques Barzun

“The intention of the pseudo-technical [word] is to impress with modernity and seriousness.” Jacques Barzun

“Mean what you write.” Ulf Wolf

“What’s the difference between the genuine and the perfectly faked? The reader can tell.” Ulf Wolf

“The only end of writing is to enable readers to better enjoy life or better . . . endure it.” Samuel Johnson

“A good writer always works at the impossible.” John Steinbeck

“If we ask what is the literary impulse par excellence we are, I think, bound to say that it is a desire to pull together one’s conscious self and project it into some tangible constructed thing made up of words and ideas.” Jacques Barzun

“It is certain my conviction gains infinitely at the moment another soul will believe in it.” Novalis

“Sometimes in a man or a woman awareness takes place—not very often and always inexplainable. There are no words for it because there is no one ever to tell. This is a secret not kept a secret, but locked in wordlessness. The craft of writing is the clumsy attempt to find symbols for the wordlessness. In utter loneliness the writer tries to explain the inexplainable.” John Steinbeck