Jim Janke's List of Fiction Writers' Quotes

Follow me:

Fiction Writing Tips Fiction Writing Resources Some Authors of Westerns Some Other Authors

Tom Clancy

  • "The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense."

Ken Follett (on http://ken-follett.com/masterclass/)

  • "The basic challenge for the writer can be very simply explained – it is to create an imaginary world and then draw the reader into that imaginary world.

    All novelists are trying to do that. Once we get there, different writers may have different concerns. Personally, I want to entertain you. I want you to be thrilled or moved to tears or scared and I definitely want you to be on the edge of your seat all the time, wondering what is going to happen next."

Jonathan Franzen

  • "[Writing is]. . . an escape from everything."

  • “If there’s something in the world I’m really upset about, I’m going to do journalism about it. I don’t want to burden the novel with excess fact. More importantly, it would distract me from doing what a novel really ought to be doing, which is forge a connection between writer and reader at a much deeper level.”

  • “It’s like having this dream that you can go back to, kind of on demand. When it’s really going well … you’re in a fantasy land and feeling no pain.” 

  • “I’ve let go of any illusion that I’m a writer of 150-page novels. I need room to let things turn around over time and see them from the whole lives of other characters, not just the single character. For better or worse, one point of view never seems to do it for me.”

  • "I know the pleasures of a book aren’t always easy. I expect to work; I want to work. It’s also in my Protestant nature, however, to expect some reward for this work."

John Gardner (in On Becoming a Novelist, Harper & Row, 1983.)

  • "Spending a lifetime writing novels is hard enough to justify in any case, but spending a lifetime writing novels nobody wants is much harder."

  • ". . . if one tries to write for nobody, only for some pure and unearthly ideal of aesthetic perfection, one is apt to lose heart."

  • "If he's capable of writing expressively, at least sometimes, and if his love for language is not so exclusive or obsessive as to rule out all other interests, one feels the young writer has a chance. The better the writer's feel for language and its limits, the better his odds become."

  • "Detail is the lifeblood of fiction."

John Gardner (in The Art of Fiction, Vintage Books, 1983.)

  • "The center of every Shakespearean play, as of all great literature, is character."

  • "Think, for instance, of the well-known dictum that all expectations raised by the work of fiction must be satisfied, explicitly or implicitly, within the fiction. . . . But the example of Homer, Shakespeare, and others does suggest that aesthetic laws can sometimes be suspended. . . . There are no rules for real fiction."

  • "No one can hope to write well if he has not mastered-absolutely mastered-the rudiments: grammar and syntax, punctuation, diction, sentence variety, paragraph structure, and so forth."

  • "The realistic writer's way of making events convincing is verisimilitude."

  • "In all of the major genres, vivid detail is the life blood of fiction."

  • "Don't try to write without the basic skills of composition; don't try to write 'what you know,' choose a genre; create a kind of dream in the reader's mind, and avoid like the plague all that might briefly distract from that dream."

  • "Plotting, then-however childish and elementary it may seem in comparison with the work of surgeons, philosophers, or nuclear physicists-must be the first and foremost concern of the writer. . . .[But] to say that plot must be the writer's first concern is not to say that it is necessarily the first thing that dawns on him, setting off his project."

  • "Failure to recognize that the central character must act, not simply be acted upon, is the single most common mistake in the fiction of beginners."

  • "In bad or unsatisfying fiction, this [vivid and continuous] fictional dream is interrupted from time to time by some mistake or conscious ploy on the part of the artist. We are abruptly snapped out of the dream, forced to think of the writer or the writing."

  • "A scene will not be vivid if the writer gives too few details to stir and guide the reader's imagination; neither will it be vivid if the language the writer uses is abstract instead of concrete."

  • "The most obvious forms of clumsiness, really failures in the basic skills, include such mistakes as inappropriate or excessive use of the passive voice, inappropriate use of introductory phrases containing infinite verbs, shifts in diction level or the regular use of distracting diction, lack of sentence variety, lack of sentence focus, faulty rhythm, accidental rhyme, needless explanation, and careless shifts in psychic distance."

  • "Much of what goes into a real story or novel goes in not because the writer desperately wants it there but because he needs it: The scene justifies some aspect of character without which the projected climax of the action would not seem credible."

  • "For the climax to be not only persuasive but interesting, it must come about in a way that seems both inevitable and surprising. Needless to say, no surprise will be convincing if it rests on chance, however common chance may be in life."

  • "Every true apprentice writer has, however he may try to keep it secret even from himself, only one major goal: glory."

Sarah Harrison

  • "The various acquired skills which make up the craft of writing are all useful tools - but writing is also an art, not to mention a passion. The tools are not the thing itself. The best writing has at its heart a spark of individual creativity, an X-factor which makes it unique and cannot, thank God, be taught. A gifted editor once told me that what she most looked for in a new writer was 'the glint of obsession'."

  • "Never, never be condescending towards your audience."

  • "First and foremost you must have a wonderful, unstoppable story and powerful characters."

  • "I hate to be a nag, but you have got to read. Like most authors, I run creative writing workshops from time to time, and speak, when invited to writers' circles and at summer schools, and I'm continually amazed at the number of would-be writers who scarcely read. For ideas to germinate and proliferate there has to be fertile ground to sow them in, and for the ground to be fertile it must be mulched with observation, imagination, and other writing."

  • "But fluency and brilliance are not the purpose of the writing. The story is."

  • "You are writing fiction. Fiction is an illusion. The moment you speak as the author you rupture the illusion, and upset the delicate balance between storyteller and story-reader. The only place where this is acceptable is in first-person narrative where the narrator is also a character in her own right."

  • "Writing is a solitary process relying on self-motivation."

  • "Story first."

Stephen King (in On Writing, Pocket Books, 2000.)

  • "I think that yours [writing toolbox] should have at least four [levels]. ... Common tools go on top. The commonest of all, the bread of writing, is vocabulary. . . . You'll also want grammar on the top shelf of your toolbox. . . . On the layer beneath go . . . elements of style. [as in Strunk and White's Elements of Style]. . . but as we move along, you'd do well to remember that we are also talking about magic."

  • "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut."

  • "You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you."

  • "The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing... It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn't, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor."

  • "In terms of genre, it's probably fair to assume that you will begin by writing what you love to read."

  • "What would be very wrong, I think, is to turn away from what you know and like... in favor of things you believe will impress your friends, relatives, and writing-circle colleagues. What's equally wrong is the deliberate turning toward some genre or type of fiction in order to make money. It's morally wonky, for one thing - the job of fiction is to find the truth inside the story's web of lies, not to commit intellectual dishonesty in the hunt for the buck. Also, brothers and sisters, it doesn't work."

  • "In my view, stories and novels consist of three parts: narration, which moves the story from point A to point B and finally to point Z; description, which creates a sensory reality for the reader; and dialogue, which brings characters to life through their speech. You may wonder where plot is in all this. The answer - my answer, anyway - is nowhere."

  • "I want to put a group of characters ... in some sort of predicament and then watch them try to work themselves free."

  • "When you step away from the 'write what you know' rule, research becomes inevitable, and it can add a lot to your story. Just don't end up with the tail wagging the dog; remember that you are writing a novel, not a research paper. The story always comes first."

Louis L'Amour (in Education of a Wandering Man, Bantam Books, 1989.)

  • Education is available to anyone within reach of a library, a post office, or even a newsstand.

  • Somewhere along the line I had fallen in love with learning, and it became a lifelong romance.

  • When I left school at the age of fifteen I was halfway through the tenth grade. I left for two reasons, economic necessity being the first of them. More important was that school was interfering with my education.

  • Ours was a family in which everybody was constantly reading. . .  Reading was as natural to us as breathing.

  • For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography, and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of time.

  • One becomes a writer by writing, by shaping thoughts into the proper or improper words, depending on the subject, and by doing it constantly

  • For a writer, of course, everything is grist for the mill, and a writer cannot know too much. Sooner or later everything he does know will find its uses.

  • A writer's brain is like a magician's hat. If you're going to get anything out of it, you have to put something in first.

  • What people speak of as adventure is something nobody in his right mind would seek out, and it becomes romantic only when one is safely at home. It is much better to watch someone riding a camel across a desert on a movie screen than it is to be up on the camel's back, traveling at a pace of two and a half miles per hour through a blazing hot day with the sand blowing.

  • If a person does not have ideas, he had better not even think of becoming a writer. But ideas are everywhere. There are ideas enough in any daily newspaper to keep a man writing for years. Ideas are all about us, in the people we meet, the way we live, the way we travel, and how we think about things. It's important to remember that we are writing about people. Ideas are important only as they affect people. And we are writing about emotion. A few people reason, but all people feel.

  • To write a story of the West, one must have more accurate knowledge than for any other writing I can think of, aside from some kinds of science fiction. One does not, as some imagine, simply "dash off a western."

  • Of the value of books I am myself my best example. If it were not for books, I should never have been more than a laborer, perhaps killed in a mine disaster, as some of my friends were.

  • Too many writers put their all into one script, and when it is rejected, they are devastated.

  • No matter how good a writer becomes, he can always be better.

  • Books are precious things, but more than that, they are the strong backbone of civilization. They are the thread upon which it all hangs, and they can save us when all else is lost.

  • I often say that a writer owes a debt of authenticity to his readers.

  • The research is half the fun of writing, and delving into old books and records turns up so many unexpected treasures.

  • The writing of a really fine short story is like the carving of a gem.

  • Books are the building blocks of civilization.

  • Often, ambitious young men or women write, wanting to work for me or assist me in the my research. What they do not understand is that it is a labor of love, and I would relinquish no part of it at any price.

  • Beside every western trail lie buried the bodies of those who tried.

James A. Michener

  • "I write at eighty-five for the same reasons that impelled me to write at forty-five; I was born with a passionate desire to communicate, to organize experience, to tell tales that dramatize the adventures which readers might have had. I have been that ancient man who sat by the campfire at night and regaled the hunters with imaginative recitations about their prowess. The job of an apple tree is to bear apples. The job of a storyteller is tell stories, and I have concentrated on that obligation."

  • "Writing is never completed till it's published. . . . One starts a novel with the implicit understanding that the end product is a book that another person can acquire, hold, read and enjoy. . . . By published I not only mean the issuing of the printer version of a manuscript but also mean the circulation of the manuscript among one's peers."

  • "In selecting themes for my big books, I have had but one goal: to write a book that I myself would like to read, and to do it on a topic that will have more than passing interest."

  • "I have tried every device I know to breathe life into my characters, for there is little in fiction more rewarding than to see real people interact on a page. How the writer achieves such a result remains a mystery, but sometimes it happens, and when it does, it is a wonderful thing."

  • "I hope that this time I will be able to hold all the threads together, that the characters will evoke a sense of reality, that what I've written will elucidate the theme, than an occasional paragraph will sing, that I can, in a phrase I learned in England, 'bring it off.' This, I believe, is the constant ambition of the writer and his constant prayer."

  • "I sometimes wonder when I read what even knowledgeable people say about writers and writing if they have any conception of what the life of a writer is like, especially if his or her books achieve wide circulation in many languages. What they don't know might include: a visit to the dentist when people from six surrounding offices come with their books to be signed; the letters that arrive daily thanking you for books that changed the letterwriters' lives; the startling experience of walking to the rear of an airplane to exercise your bad legs and finding six or seven people reading your novels, and often ones published a quarter of a century ago; the warming contact with people who love books and who are endeavoring to entice their children to read, too, by testing them with one of yours; and the knock on the door from a group of neighbors: 'We heard you were in town. We have almost all your books- would you please sign them?'"

Larry McMurtry

  • "Most American creative writing programs in that time [the 50's] proceeded from a obviously mistaken theory, the theory being that is is easier to write something short than to write something long. The exact opposite is true: the lyric poem remains the most difficult form, with the short story next; the novel is, for most writers, the least difficult form. . . .  So we wrote short stories, a form I never came close to mastering."

  • "Horseman, Pass By, written in 1958, was published in 1961. . . . I had expected to be thrilled when I received my first copy of my first book, but when I opened the package and held the first copy in my hand, I found that I just felt sort of flat. There it was. I had made it into the ranks of the published, as I was to do about forty more times. But I felt no great surge of satisfaction. I learned then and have relearned many times since, that the best part of a writer's life is actually doing it, making up characters, filling the blank page, creating scenes that readers in distant places might connect to. The thrill lies in the rush of sentences, the gradual arrival of characters who at once seem to have their own life.  Faulkner said that he just listens to his own characters and writes down what they say. I watch mine, and try, like Conrad, to make the reader see what's going on. You soon lose the sense, in writing fiction, that you yourself are making things happen."

  • "Moving On was not the Great American Novel but for a time I thought it was. . . . I felt something like Hemingway mentioned . . . when in Spain, he wrote two stories in one day and was being prodded by a cheeky waiter to write a third. What Hemingway called Juice I call narrative momentum. I was on kind of a fatigue high."

  • "Characters who have long been with you become your friends."

  • "Lonesome Dove, of all my novels, was, by a large measure, the most difficult to finish. . . .Then I got a break, a gift from the Muse if there ever was one.
    "There is a fine steakhouse called the Ranchman's, in a tiny town called Ponder, Texas, near Denton. . . .It was summer and I happened to be in the neighborhood, so I ate there again, emerging, well fed, at about dusk. A few miles south of Ponder, with the lights of Fort Worth just ahead, I happened to notice an old church bus parked beside the road, and on its side was written: Lonesome Dove Baptist Church.
    "If ever I had an epiphany it was at that moment; I had, at last, found a title for the trail driving book. I promptly went home and finished the book."

  • "Seeing my books [in his 30,000 volume personal library] reminds me that, in a modest way at least, I'm part of literature and the whole complicated cultural enterprise that is literature. I have tried to write books that belong with the books I have gathered and read. . . .  The commonwealth of literature is complex, but a sense of belonging to it is an important feeling for a writer to have and to keep. Sitting with the immortals does not make one an immortal, but the knowledge that they're around you on their shelves does contribute something to one's sense of what one ought to try for."

  • "About three years ago I began to notice that the natural arc both of my reading and my writing was suffering what might be called an autumnal change. . . . Part of the problem, if there is a problem, . . . is that the level of the writer's octane changes. It becomes harder and harder - or, at least, has with me - to produce the high burn that fiction needs."

  • "In most cases it's probably the Reaper, rather than the writer, who decides what the final book will be."

  • "What I have hoped to be, all my mature life, is a man of letters. . . . These memoirs of my own, . . . are collectively my summing up. And what they sum up is how satisfying the work of a man of letters - I believe I now am one - can be.

  • "A published novel, whether good or bad, is at least an end product. A work of the human imagination has been embarked upon and completed. Good or bad it belongs to the writer, and has been exposed to the world as his work.
    "No screenplay, though, is an end product. If it's a good screenplay it may result in a produced movie. . . . Screenplays are a vital element in the whole process but it's obvious to everyone that they themselves are not an end product. They're a blueprint. . .
    "Many writers hate this secondary nature in the film hierarchy."

  • "Wyoming is not a peaceful or a tamed place."

  • "Best not to professionalize a passion, as lovers the world over have discovered when they marry and notice a cooling."

John Nesbitt (in Writing the West with Dusty Richards and Friends, High Hill Press, 2010.)

  • The traditional western needs to have a clear conflict. ... Whatever the conflict, it needs to be established in the opening chapter, present in every chapter thereafter, and resolved in a definite way in the conclusion. ... The main character has to confront the conflict and deal with it in a decisive way.

  • The conflicts can work on more than one level, so that a physical conflict can also be a personal values conflict and an internal conflict. That is what makes a story like High Noon so great.

  • A writer needs to have a fair amount of detail to make the world of the novel convincing. ... Delivery of the detail should not stop the story.

  • The same general principle goes for scene description, character description, and the like: don't stop the story.

David Poyer

  • "I see a writer's ability as standing on three legs, like the tripods Homer speaks of as being dedicated to the gods. Talent, experience, and literary background. Add to these the container that holds the flame: determination."

  • "The single most important thing you ought to do is read."

  • "Last year, beginning writers wasted 1.2 million hours being depressed by rejections and difficulties. Worse yet, they gave up without really giving it all they had. Because they got discouraged. I recommend you adopt the Rule of 32. That is, beginners get 32 free failures. That's the price of learning the job. Only after 32 rejections, insults, bad novels, misfired short stories, do you get to start counting."

  • "Development is the sweaty part of writing. This is what separates the writer from the onlooker, the person who is always going to write a novel 'some day' from the one who in fact does. It's wearying. It's dull. It's not nearly as much fun as the research. It is hard. It takes a long time."

  • "It needed work, but there was something there. That was the way with words. Alone they were flat, non-numinous. But if you rubbed them together long enough, you would find a pair that threw mysterious sparks. Like pieces of fissionable metal machined to fit." (In his The Gulf, 1990)

Annie Proulx

  • For me the strongest influences are the varied landscapes and bare ground of the hinterlands, rough weather and rural people living lives in the pincers of damaging isolation, ingrained localisms, and the economic decisions made by distant urban powers. The rush, for me, comes from the effort to put these lives on paper, and through them examine the society that draws the lines.

  • I am influenced by words and the chewiness of language, the specialized phrases and names that have come out of human work and travel through the landscapes.

  • When I write, I try to make landscapes rise from the page, to appear in the camera lens of the reader's mind. The reader is also an absent presence, but one that's leaning a sharp and influential elbow on my shoulder.

Dusty Richards (in Writing the West with Dusty Richards and Friends, High Hill Press, 2010.)

  • Except for fashions and horses, writing a good western is no different than writing any other kind of fiction. You have a bigger than life character, and he or she must succeed in what they consider a necessary goal.

  • A book comes in four sections. 1st quarter: Your main point-of-view (POV) character is LOST. 2nd Quarter: Your hero is an ORPHAN. 3rd Quarter: He becomes an emerging HERO. 4th Quarter: He becomes a HERO/MARTYR.

  • How are you ever going to create like a professional writer? For one thing, do lots of writing.

  • Author intrusion is important to avoid.

  • Details are what make a book memorable.

  • Get rid of double words (identical words in close proximity to each other).

  • I play background music when I write. ... When I've written for several hours and discover I need a break, it surprises to find I've not heard a note of the music. That is when I have been working deep in my writing, and those times of creativity may be my best.

  • Don't make the facts in your book so technical that they distract from the story.

Nora Roberts

  • "Well, it takes [to write a romance novel]-- it takes a good story teller, first and foremost. Romance writing isn't different from any other sort of popular fiction in that-- plot, narrative setting, dialogue-- everything has to be there. You have to have good, interesting, strong characters."

  • "One of the best perks of being a writer is becoming-- for the time it takes to write the book-- someone else. To write well, you have to climb inside someone else's skin and personality. In Daring to Dream, I got to become gorgeous and glamorous and gutsy Margo Sullivan. Not a bad deal."

Jory Sherman (in Writing the West with Dusty Richards and Friends, High Hill Press, 2010.)

  • If you are not discouraged by the amount of research you must do before crafting a novel, then you're ready to create characters and plot a story.

  • You will learn, as you write your novel [about mountain men], and you go with your hero to the far places, to listen to crickets, to hear the mournful howl of a wolf, the plaintive bugling of an elk, and you will hear the partridges in the underbrush and the fluting calls of the quail. You will see the hawk floating down a steep slope of ponderosa pines, a snowy-crowned eagle snatching a salmon from a river with his talons. And, you will see across the sky, while gilded clouds turn to ash against the purest blue you ever saw. And, you will hear that great silence that comes to the mountains when the sun falls away from Vulcan's fiery forge to the faraway sea. You will be there, trapping beaver in an icy pond, or along a rippling stream.
    And, you will take the reader of your novel along with you.

"Red" Smith (also attributed to Paul Gallico and others)

  • “Writing is easy. You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

Patrick Taylor

  • “Life’s a carousel. You get one ticket; enjoy the ride. And if you’re a writer, take notes.”

Jodi Thomas (in Writing the West with Dusty Richards and Friends, High Hill Press, 2010.)

  • If a reader doesn't care about the character no research on facts will keep them reading the book.

  • Your characters have to be real to you if you want them to be real to the reader. Take time to get to know them. Know things about them that you don't even put in the book. Give them a past, a dream, a fear, a secret, a mission.

  • Study your time period. Know what happened that year in history. Know how people felt about what was happening.

  • Walk the land. Some of my best ideas have come from stepping out of the car and walking across land my character would have crossed a hundred years ago.

  • Read the top writers in your field. Take a serious look at how they put a story together.

  • Plot. Sometimes the time and setting can help mold your plot. Sometimes the characters will tell you the plot. And, sometimes the plot is simply their lives.

  • Write hard. Write long hours. Write as fast as you can. Write when you don't feel like it. Write when you don't think it's any good. Write when no one believes in you. If writing were easy, everyone would do it.

  • A writer writes.

  • Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite.

Gore Vidal

  • "As every author- and every reader- knows, writing well is the best trip of them all."

Ayelet Waldman

  • ". . .there's a word to describe the kind of meticulously constructed writing that bores even the author: A 'bore-geous' novel... Bore-geousness happens when you are writing beautifully but pointlessly."

  • "A scene, unlike a description, not only has a beginning, a middle, and an end, but by the time it's over, something has changed, something has happened without which the story can't continue. Each scene must be necessary to the narrative."

  • "Good narrative writing must defend itself. Every sentence, even every word, must be there for a reason beyond its beauty. It must move the story along, pushing it toward what comes next. Good writing can and should be beautiful, but it must never be only beautiful. Bore-geous is always too much, and never enough."







Hit Counter