- "The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense."
"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."
. . 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."
(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
". . . 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
"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."
"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
"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."
(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
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
"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
"In terms of genre, it's
probably fair to assume that you will begin by writing what you love to
"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
"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
Louis L'Amour (in
Education of a Wandering Man,
Bantam Books, 1989.)
available to anyone within reach of a library, a post office, or even a
along the line I had fallen in love with learning, and it became a lifelong
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.
brain is like a magician's hat. If you're going to get anything out of it,
you have to put something in first.
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.
writers put their all into one script, and when it is rejected, they are
No matter how
good a writer becomes, he can always be better.
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.
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.
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.
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
"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
"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
"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?'"
"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
"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
"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
"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
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.
"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
"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,
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
(in Writing the West
with Dusty Richards and Friends, High Hill
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
intrusion is important to avoid.
what make a book memorable.
Get rid of
double words (identical words in close proximity to each other).
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.
"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
"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
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)
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.
". . .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."