Quotes for Writers

Typewriter - Once upon a time

Today’s thought is primarily for novelists:

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. If the writer says “creatures” instead of “snakes,” … if instead of the desert’s sand and rocks he speaks of the snakes’ “inhospitable abode,” the reader will hardly know what picture to conjure up on his mental screen. These two faults, insufficient detail and abstraction where what is needed is concrete detail, are common—in fact all but universal—in amateur writing.

Another is the failure to run straight at the image; that is, the needless filtering of the image through some observing consiousness. The amateur writes: “Turning, she noticed two snakes fighting in among the rocks.” Compare: “She turned. In among the rocks, two snakes were fighting.” (The improvement can of course be further improved. The phrase “two snakes were fighting” is more abstract than, say, “two snakes whipped and lashed, striking at each other”; and verbs with auxiliaries [“were fighting”] are never as sharp in focus as verbs withouout auxiliaries, since the former indicate indefinite time, whereas the latter [e.g., “fought”] suggest a given instant.) Generally speaking—though no laws are absolute in fiction—vividness urges that almost every occurrence of such phrases as “she noticed” and “she saw” be suppressed in favor of direct presentation of the thing seen.

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction, Vintage Books Edition, 1991. p. 98

 

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!

59 Comments

  1. Rituparna Das on November 16, 2013 at 2:55 AM

    A great piece of write up to read and enrich one’s knowledge and wisdom. Will like to go through your other blogs too.
    http://www.tonic-clothing.com



  2. buy neopoints on April 9, 2012 at 6:01 AM

    It’s the best time to make some plans for the future and it is time to be happy. I have read this post and if I could I wish to suggest you few interesting things or advice. Maybe you can write next articles referring to this article. I want to read more things about it!



  3. casino on net on April 8, 2012 at 10:17 PM

    The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, but I actually thought youd have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could fix if you werent too busy looking for attention.



  4. casino royale on April 8, 2012 at 1:46 AM

    An impressive share, I just given this onto a colleague who was doing a little analysis on this. And he in fact bought me breakfast because I found it for him.. smile. So let me reword that: Thnx for the treat! But yeah Thnkx for spending the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love reading more on this topic. If possible, as you become expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more details? It is highly helpful for me. Big thumb up for this blog post!



  5. William Hill on April 4, 2012 at 10:05 PM

    Youre so cool! I dont suppose Ive read anything like this before. So nice to find somebody with some original thoughts on this subject. realy thank you for starting this up. this website is something that is needed on the web, someone with a little originality. useful job for bringing something new to the internet



  6. Online Casino Review on April 4, 2012 at 10:41 AM

    An impressive share, I just given this onto a colleague who was doing a little analysis on this. And he in fact bought me breakfast because I found it for him.. smile. So let me reword that: Thnx for the treat! But yeah Thnkx for spending the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love reading more on this topic. If possible, as you become expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more details? It is highly helpful for me. Big thumb up for this blog post!



  7. horseshoe casino on April 3, 2012 at 5:57 PM

    I was very pleased to find this web-site.I wanted to thanks for your time for this wonderful read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you blog post.



  8. pechanga casino on March 30, 2012 at 7:57 PM

    I am often to blogging and i really appreciate your content. The article has really peaks my interest. I am going to bookmark your site and keep checking for new information.



  9. Carroll B. Merriman on March 30, 2012 at 3:10 PM

    If you’re still on the fence: grab your favorite earphones, head down to a Best Buy and ask to plug them into a Zune then an iPod and see which one sounds better to you, and which interface makes you smile more. Then you’ll know which is right for you.



  10. casino euro on March 30, 2012 at 1:40 PM

    After study a few of the blog posts on your website now, and I truly like your way of blogging. I bookmarked it to my bookmark website list and will be checking back soon. Pls check out my web site as well and let me know what you think.



  11. herbal viagra on March 29, 2012 at 6:15 AM

    Its wonderful as your other articles : D, thankyou for putting up. “It takes less time to do things right than to explain why you did it wrong.” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.



  12. Luigi Fulk on March 25, 2012 at 1:43 PM

    I simply want to say I am just all new to blogging and site-building and really liked you’re web site. Very likely I’m likely to bookmark your site . You certainly have really good articles and reviews. With thanks for revealing your web site.



  13. Winnipeg Painting on March 25, 2012 at 9:14 AM

    Sweet Website You Got Here!!! Very Educational Subject For A Website Keep Up The Interesting Work!



  14. Carroll B. Merriman on March 23, 2012 at 3:55 AM

    I just want to mention I’m new to blogging and site-building and absolutely loved your blog site. Likely I’m planning to bookmark your blog post . You amazingly have good writings. Thanks for revealing your web page.



  15. Vitamin E Benefits on March 18, 2012 at 3:30 PM

    Real nice pattern and fantastic content material , hardly anything else we want : D.



  16. Side Effects of Warfarin on March 18, 2012 at 3:11 PM

    I reckon something genuinely special in this web site.



  17. car repair manual on March 15, 2012 at 9:16 AM

    The Zune concentrates on being a Portable Media Player. Not a web browser. Not a game machine. Maybe in the future it’ll do even better in those areas, but for now it’s a fantastic way to organize and listen to your music and videos, and is without peer in that regard. The iPod’s strengths are its web browsing and apps. If those sound more compelling, perhaps it is your best choice.



  18. web design queensland on March 14, 2012 at 9:47 AM

    If you’re still on the fence: grab your favorite earphones, head down to a Best Buy and ask to plug them into a Zune then an iPod and see which one sounds better to you, and which interface makes you smile more. Then you’ll know which is right for you.



  19. promotional items on March 14, 2012 at 8:10 AM

    I’ll gear this review to 2 types of people: current Zune owners who are considering an upgrade, and people trying to decide between a Zune and an iPod. (There are other players worth considering out there, like the Sony Walkman X, but I hope this gives you enough info to make an informed decision of the Zune vs players other than the iPod line as well.)



  20. make money from home on March 13, 2012 at 8:32 PM

    I gotta bookmark this web site it seems extremely useful .



  21. corporate hampers on March 13, 2012 at 5:01 PM

    Great day! This really is kind of off subject but I require some aid from an established blog. Is it extremely difficult to set up your personal blog? I’m not very techincal but I can figure items out pretty rapidly. I’m thinking about setting up my own but I’m not positive where to start. Do you’ve got any guidelines or suggestions? Appreciate it



  22. furniture removalists brisbane on March 13, 2012 at 3:56 PM

    Zune and iPod: Most people compare the Zune to the Touch, but after seeing how slim and surprisingly small and light it is, I consider it to be a rather unique hybrid that combines qualities of both the Touch and the Nano. It’s very colorful and lovely OLED screen is slightly smaller than the touch screen, but the player itself feels quite a bit smaller and lighter. It weighs about 2/3 as much, and is noticeably smaller in width and height, while being just a hair thicker.



  23. web call on March 13, 2012 at 3:39 AM

    If you’re still on the fence: grab your favorite earphones, head down to a Best Buy and ask to plug them into a Zune then an iPod and see which one sounds better to you, and which interface makes you smile more. Then you’ll know which is right for you.



  24. Get Free Edu Backlinks on March 11, 2012 at 9:08 PM

    Thanks for the nice article. I have bookmarked it to go through some other time. Thanks a lot then keep it up. Get Free Edu Backlinks



  25. Winnipeg Computer Repair on March 9, 2012 at 11:59 AM

    Great Website Ya Have Here!! Very Informative Subject For A Post Keep Up The Interesting Work!



  26. nagravision on March 9, 2012 at 10:34 AM

    Sweet Web Site You Have Here. Very Educational Subject For A Blog Keep Up The Interesting Work!



  27. Gali Gali Chor Hai Songs on February 21, 2012 at 3:43 AM

    This post is really a fantastic one. I like such kind of blogs. Really awesome ones. I will keep coming here in future. Visit my link as well.



  28. Hindi songs on February 21, 2012 at 3:42 AM

    I completely agree with you. It contains a lot of useful information. I can set up my new idea from this post. It gives in depth information.



  29. Sam on February 20, 2012 at 3:13 AM

    Spot on with this write-up, I truly think this website needs much more consideration. I’ll probably be again to read much more, thanks for that info.



  30. Watch Carnage Online Free on December 16, 2011 at 9:38 PM

    I am following your blog regularly and got great information. I really like the tips you have given. Thanks a lot for sharing. Will be referring a lot of friends about this.



  31. Home Burglar System on November 19, 2011 at 11:26 PM

    This post is excellent and so is the manner in which the subject was explained. I like some of the comments as well even though I would rather we all keep it on topic so that to add value to the idea.



    • zip repair on March 6, 2012 at 6:13 AM

      This blog is really very helpful for updating my knowledge…



  32. Watch Happy Feet Two Online Free on November 17, 2011 at 3:04 AM

    Great post, I really needed this information on nueGPSSecurity I got this service recently and I was a bit confused. I couldn’t figure it out. Thanks.ks!



  33. 離婚 on November 15, 2011 at 3:17 PM

    I’ll gear this review to 2 types of people: current Zune owners who are considering an upgrade, and people trying to decide between a Zune and an iPod. (There are other players worth considering out there, like the Sony Walkman X, but I hope this gives you enough info to make an informed decision of the Zune vs players other than the iPod line as well.)



  34. brazilian butt lift workout on October 30, 2011 at 11:54 PM

    I precisely needed to thank you so much once again. I am not sure the things that I could possibly have implemented in the absence of the smart ideas shown by you regarding such industry. I am just grateful for this support and in addition pray you know what a powerful job you’re carrying out teaching other individuals all through a blog. More than likely you haven’t got to know all of us.



  35. http://www.quechup.com/blog/entry/view/id/317625 on October 24, 2011 at 2:14 AM

    I like this web site very much so much superb information.



  36. 抓姦 on October 19, 2011 at 8:52 AM

    The Zune concentrates on being a Portable Media Player. Not a web browser. Not a game machine. Maybe in the future it’ll do even better in those areas, but for now it’s a fantastic way to organize and listen to your music and videos, and is without peer in that regard. The iPod’s strengths are its web browsing and apps. If those sound more compelling, perhaps it is your best choice.



  37. Caitlyn on October 13, 2011 at 12:19 AM

    I genuinely enjoy reading through on this internet site, it holds excellent posts. “The living is a species of the dead and not a very attractive one.” by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche.



  38. facebook123 on October 3, 2011 at 6:20 PM

    Recent Blogroll Additions……

    […]usually posts some very interesting stuff like this. If you’re new to this site[…]……



  39. HIFU on September 13, 2011 at 12:22 AM

    This is a very good post providing a lot of informative stuff on the topic. I always like to leave comments whenever I see something unusual or impressive. I think we must appreciate those who do something especial. Keep it up, thanks.



  40. Pure PQQ Writing on September 12, 2011 at 5:24 PM

    E Anderson Consulting, Yorkshire, are a leading United Kingdom based company which specialises in Tender Writing, Bid Writing and PQQ Writing for some of the fastest growing companies in the world.



  41. Suzanne on August 1, 2011 at 11:31 PM

    I love it!



  42. Elaine Cougler on August 1, 2011 at 8:07 PM

    Such an epiphany I had when I found myself doing the she thought, she wondered thing when trying to write from my main character’s pov. Your quote is exactly right. On my latest revision I finally saw how much better it was to leave these out and just get right to what was in her head, rather than adding those superfluous phrases.



  43. Kristin Laughtin on August 1, 2011 at 7:55 PM

    Very good! I’m revising a manuscript right now and will keep this quote in mind whenever I come to description passages.

    We should note, too, that sometimes you can run straight at the image but still go overboard, and the scene will lose some vivacity. I love George R.R. Martin, but his descriptions of every type of food at a feast make my eyes glaze over. Yes, they do create atmosphere and feelings of poverty or sumptuousness, depending on the fare, but they’re so long my eyes glaze over and I end up skipping to the next paragraph.



  44. Reba J. Hoffman on August 1, 2011 at 10:28 AM

    Guilty as charged! The irony is not lost on this moment when I look up and discover the two snakes that raised their deadly heads were trying to destroy my manuscript in the middle of the rubble.

    Armed with this information, perhaps I can go charm the snakes. 🙂



  45. V.V. Denman on July 31, 2011 at 11:34 PM

    Thanks for the reminders. Great stuff.



  46. Donna K. Weaver on July 31, 2011 at 10:22 PM

    Great example.



  47. Bonnie Doran on July 31, 2011 at 7:02 PM

    Thanks for the info. I need to visit your site more often!



    • Mike Koch on July 31, 2011 at 11:09 PM

      Yes you do, this is a wonderful blog-site… Reading her blog has become a ritual for me. There is too much great info not to. I hope she plans on continuing the advice, links and stories for many years to come.



  48. Lindsey Petersen on July 31, 2011 at 4:22 PM

    Thanks for the reminder and the book suggestion!



  49. joylene on July 31, 2011 at 12:06 PM

    Loved this.

    It may be me, but I can’t find your like button on the facebook page.



    • Rachelle Gardner on July 31, 2011 at 9:08 PM

      If there’s no “Like” button, then you’re probably already following. 🙂



  50. Glynn on July 31, 2011 at 9:54 AM

    I read this book by Gardner years ago, and still refer to it from time to time. Two of his novels — Nickel Mountain and October Light — are still among my favorite novels.



  51. Curtis Hox on July 31, 2011 at 9:24 AM

    Rachelle. Great use of Gardner. I haven’t read that in some time, but it was refreshing to see. I’m a big fan of G and, especially, how he explains psychic distance. I wonder what you think of the high moral ground he always takes. For example, this is what he says in his preface: “The instruction here is not for every kind of writer–not for the writer of nurse books or thrillers or porno or the cheaper sort of sci fi.” I imagine if he hadn’t died in that motorcycle crash, he’d have added contemporary fantasy to that list. And he’d have a whole lot to say about the sort of “literature” being produced in the indie world.



  52. john on July 31, 2011 at 7:07 AM

    Or a good way to help you show not tell. (A mantra that is often repeated in classes around here, it can feel elusive sometimes.)

    Gardener has many other reminders of how to bring actions and characters into clear focus, see also his comments on psychic/narrative distance. A great book with plenty of great lessons on all aspects of writing.

    I also really rate ‘How Fiction Works’ by James Wood.

    Right, a bit late, but off for a walk.



  53. Rosemary Gemmell on July 31, 2011 at 5:40 AM

    Loved that second point about ‘filtering of the image’ – definitely something I’m trying to improve on!



  54. Jeanne on July 31, 2011 at 3:19 AM

    Thanks for the reminder to run right at the image rather than speak with vague generalities. This example is great.



  55. Angie Dicken on July 31, 2011 at 1:27 AM

    Love this reminder. The examples are great!



  56. Katie on July 31, 2011 at 12:45 AM

    Excellent quote! I’m going to look this book up.



I love words.

I love books and publishing and talking incessantly about them.

I love authors and all the intricacies of managing a writing life.

I sell. I negotiate. I coach. I brainstorm.