Saturday, September 26, 2009


I collect quotations, especially those having to do with writing, and most especially, fiction. Here are three that I think go directly to the heart of the matter.

All that non-fiction can do is answer questions. It is fiction’s business to ask them. Richard Hughes

Truth may be stranger than fiction, but fiction is truer. Frederic Raphael

Why shouldn’t truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense. Mark Twain

How does a writer of fiction, starting with nothing but his imagination, craft a story that is true, makes sense and asks questions that are worthy of a reader’s time? How I wish I had an answer to that! I’ve certainly pondered it often enough. I’ve read books written by people who are supposed to know.

One common bit of advice is: RESEARCH - If you’re stuck, hit the books–or the internet. Research helps you build on the knowledge and experience of those who have gone before. It teaches you to look at a situation from different angles and, with that, comes greater understanding, which should make it easy. The advice is good, but, at least for me, it only works to a point. Research produces facts, the backdrop that gives credibility to fiction, but facts will only get you so far. When it comes to telling a story, you’re still a long way from home.

Another source advises: OBSERVE - Stop. Look around. Almost the same as research, except now, instead of books, you’re gaining understanding from the young mother in the next lane at the checkout counter or the teenaged couple ignoring each other and texting in the seat in front you on the train. You know there’s a story there. But how do you tell it?

Another bit of advice, almost like the one just above: EAVESDROP – Don’t you love being given permission to engage in this titillating breach of manners? It may not be polite, but it is educational. Listening to random bits of conversation, you pick up the vocabulary and speech patterns unique to different groups of people, essential when writing dialogue. Helpful as this is, you still have to tailor it to your characters, their backgrounds and temperaments.

I’ve even heard: PROCRASTINATE – Put it aside for a while; let it perk. Probably good advice, but inherently dangerous. Yet sometimes it’s the best path to follow. Ideas grow and take shape if you don’t try to force them. Ultimately, though, if you’re ever going to finish your novel, you have to get back to the computer. Start clicking those keys. Make words appear on the screen. Books don’t write themselves. No one except you can tell your story.

How do you do that? How do you assemble all the disparate pieces lurking in the maze of your consciousness and mold them into a cogent whole? How do you create fiction that is more than the sum of the information you’ve gathered? The answer to that, I believe, lies in the same place as the answers to all the truly important questions: in your own heart.

I realize that these ramblings don’t tell much about how one goes about crafting memorable fiction, which brings me to my all-time favorite quote about writing:

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are. W. Somerset Maugham



Elisabeth Rose said...

The RWAustralia has mugs made for each conference with inspiring quotes such as you mentioned Sandy, including the Somerset M one. One inspiring year the inscription just had 'Romance writers make novel lovers 'on one side and 'Finish the damn book' on the other. LOL

Sandy Cody said...

Love it! I really, really need one of those mugs with the 'Finish the damn book" on it.

Thanks, Lis, for taking time to comment.

Beate Boeker said...

I loved those quotes. I bought several books full with quotes and often browse them when I write cards. The good ones can push you through a hard day . . .

Sandy Cody said...

Quotes often get me through times when I feel overwhelmed. There's always someone who's been there before - and, with a quote, it's probably someone who has accomplished something worthwhile.

Thanks for sharing.

Elisabeth Rose said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elisabeth Rose said...

The "Finish the damn book" glares at me when I'm procrastinating at the computer. They put it on the side facing you if you're right ahnded. Very sneaky and very knowing.

mulligangirl said...

Sandy, great advice. I am especially grateful to see ‘procrastinate’ made the list. I’ve made myself a promise to do at least one thing to move my writing career forward every day. It’s nice to remember that brewing over a new idea should count!

Jane Myers Perrine said...

I love your comment about eavesdropping and how we writers have permission to do that. Back in the days when everyone used pay telephones, a woman in the mall slammed the receiver into the hook, turned to her friend and said, "I'll be darned if I'm going to allow someone to take advantage of me unless I know why." I've always wanted to use that someplace.

Jane Myers Perrine