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

“The writer is the midwife of understanding.” Arundhati Roy

“The writer must be not only capable of understanding people different from himself but fascinated by such people.” John Gardner

“My whole work drive has been aimed at making people understand each other.” John Steinbeck

“Understanding is the writer’s true currency.” Ulf Wolf

“If even one person understands what you intended to be understood, then you can say you have succeeded. Past that, the only issue is just how widely accessible you want your work to be.” Madison Smartt Bell

“His [the writer’s] perpetual question is: do these words, does this paragraph, does this entire piece, suit my present purpose? The purpose at large is always the same: it is to be understood aright. Reader and writer have both wasted their time if mental darkness is the only result of their separate efforts. And—this is the very ethics of writing—the reader’s part of the effort must never become a strain.” Jacques Barzun

“One writes for everyone, for all those who need to be initiated. If one’s not understood, one resigns oneself to it and tries again. That’s the whole secret of our unremitting labours and our love of art. What is art without the hearts and minds into which we pour it? A sun that radiates no light and gives life to nothing.” George Sand

“I like to think that I am general enough and common enough so that I have some emphatic approach to nearly every human emotion and feeling and thought. Of course it is only that I like to think this. It does not make it true but if it were true I would be a better writer for it.” John Steinbeck

“I sometimes wonder if I must not be all the people I am writing about. And good lord there are so many I must be hundreds.” John Steinbeck

“We have all felt that a book knew us better than we knew ourselves, that the book was, in fact, writing us.” Frances Wilson

“Fiction goes after understanding by capturing, through imitation, ‘the ineluctable modality of the world’—that is, characters who subtly embody values and who test them, with clear but inexpressible results, in action.” John Gardner

“I don’t see that you can write seriously without having a philosophy of both life and literature to back you.” John Fowles

“On the whole, we discover, even writers who profess a concern about truth do not often take the trouble to search our real understanding or dramatically earn their assertions.” John Gardner

“In literature, structure is the evolving sequence of dramatized events tending toward understanding and assertion; that is, toward some meticulously qualified belief.” John Gardner

“[Effectiveness as a writer of fiction] lies—as did the power of Tolstoy and Henry James—in seeing into other people’s minds, even people the writer dislikes, and recreating lives on paper, giving each character his moment of dignity and thus helping us to understand intellectually and intuitively both others and ourselves.” John Gardner

“All understanding is an articulation of intuitions.” John Gardner

“We all write at our own level of understanding, but it is the peculiar characteristic of fiction that its literal surface can be made to yield entertainment on an obviously physical plane to one sort of reader while the selfsame surface can be made to yield meaning to the person equipped to experience it there.” Flannery O’Connor

“It [understanding] means a sharing so full that at the end, the experience belongs both to the writer who wrote it in his mind and then outwardly to the reader, and to the reader who received it through fearfully abstract symbols and reproduced it in his own imagination. It is this collaboration that completes the experience.” William Sloane

“Density is one of the most difficult aspects of fiction to discuss because it is not a separate element like plot or even characterization. Rather it is a part of everything else. Real density is achieved when the optimum number of things is going on at once, some of them overtly, others by implication.” William Sloane

“Understanding does not come through dealing with words alone, but rather with the things for which they stand.” H.R. Huse

“As a man you know who is right and who is wrong. You have to make decisions and enforce them. As a writer you should not judge. You should understand.” Ernest Hemingway

“There is no getting around it: meaning implies convention, and the discovery that meanings change does not alter the fact that when convention is broken, misunderstanding and chaos are close at hand.” Jacques Barzun