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

“Nothing can be made to be of interest to the reader that was not first of vital concern to the writer.” John Gardner

“Wisdom begins in wonder.” Socrates

“You can’t fake interest in a subject.” Philip Gerard

“Books are about things which are outside books. If books are not about the world then they are not interesting to people, not even interesting to write, to me.” Salman Rushdie

“The great novels we get in the future are not going to be those that the public thinks it wants, or those that critics demand. They are going to be the kind of novels that interest the novelist.” Flannery O’Connor

“The novels that interest the novelist are those that have not already been written. They are those that put the greatest demand on him, that require him to operate at the maximum of his intelligence and his talents, and to be true to the particularities of his own vocation. The direction of many of us will be more toward poetry than toward the traditional novel.” Flannery O’Connor

“The child, almost any child, is born with the hope that the universe is somehow to be explained: it may be, the writer does not outlive that hope—here and there his eye passes, from clue to clue… Somewhere within the pattern, somewhere behind the words, a responsive, querying innocence stays intact.” Elizabeth Bowen

“Living is the trick. Writers who write interestingly tend to be men and women who keep themselves interested. That’s almost the whole point of becoming a writer.” William Zinsser

“People of every age will write better and with more enjoyment if they write about what they care about.” William Zinsser

“I’m struck by how often as a writer I say to myself, ‘That’s interesting.’ If you find yourself saying it, pay attention and follow your nose. Trust your curiosity to connect with the curiosity of your readers.” William Zinsser

“Ask yourself, therefore, what kind of conflicts and events you would find interesting. You will be surprised at how productive this is… Do not ask what kind of events would make the best propaganda, or what kind your potential audience might like—no, ask what you personally would like to see happen. That is the best springboard for interesting events.” Ayn Rand

“Writers always write best about what they most care about.” John Gardner

“The nobler the goal, the more interesting the story.” John Gardner

“I don’t think you should write something as long as a novel about anything that is not of the gravest concern to you and everybody else.” Flannery O’Connor

“A good story is literal in the same way that a child’s drawing is literal. When a child draws, he doesn’t intend to distort but to set down exactly what he sees, and as his gaze is direct, he sees the lines that create motion. Now the lines of motion that interest the writer are usually invisible. They are lines of spiritual motion.” Flannery O’Connor

“Experiment but for heaven’s sake don’t go writing exercises. You will never be interested in anything that is just an exercise and there is no reason you should. Don’t do anything that you are not interested in and that don’t have a promise of being whole.” Flannery O’Connor

“Anything we read for pleasure we read because it interests us.” John Gardner

“A powerful part of our interest as we read great literature is our sense that we’re ‘onto something.’ And part of our boredom when we read books in which the vision of life seems paltry minded is our sense that we are not.” John Gardner

“Stories beginning in character and conflict are bound to be more interesting than stories that do not.” John Gardner

“What chiefly interests us in fiction is characters in action.” Aristotle

“The only thing that can make a story exiting and hold a reader’s interest is some value at stake.” Ayn Rand

“I must note this odd symptom; a conviction that I shall go on, see it through, because it interests me to write it.” Virginia Woolf

“The novel of a classless and towerless world should be a better novel than the old novel. The novelist will have more interesting people to describe—people who have had a chance to develop their humour, their gifts, their tastes; real people, not people cramped and squashed into featureless masses by hedges.” Virginia Woolf

“They are not necessarily happy or successful, but there is a zest in their presence, an interest in their doings. They seem alive all over.” Virginia Woolf

“What happens, so far as I’m concerned, is that you have an idea, but it’s just one of many ideas. It may stay latent, a dry seed, for years. Then gradually it stirs, begins to obsess you slightly. One day it really obsesses you, and you’re in business… Or maybe it’s a certain interest in a particular field which then gives birth to a specific image, the thing that actually obsesses you.” John Fowles

“There are no uninteresting subjects, only uninteresting writers.” William Sloane

“It is impossible to teach anyone what to write. The content must come from within. The importance of this short sentence cannot be exaggerated. All effective writing is about something, and almost all of it above the level of soup can label, turns out to be about quite a lot of things fused or laced or linked together.” William Sloane

“Don’t worry about the words. I’ve been doing that since 1921. I always count them when I knock off and am drinking the first whiskey and soda. Guess I got in the habit writing dispatches. Used to send them from some places where they cost a dollar and a quarter a word and you had to make them awful interesting at that price or get fired.” Ernest Hemingway

“I’ve used writing to give myself an interesting life and a continuing education. If you write about subjects you think you would enjoy knowing about, your enjoyment will show in what you write. Learning is a tonic.” William Zinsser

“The novelist’s subject is not society, not the individual as a social unit, but the individual as he himself is, behind the social mask.” Elizabeth Bowen

“The novel is whatever novelists are doing at a given time. If we’re not doing the big social novel fifteen years from now, it’ll probably mean our sensibilities have changed in ways that make such work less compelling to us—we won’t stop because the market dried up. The writer leads, he doesn’t follow. The dynamic lives in the writer’s mind, not in the size of the audience. And if the social novel lives, but only barely, surviving in the cracks and ruts of the culture, maybe it will be taken more seriously, as an endangered spectacle. A reduced context but a more intense one.” Don DeLillo

“The precious particle… the stray suggestion, the wandering word, the vague echo, at a touch of which the novelist’s imagination winces as at the prick of some sharp point.” Henry James

“The two great foundations of art and science: curiosity and criticism.” John Steinbeck

“All novels are burdened with the need to make life more interesting than it is.” Wright Morris

“Evil conquering good is not so interesting as good conquering good.” George Bernard Shaw

“The only way a writer can satisfy his own curiosity is to write it.” Eudora Welty

“There was something in the story before him which kindled his interest and quickened his powers.” Virginia Woolf