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

"No one with a distorted view of reality can write good novels, because as we read we measure fictional worlds against the real world.” John Gardner

“All novelists are fundamentally seekers and describers of the real, but the realism of each novelist will depend on his view of the ultimate reaches of reality.” Flannery O’Connor

“It may be going too far to say that the exactness and concreteness and solidity of the real world achieved in a story corresponds to the intensity of feeling in the author’s mind and to the very turn of his heart; but there lies the secret of our confidence in him.” Eudora Welty

“Making reality is art’s responsibility. It is a practical assignment, then, a self-assignment: to achieve, by a cultivated sensitivity for observing life, a capacity for receiving its impressions, a lonely, unremitting, unaided, unaidable vision, and transferring this vision without distortion to it onto the pages of a novel, where, if the reader is so persuaded, it will turn into the reader’s illusion.” Eudora Welty

“And what is a novel if not a conviction of our fellow-men’s existence strong enough to take upon itself a form of imagined life clearer than reality and whose accumulated verisimilitude of selected episodes puts to shame the pride of documented history?” Joseph Conrad

“Some writers confuse authenticity, which they ought always to aim at, with originality, which they should never bother about.” W. H. Auden

“In art you are impressing an idea on matter and this gives a sense that you do not have in real life. You use reality to make a different kind of reality.” Flannery O’Connor

“Once the story has been sufficiently realized, it (and its author) must abide by its own laws of reality—some things can happen but others cannot.” Madison Smartt Bell

“All novels are really metaphors for reality.” John Fowles

“I’m always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system.” Flannery O’Connor

“They [characters] are real not because they are like ourselves (though they may be like us) but because they are convincing.” E.M. Forster

“A novel is a work of art, with its own laws, which are not those of daily life, and a character in a novel is real when it lives in accordance with such laws.” E.M. Forster

“And now we can get a definition as to when a character in a book is real: it is real when the novelist knows everything about it. He may not choose to tell us all he knows—many of the facts, even of the kind we call obvious, may be hidden. But he will give us the feeling that though the character has not been explained, it is explicable, and we get from this a reality of a kind we can never get in daily life.” E.M. Forster

“The novelist is bound by the reasonable possibilities, not the probabilities, of his culture.” Flannery O’Connor

“I like the marvelous only when it is strictly enveloped in reality.” Henri Alain-Fournier

“If he [the novelist] is going to show the supernatural taking place, he has nowhere to do it except on the literal level of natural events, and that if he doesn’t make these natural things believable in themselves, he can’t make them believable in any of their spiritual extensions.” Flannery O’Connor

“The fiction writer has to make a whole world believable by making every part and aspect of it believable.” Flannery O’Connor

“The writer learns, perhaps more quickly than the reader, to be humble in the face of what-is. What-is is all he has to do with; the concrete is his medium; and he will realize eventually that fiction can transcend its limitations only by staying within them.” Flannery O’Connor

“He [the writer] cares about seeing things clearly and getting them down effectively. Partly he cares because he knows that careless seeing can undermine his project. Imagining the fictional scene imprecisely the writer may be tricked into developing his situation in some way that is unconvincing. This is perhaps the chief offense in bad fiction: we sense that characters are being manipulated, forced to do things they would not really do.” John Gardner

“When the novelist’s imaginary world is too carelessly constructed to test conditions in the real world, even the novelist’s ideas suffer.” John Gardner

“An artist is someone who believes in art, who believes that art reflects something which is real in life, who tries to see and reveal to others what life is in his own time by making it art.” John Gardner

“Fiction writers engage in the homeliest, and most concrete, and most unromanticizable of all arts.” Flannery O’Connor

“When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.” Flannery O’Connor

“The type of mind that can understand good fiction is not necessarily the educated mind, but it is at all times the kind of mind that is willing to have its sense of mystery deepened by contact with reality, and its sense of reality deepened by contact with mystery.” Flannery O’Connor

“Fiction is an art that calls for the strictest attention to the real—whether the writer is writing a naturalistic story or fantasy. I mean that we always begin with what is or with what has an eminent possibility of truth about it. Even when one writes fantasy, reality is the proper basis of it. A thing is fantastic because it is so real, so real that it is fantastic.” Flannery O’Connor

“I would even go so far as to say that the person writing a fantasy has to be even more strictly attentive to the concrete detail than someone writing in a naturalistic vein—because the greater the story’s strain on credulity, the more convincing the properties in it have to be.” Flannery O’Connor

“If we admit, as we must, that appearance is not the same thing as reality, then we must give the artist the liberty to make certain rearrangements of nature if these will lead to greater depths of vision. The artist himself always has to remember that what he is rearranging is nature, and that he has to know it and be able to describe it accurately in order to have the authority to rearrange it at all.” Flannery O’Connor

“Jethro [a character in a friend’s story] uses words like presence, brow, fitting, dwelling, finery, neat little old pen of a house, neat and pretty, canny sly old thing, crocodile tears, etc.—words and phrases that sound like you, not like a Negro man. . . . It sounds as if these things are dragged in to show where the author’s sympathies lie; leave it to the NAACP. . . . Negroes just don’t go live in the mountains.” Flannery O’Connor

“Man can believe the impossible, but man can never believe the improbable.” Oscar Wilde

“For the poet poetry is his finest mode of thinking and perceiving, of being, of discovering reality and participating in reality.” Yvor Winters

“A novel is a picture of life, and life is well known to us; let us first of all ‘realize’ it, and then, using our taste, let us judge whether it is true, vivid, convincing—like life, in fact. Percy Lubbock

“The writer involves the reader by creating an illusion of reality. . . .The stronger this illusion of reality, the more completely it engrosses the entire conscious attention of the reader.” William Sloane

“Ultimately, you have to believe. If it is not real for you, you cannot talk about it persuasively. Because the writing of fiction is all about producing an illusion, it’s all-important that you believe in the illusion absolutely. You will never fool anyone else if you can’t fool yourself.” Madison Smartt Bell

“Reality is largely created by the observer, which makes it an awful lot like, well, fiction.” Will Blythe

“I write to collect the world.” Tom Chiarella

“The writer, in fact, first knows he has found his subject by finding himself already obsessed by it. The outcome of obsession is, that he writes—rationalization begins with his search for language. He must (like the child who cannot keep silent) share, make known, communicate what he has seen, or knows. The urgency of what is real to him demands that it should be realized by other people.” Elizabeth Bowen

“The whole of the novel as a whole—every possible aspect of the characters (not merely aspects relevant to the plot) and every possibility, implication, angle or incident of the plot (apart from the parts played by the characters)—ought to be an imaginative reality for the author, conceived absolutely, existing completely, circumstantial down to the last detail. Where the author has failed to know, there will be a vacuum, which cannot but become by the reader. The writer’s failure to realize, at any point, may flaw the reality of the whole.” Elizabeth Bowen

“It is the extreme case, the exaggerated version of reality, that illustrates the universal.” Philip Gerard

“I’ve always kept away from writers, the lit set. I much rather talk to the woodcutter than a fellow writer. I like the primary material. I don’t like exchanging ideas. I don’t, believe it or not, much like talking about my work.” John le Carre

“I don’t even really like the word fantasy as a description of that kind of non-naturalistic material in my books, because fantasy seems to contain that idea of whimsy and randomness, whereas I now think of it as a method of producing intensified images of reality—images which have their roots in the observable, verifiable fact.” Salman Rushdie

“I do think that one thing that is valuable in fiction is to find techniques for making actuality more intense, so that you experience it more intensely in the writing than you do outside the writing.” Salman Rushdie

“I don’t think I write fantasies. I think I write understatements, pale shadows of the world.” Salman Rushdie

“Realism—to paraphras him [Brecht]—is whatever you have to do in order to describe what you see. If that involves golden angels coming from underneath moutains, that that’s realism.” Salman Rushdie

“Realism is whatever it takes.” Salman Rushdie

“Literature is in part the business of finding new angles at which to enter reality.” Salman Rushdie

“The problem with fiction is that it has to be plausible. That’s not true with non-fiction.” Tome Wolfe

“What is remembered is what becomes reality.” Patricia Hampl

“. . . in autobiography, as in all literature, what actually happened is less important that what the author can manage to persuade his audience to believe.” Salman Rushdie