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Novels

  • ... novels so often provide an anodyne and not an antidote, glide one into torpid slumbers instead of rousing one with a burning brand.

  • I believe that the main thing in beginning a novel is to feel, not that you can write it, but that it exists on the far side of a gulf, which words can't cross: that it's to be pulled through only in a breathless anguish.

    • Virginia Woolf,
    • 1928, in Louise DeSalvo and Mitchell A. Leaska, eds., The Letters of Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf ()
  • Nothing induces me to read a novel except when I have to make money by writing about it. I detest them.

    • Virginia Woolf,
    • The Letters of Virginia Woolf: Volume III: 1923-1928 ()
  • A novelist's business is lying. ... In fact, while we read a novel, we are insane — bonkers. We believe in the existence of people who aren't there, we hear their voices, we watch the battle of Borodino with them, we may even become Napoleon. Sanity returns (in most cases) when the book is closed. Is it any wonder that no truly respectable society has ever trusted its artists?

  • If the novel is dying, I see no chance that dismembering it will revive it.

  • The notion of novelist as gifted savage dies hard ... if Faulkner was a man of letters like thee and me, why have we not written great novels?

  • The novel is a game or joke shared between author and reader.

  • Novels written with film contracts in mind have a faint but unmistakable, and ruinous, odor.

  • ... almost all novels are love stories.

  • ... I think the novel is essentially a comic form (tragedy is for the theatre), not meaning by that full of jokes, but that it is about the absurd detail of human life, the way in which one cannot fully understand what is happening. Life is muddle and jumble and ends inconclusively, and when this is presented with great comic art the sorrows of human life can be truthfully conveyed; one is moved by the spectacle, and feels that something truthful has been told in a magic way.

  • The only difficulty is to know what bits to choose and what to leave out. Novel-writing is not creation, it is selection.

    • Winifred Holtby,
    • 1926, in Alice Holtby and Jean McWilliam, eds., Letters to a Friend ()
  • My own feeling is that the only possible reason for engaging in the hard labor of writing a novel, is that one is bothered by something one needs to understand, and can come to understand only through the characters in the imagined situation.

  • In the novel or the journal you get the journey. In a poem you get the arrival.

    • May Sarton,
    • in Earl G. Ingersoll, ed., Conversations With May Sarton ()
  • Nearly all novels are too long.

  • Novels, like human beings, usually have their beginnings in the dark.

  • A poem (surely someone has said this before) is a one-night stand, a short story a love affair, and a novel a marriage.

  • I bought a few new novels, have started two, and if they reflect present day literature or the popular mind, I must say the outlook is gloomy.

  • Many snippets of varied experience come together to form the fabric of a novel but I think that this fabric is stretched like the canvas of a tent over the supports of a few basic, deeply-felt beliefs.

  • I think reading a novel is almost next best to having something to do.

  • ... only a novel! ... only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humor, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.

  • For my part, the good novel of character is the novel I can always pick up; but the good novel of incident is the novel I can never lay down.

  • Personally, I do not believe that it is the duty of any man or woman to write a novel. In nine cases out of ten, there would be greater merit in leaving it unwritten.

  • For me, the novel is experience illumined by imagination ...

  • 1. Always wait between books for the springs to fill up and flow over. 2. Always preserve within a wild sanctuary, an inaccessible valley of reveries. 3. Always, and as far as it is possible, endeavor to touch life on every side; but keep the central vision of the mind, the inmost light, untouched and untouchable.

    • Ellen Glasgow,
    • "One Way to Write Novels," in The Saturday Review ()
  • ... the great novels have marched with the years. They are the contemporaries of time.

  • Surely the novel should be a form of art — but art was not enough. It must contain not only the perfection of art, but the imperfection of nature.

  • I suppose I am a born novelist, for the things I imagine are more vital and vivid to me than the things I remember.

  • Among the many problems which beset the novelist, not the least weighty is the choice of the moment at which to begin his novel.

  • Never, if you can possibly help it, write a novel. It is, in the first place, a thoroughly unsocial act. It makes one obnoxious to one's family and to one's friends. One sits about for many weeks, months, even years, in the worst cases, in a state of stupefaction.

  • No writer, I believe, should attempt a novel before he is thirty, and not then unless he has been hopelessly and helplessly involved in life. For the writer who goes out to find material for a novel, as a fishermen goes out to sea to fish, will certainly not write a good novel. Life has to be lived thoughtlessly, unconsciously, at full tilt and for no purpose except its own sake before it becomes, eventually, good material for a novel.

  • There is no denying that we are suffering from a collective neurosis and the novel which does not face this is not a novel of our time.

  • The novel does not simply recount experience, it adds to experience.

  • Yes, writing a novel, my boy, is like driving pigs to market — you have one of them making a bolt down the wrong lane; another won't get over the right stile ...

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • 1945, in Hermione Lee, ed., The Mulberry Tree: Writings of Elizabeth Bowen ()
  • The passion for fact in a raw state is a peculiarity of the novelist.

  • ... love of truth, ordinary common truth recognizable to everyone, is the ruling passion of the novel.

  • Sex annihilates identity, and the space given to sex in contemporary novels is an avowal of the absence of character.

  • For both writer and reader, the novel is a lonely, physically inactive affair. Only the imagination races.

  • Who are those ever multiplying authors that with unparalleled fecundity are overstocking the world with their quick succeeding progeny? They are novel-writers ...

    • Hannah More,
    • "On Female Study, and Initiation Into Knowledge," Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education ()
  • The richness and endless variety of human relationships ... that's what authors, even the finest and greatest, only succeed in hinting at. It's a hopeless business, like trying to dip up the ocean with a tea-spoon.

    • Dorothy Canfield Fisher,
    • 1920, in Mark J. Madigan, ed., Keeping Fires Night and Day: Selected Letters of Dorothy Canfield Fisher ()
  • ... on the whole I think you should write biographies of those you admire and respect, and novels about human beings who you think are sadly mistaken.

    • Penelope Fitzgerald,
    • in Terence Dooley, ed., So I Have Thought of You: The Letters of Penelope Fitzgerald ()
  • A great novel is a kind of conversion experience. We come away from it changed.

  • A friend of mine who writes history books said to me that he thought that the two creatures most to be pitied were the spider and the novelist — their lives hanging by a thread spun out of their own guts. But in some ways I think writers of fiction are the creatures most to be envied, because who else besides the spider is allowed to take that fragile thread and weave it into a pattern? What a gift of grace to be able to take the chaos from within and from it to create some semblance of order.

  • ... a novel is not born of a single idea. The stories I've tried to write from one idea, no matter how terrific an idea, have sputtered out and died by chapter three. For me, novels have invariably come from a complex of ideas that in the beginning seemed to bear no relation to each other, but in the unconscious began mysteriously to merge and grow. Ideas for a novel are like the strong guy lines of a spider web. Without them the silken web cannot be spun.

  • The only justification for writing a novel is that it should be wonderful. Adequate is inadequate.

  • People think that they will sit down and produce the great American novel in one sitting. It doesn't work that way. This is a very patient and meticulous work, and you have to do it with joy and love for the process, not for the outcome.

  • A novel is not, after all, a historical document, but a way to travel through the human heart.

  • The novelist helps us to see things we might not notice otherwise.

  • Novels, when well-written, tell you more about life than the most sophisticated computerized sociology.

  • ... the novel is inherently a political instrument, regardless of its subject. It invites you — more than invites you, induces you — to live inside another person's skin. It creates empathy. And that's the antidote to bigotry. The novel doesn't just tell you about another life, which is what a newspaper would do. It makes you live another life, inhabit another perspective. And that's very important.

  • The artist deals with what cannot be said in words ... The novelist says in words what cannot be said in words.

  • A novel is what you dream in your night sleep. A novel is not waking thoughts although it is written and thought with waking thoughts.

    • Gertrude Stein,
    • "The Superstitions of Fred Anneday, Annday, Anday: A Novel of Real Life" (1934), How Writing Is Written ()
  • [Moralistic] novels are at the same disadvantage as teachers: children never believe them, because they make everything that happens relate to the lesson at hand.

    • Madame de Staël,
    • "Essay on Fictions" (1795), in Vivian Folkenflik, ed., Major Writings of Germaine De Staël ()
  • Writing novels is an essentially amateur activity.

  • The desire to write a novel is the single required prerequisite for writing a novel.

  • Novelists never have to footnote.

  • A novelist is on the cusp between someone who knows everything and someone who knows nothing.

  • Writing a novel is not merely going on a shopping expedition across the border to an unreal land: it is hours and years spent in the factories, the streets, the cathedrals of the imagination.

  • Curiosity is the prime requisite of the novelist.

  • The novel is an art form and when you use it for anything other than art, you pervert it.

  • Writing novels preserves you in a state of innocence — a lot passes you by — simply because your attention is otherwise diverted.

  • One doesn't 'get' an 'idea' for a novel. The 'idea' more or less 'gets' you. It uses you as a kind of culture, the way a pearl uses an oyster.

    • Diana Chang,
    • "Woolgathering, Ventriloquism and the Double Life," in Dexter Fisher, ed., The Third Woman ()
  • I'm interested in the Gothic novel because it's very much a woman's form. Why is there such a wide readership for books that essentially say, 'Your husband is trying to kill you'?

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • in Earl G. Ingersoll, ed., Margaret Atwood: Conversations ()
  • ... for me the novel is a social vehicle, it reflects society.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • in Alan Twigg, Strong Voices: Conversations With Fifty Canadian Authors ()
  • The utmost the American novelist can hope for, if he hopes at all to see his work included in the literature of his time, is that it may eventually be found to be along in the direction of the growing tip of collective consciousness. Preeminently the novelist's gift is that of access to the collective mind.

    • Mary Austin,
    • "The American Form of the Novel," in New Republic Magazine ()
  • I'm a novelist, and idle speculation is what novelists do. How odd to spend one's life trying to pretend that non-existent people are real: though no odder, I suppose, than what government bureaucrats do, which is trying to pretend that real people are non-existent.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Canadian-American Relations: Surviving the Eighties," Second Words: Selected Critical Prose ()
  • The novel is the affliction for which only the novel is the cure.

  • ... almost all American writers tend to overwrite, to tell too much. I get the disillusioned feeling that novels, today, are sold by the pound, like groceries. It actually takes a great deal more discipline to be able to leave out rather than to throw in everything. This means that you have to say in one sentence precisely what you mean, instead of saying sort of what you kind of mean in hundreds of sentences and hoping the sum total will add up.

  • ... no artist is so close to his raw material as the novelist.

  • I like shape very much. A novel has to have shape, and life doesn't have any.

  • There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there be.

  • Mostly it's lies, writing novels. You set out to tell an untrue story and you try to make it believable, even to yourself. Which calls for details; any good lie does.

    • Anne Tyler,
    • in Susan Cahill, ed., New Women & New Fiction ()
  • In the compact between novelist and reader, the novelist promises to lie, and the reader promises to allow it.

  • A story is like building a chapel; a novel is a cathedral ...

  • ... Americans and their desire to be novelists, the American novel should be listed in medical dictionaries alongside Megalomania and Obsessional Neuroses.

  • Novel writing is a kind of private pleasure, even if nothing comes of it in worldly terms.

    • Barbara Pym,
    • 1976, in Hazel Holt, A Lot to Ask: A Life of Barbara Pym ()
  • In a story, the craftsmanship is fully exposed. A novel is like charity; it covers a multitude of faults.

    • Thea Astley,
    • in Valerie Miner, Rumors From the Cauldron ()
  • A novel should be as like life as a painting, but not as like life as a piece of waxwork.

    • Mary Russell Mitford,
    • 1819, in the Reverend A.G. L'Estrange, ed., The Life of Mary Russell Mitford, vol. 2 ()
  • The novelist, afraid his ideas may be foolish, slyly puts them in the mouth of some other fool, and reserves the right to disavow them.

  • Why did people ask 'What is it about?' as if a novel had to be about only one thing.

  • The story is a piece of work. The novel is a way of life.

  • To read a novel is a difficult and complex art.

    • Virginia Woolf,
    • "How Should One Read a Book," The Common Reader, 2nd series ()
  • You build a novel the same way you do a pyramid. One word, one stone at a time, underneath a full moon when the fingers bleed.

    • Kate Braverman,
    • in Mickey Pearlman and Katherine Usher Henderson, A Voice of One's Own: Conversations With America's Writing Women ()
  • A novel, in the end, is a container, a shape which you are trying to pour your story into.

  • It's very difficult to write a novel that's easy to read.

  • She had always been an unashamed reader of novels.