George Saunders on getting caught up with style:
My sense is that if you go far enough in any stylistic direction, you can make a beautiful and complex representation of reality, although that representation may not be linear. God knows we’ve got enough linearity in our representations of our world. We’ve tremendously overvalued analytical knowledge, rationality, etc. To me, the process of writing is just reading what I’ve written and—like running your hand over one of those mod glass stovetops to find where the heat is—looking for where the energy is in the prose, then going in the direction of that. It’s an exercise in being open to whatever is there.
Donna Tartt on being a slow writer:
People say that perfectionism is bad, but it's because of perfectionists that man walked on the moon and painted the Sistine Chapel, OK? Perfectionism is good. It's all about production and economy these days. I don't want to be the CEO of a corporation, of Donna Tartt Inc. I work the way I've always worked, and I don't want a big desk and fancy office and people answering the telephone.
Richard Price on motivating himself to write, from his interview in The Believer:
I have to be a little intimidated by what I’m writing about. I have to feel a little bit like I don’t think I can do this, I don’t think I can master this, I don’t think I can get under the skin of this, because when you’re a little scared, you’re bringing everything to the table because you’re not sure you can do it unless you bust your balls and really, really get into it. Terror keeps you slender. I need a sense of awe. Oh, shit! I can’t believe I just saw that! But then what do you do with what you saw? That’s the bottom line.
Dorothy Parker on humor, from her introduction to S. J. Perelman's The Most of S. J. Perelman:
Humor to me, Heaven help me, takes in many things. There must be courage; there must be no awe. There must be criticism, for humor, to my mind, is encapsulated in criticism. There must be a disciplined eye and a wild mind. There must be a magnificent disregard of your reader, for if he cannot follow you, there is nothing you can do about it.
Per Peterson on research in writing from an interview with Gin Enguehard:
I really hate research. If you want to write about the Germans in Norway you have to check when they really were there, the color of their uniforms, and so on, so you don't get it wrong. You should do your research after you finish the book. I have this friend who wrote this love story, more or less about himself, set in 1968. He was in love with this woman and the Beatles' record Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band had come out. And then he checked and found out the record came out in 1967. So he stopped writing the story. Don't check a good story.
Tom McCarthy on addressing new technologies in writing:
The argument that the advent of the Internet somehow marks a Telecom Year Zero after which nothing will ever be the same can be made only by ignoring the actual history of literature. Look at Kafka’s obsession with telephones; or the way the phonograph, for Bram Stoker, mirrors the vampire as a machine for bringing the dead to life (or, conversely, storing the living in dead form); or at the obsessive attention Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa is forced to pay to ink and desks and messengers. Don’t both “Romeo and Juliet” and “Hamlet,” with their vital plot-devices of switched or undelivered letters, address anxieties about the postal system? The best writers have always understood that to write is to both grapple with and, to some extent, allegorize the very regime of technological mediation without which writing wouldn’t exist in the first place.
Donna Tartt in a conversation with her editor, Michael Pietsch:
I am terribly troubled by the ever-growing tendency to standardized and prescriptive usage, and I think that the Twentieth century, American-invented conventions of House Rules and House Style, to say nothing of automatic computer functions like Spellcheck and AutoCorrect, have exacted an abrasive, narrowing, and destructive effect on the way writers use language and ultimately on the language itself. Journalism and newspaper writing are one thing; House Style indubitably very valuable there; but as a literary novelist who writes by hand, in a notebook, I want to be able to use language for texture and I've intentionally employed a looser, pre-twentieth century model rather than running my work through any one House Style mill.
David Foster Wallace on the arc of motivation, from his essay The Nature of Fun:
You’ve found you very much enjoy having your writing liked by people, and you find you’re extremely keen to have people like the new stuff you’re doing. The motive of pure personal starts to get supplanted by the motive of being liked, of having pretty people you don’t know like you and admire you and think you’re a good writer. Onanism gives way to attempted seduction, as a motive. Now, attempted seduction is hard work, and its fun is offset by a terrible fear of rejection. Whatever “ego” means, your ego has now gotten into the game. Or maybe “vanity” is a better word. Because you notice that a good deal of your writing has now become basically showing off, trying to get people to think you’re good. This is understandable. You have a great deal of yourself on the line, writing — your vanity is at stake. You discover a tricky thing about fiction writing; a certain amount of vanity is necessary to be able to do it all, but any vanity above that certain amount is lethal.
Linh Dinh on the origins of Vietnamese prose:
Many writers shunted their mother tongue to compose in French, the language they were taught in the lycees. To those who chose this option, the critic Pham Quynh warned: “In borrowing someone's language, you are also borrowing his ideas, literary techniques—even his emotions and customs.” After centuries of writing in Chinese, the Vietnamese had produced no Li Po, Quynh pointed out, and writing in French, it is unlikely that they will ever produce a Victor Hugo or an Anatole France. After reading a story in French, the critic suggested, as an exercise, to try retelling it to one's wife in Vietnamese.
Deb Olin Unferth on flash fiction:
The most satisfying way to write and read shorts is to deal with bookfuls of the things. Just a handful won't help. A successful collection of shorts creates not only a set of stories but a worldview, a philosophy of removal and absence. It becomes a reflection of the writer's mind. You can almost see the rhythm of the writer's thoughts on the page, each story turning into a single painting in a series.
Katherine Anne Porter in The Paris Review:
But I tell you, nothing is pointless, and nothing is meaningless if the artist will face it. And it’s his business to face it. He hasn’t got the right to sidestep it like that. Human life itself may be almost pure chaos, but the work of the artist—the only thing he’s good for—is to take these handfuls of confusion and disparate things, things that seem to be irreconcilable, and put them together in a frame to give them some kind of shape and meaning. Even if it’s only his view of a meaning.
Eduardo Halfon on the importance of distance in one's writing at Guernica:
Fiction needs time. It needs to settle. It needs to be ready. It’s not an immediate genre. You can’t rush a story. It took me years to write my grandfather’s story, years to write those ten pages about my grandfather and a Polish boxer. And not because I wasn’t trying. I kept making attempts to put his story on paper. But I couldn’t figure out how, couldn’t find the angle, couldn’t find the voice or the tone. The story wouldn’t let me in—it wasn’t ready, or I wasn’t ready. Until I realized that it wasn’t really a grandfather’s story that I wanted to tell: it was the story of a grandson as he receives his grandfather’s legacy, his family story.
An Interview with Rick Moody at The Outlet:
Yes, limitations, somewhat haphazardly imposed, are a great thing. You know the famous remark of Robert Frost about free-verse? That it’s like playing tennis with the net down? For me, the limitations you are referring to are playing tennis with the net up. If you erect one of these impediments to progress, you have to come up with a work- around, and the work-around often causes you to think in new ways about your subject. In a way, the impediments cause metaphor to happen, and I often suddenly think anew when I am forced into metaphor and analogy to say what I was going to say in a more direct way.
Tips on characterization from Robert Boswell's “How I Met My Wife”:
We all know that what characters say reveals who they are (although playwrights often argue that characters speak not to reveal themselves but to conceal themselves). Dialogue is a vast subject, and I’m going to look at just one aspect of it, one very simple dialogue strategy: Put one character in your story who says precisely what most people know not to say.
Imagine, for example, that upon entering a crowded room, your protagonist, who has just had sex with his wife, is met by a character who says, “Hey man, you smell like you just had sex with your wife.”
Robert Chandler on translating humor:
We speak of jokes being “barbed” or “pointed,” and jokes do indeed have something in common with darts or arrows. If a joke is to survive the journey into another language, if it is to hit the mark even when its cultural context can no longer be taken for granted, its point may need to be adjusted or somehow re-sharpened.
Toni Morrison on how some white writers are brilliant at writing black people:
In not using black characters, but using the aesthetic of blacks as anarchy, as sexual license, as deviance. In his last book, The Garden of Eden, Hemingway’s heroine is getting blacker and blacker. The woman who is going mad tells her husband, I want to be your little African queen. The novel gets its charge that way: Her white white hair and her black, black skin . . . almost like a Man Ray photograph. Mark Twain talked about racial ideology in the most powerful, eloquent, and instructive way I have ever read. Edgar Allan Poe did not. He loved white supremacy and the planter class, and he wanted to be a gentleman, and he endorsed all of that. He didn’t contest it or critique it. What is exciting about American literature is that business of how writers say things under, beneath, and around their stories. Think of Pudd’nhead Wilson and all these inversions of what race is, how sometimes nobody can tell, or the thrill of discovery? Faulkner in Absalom, Absalom! spends the entire book tracing race and you can’t find it. No one can see it, even the character who is black can’t see it. I did this lecture for my students that took me forever, which was tracking all the moments of withheld, partial, or disinformation, when a racial fact or clue sort of comes out but doesn’t quite arrive. I just wanted to chart it. I listed its appearance, disguise, and disappearance on every page—I mean every phrase! Everything, and I delivered this thing to my class. They all fell asleep! But I was so fascinated, technically. Do you know how hard it is to withhold that kind of information but hinting, pointing all of the time? And then to reveal it in order to say that it is not the point anyway? It is technically just astonishing. As a reader you have been forced to hunt for a drop of black blood that means everything and nothing. The insanity of racism. So the structure is the argument. Not what this one says or that one says . . . it is the structure of the book, and you are there hunting this black thing that is nowhere to be found and yet makes all the difference. No one has done anything quite like that ever. So, when I critique, what I am saying is, I don’t care if Faulkner is a racist or not; I don’t personally care but I am fascinated by what it means to write like this.
Dorothy Allison interviewed at AWP:
If you just go get one of these little fine arts degrees or writing program degrees, it never forces you to confront your responsibility as narrator, whereas any of the social sciences make you at look the interaction between the storyteller and story. Hurston understood that. But then she and I write out of despised cultures that on some level we feel we're defending.
Barry Hannah in a Paris Review interview:
I believe you should have the words handy. Not that they all have to be perfect—there’s a lot of cross-outs—but language-to-hand is the sine qua non. You’ve got to have that before anything. That’s why writing when you don’t have anything to say is still good practice. At least it keeps you in the game. Almost like playing scales, which, by themselves, are meaningless. But you do have to play the scales.
Martin Amis on the fear of being laughed at, in an interview with Flavorwire:
What people fear above all else is being laughed at. And there comes a moment, slightly different, in Shakespearean tragedy, where in Coriolanus, for instance, they say ‘get your staring done with, get your laughing done with.’ They say this to the mob. As Nabokov again says, you don’t punish the gangster in a short story by having some conspirator tip-toeing up behind him with a derringer. That is a 19th-century idea of punishment. What you do is watch him picking his ear and then picking his nose and then examining the contents of his fingernail. Laughter is our deepest fear.
Twitter has solved the problem of intellectual property theft by never considering it. Or copyright. People tend not to be sympathetic with appropriation—i.e., theft—of “intellectual property” who would not allow theft of physical objects. If you create exquisite clay pots, & they are stolen, others would be sympathetic with your loss; if it's “writing”—“music”—sympathy fades.
A.M. Homes in an interview with Granta:
If I’m going to ask people to stop living their lives and pay attention to my work or my book, it needs to be a condensed version of life. The other day I likened it to the difference between grape juice and wine. If I spend seven years writing something I really hope it’s not grape juice. I want it to have both the distillation and the intensity and the specificity of wine.
Salman Rushie on the internal world of fiction, in an interview with Powell Books:
One of the ideas that I really enjoyed was that in what I was imagining as the world of this book as distinct from the real world, it would be right that fictional characters from other books should have the same status of reality as characters from my book, right? Whereas, let's say, the authors of those books clearly could not be in my book because they didn't exist in the fictional world. So that Zuckerman was real and Philip Roth didn't exist. And Humboldt was real and Bellow didn't exist. The internal world of books, the other fictional universes, are places you can get to from my fictional universe, but you can't get to the real world from there. Sal Paradise is real and Jack Kerouac is not.
Chris Abani in conversation with Tayari Jones in the Believer:
Because I have been censored in my life and I am very leery of censoring anybody, I am very suspicious of this hierarchical rendering of experience–of whose experience is more fascinating than someone else's. I just think that people are not pushed to go to the places where their stories are, so they just write generic stuff. What professors want, what publishers are looking for, what agents are looking for.
Gerald Howard in his essay, “Never Give an Inch”:
Work—especially the sort of work that gets your hands dirty and that brands you as a member of the working class—no longer seems germane to our novelists’ apprenticeships and, not coincidentally, is no longer easy to find in the fiction they produce. Whether one finds this scarcity something to worry about or simply a fact to be noted probably says a lot about one’s class origins and prejudices.
Zadie Smith on reading as a balanced diet for writing, in a lecture published as “That Crafty Feeling”:
I read lines to swim in a certain sensibility, to strike a particular note, to encourage rigor when I'm too sentimental, to bring verbal ease when I'm syntactically uptight. I think of reading like a balanced diet; if your sentences are too baggy, too baroque, cut back on fatty Foster Wallace, say, and pick up Kafka, as roughage. If your aeshetic has become so refined it is stopping you from placing a single black mark on white paper, stop worrying so much about what Nabokov would say; pick up Dostoyevsky, patron saint of substance over style.
Robert Coover on the writer's power, in an interview with Bookslut:
People, fearing their own extinction, are willing to accept and perpetuate hand-me-down answers to the meaning of life and death; and, fearing a weakening of the tribal structures that sustain them, reinforce with their tales the conventional notions of justice, freedom, law and order, nature, family, etc. The writer, lone rider, has the power, if not always the skills, wisdom, or desire, to disturb this false contentment.
Charles Baxter in an essay about Italian writer Dino Buzzati:
In A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche DuBois shrieks, “I want magic!” and so do ordinary readers. Fiction began its life in magic and fables and in efforts to instruct, and let’s remember that Borges pointed out that realism is merely a brief episode in the history of literature. Realism is bracketed on both sides by myths and fantasies and monsters of every variety.
Elif Batuman in The Possessed:
The premium on conciseness and concreteness made proper names a great value—so they came flying at you as if out of a tennis-ball machine: Julia, Juliet, Viola, Violet, Rusty, Lefty, Carl, Carla, Carleton, Mamie, Sharee, Sharon, Rose of Sharon (a Native American), Hassan. Each name betrayed a secret calculation, a weighing of plausibility against precision: On the one hand, the cat called King Spanky; on the other, the cat called Cat. In either case, the result somehow seemed false, contrived—unlike Tolstoy's double Alexeis, and unlike Chekhov's characters, many of whom didn't have names at all. In “Lady With Lapdog,” Gurov's wife, Anna's husband, Gurov's crony at the club, even the lapdog, are all nameless. No contemporary American short-story writer would have had the stamina not to name that lapdog. They were too caught up in trying to bootstrap from a proper name to a meaningful individual essence—like the “compassionate” TV doctor who informs her colleagues: “She has a name.”
John Cheever in an interview with The Paris Review:
The legend that characters run away from their authors—taking up drugs, having sex operations, and becoming president—implies that the writer is a fool with no knowledge or mastery of his craft. This is absurd. Of course, any estimable exercise of the imagination draws upon such a complex richness of memory that it truly enjoys the expansiveness—the surprising turns, the response to light and darkness—of any living thing. But the idea of authors running around helplessly behind their cretinous inventions is contemptible.
Dan Chaon on the things he's had to unlearn as a writer, in an interview with Fictionaut:
The part that’s hardest is when I start thinking about the stuff beyond the scope of the actual work, because there’s an aspect of being a writer that feels constantly like being in Junior High.
Will I ever publish a story in the New Yorker? Probably not.
Will the cool po-mo hipster guys ever think I’m cool too? In a pig’s eye.
Will I ever please that Amazon reviewer who found my work boring and depressing, and my characters unlikable? Highly doubtful.
It’s very hard — weirdly hard — to clear your mind of all that crap so that you can just sit down and write and find that place where you’re just involved and enjoying the imaginary place you’ve discovered. All the other “problems” with writing are just puzzles, and they can be interesting to try to crack, even when it’s frustrating.
Edward P. Jones on the political world and fiction, in conversation with ZZ Packer:
When I write fiction it's far removed from everyday events. But you are a certain kind of person: you believe in a certain kind of right no matter what, so when you're writing, the everyday world is consciously on your mind, so what you know as being right seeps into the writing nevertheless.
Ursula K. Le Guin in the introduction to The Unreal and the Real: Volume One, talking about her choice to base a good part of her work in a made-up country, Orisinia:
By the early Sixties, when I finally began getting stories published, I was quite certain that reality is often best represented slantwise, backwards, or as if it were an imaginary country, and also that I could write about anywhere and anything I liked, with a hope though no expectation that somebody, somewhere, would publish it.
Mary Gaitskill in an interview with The Believer:
One thing I’m very envious of men for is when they get married—this is less true than it was, but I still think it’s true—their wife is going to help them. Look at Nabokov. He was a brilliant writer. He would have been a brilliant writer no matter what. But do you know how much his wife did for him? She did the shopping. They would drive to the store together—she would drive. She did all the dealings with the landlord, she shoveled the walk. She typed his manuscripts, she edited them. I don’t think most women would go that far, but women are far more willing to do the support work, which is really, really helpful. Virginia Woolf—I’m sure she would have been a great writer, regardless, but she had a lot of help, too. Leonard was a wife. That’s invaluable. Women do not have that very often.
Martin Amis interviewed in the Paris Review
It’s not the flashy twist, the abrupt climax, or the seamless sequence of events that characterizes a writer and makes him unique. It’s a tone, it’s a way of looking at things. It’s a rhythm, it’s what in poetry is called a sprung rhythm. Instead of having a stress every other beat, it has stress after stress after stress. One’s a little worried about having one’s logo on every sentence. What’s that phrase about a painting consisting entirely of signatures? That obviously is something to be avoided, but it would never inhibit me. I never think, Let’s write a piece of prose that is unmistakably mine. Really, it’s an internal process, a tuning-fork process. You say the sentence or you write the sentence again and again until the tuning fork is still, until it satisfies you.
Jim Harrison in an interview with Joseph Bednarik:
I have such trouble, getting all these manuscripts every year by the hundreds, and galleys and so on, because you can tell right away if a person’s not in touch; if they want sincerity, or to be right, it’s hopeless. If there isn’t a primary intoxication with language and playfulness of their own consciousness, it’s hopeless. If they just want to be right, well then they’d be better off being a professor, wouldn’t they?
Sam Lipsyte in an interview with Gigantic:
I'm often keeping my ears peeled for some kind of language incident. To hear something wrong, to hear it anew, to hear it in a different way than I ever had before. I have a recent example. I was in the supermarket just buying supermarket things and it was really crowded and there were a whole bunch of cashiers in a row and my cashier mistyped the item or something and anyway the whole thing needed to be erased and we needed to start again. And she called out that phrase I've heard a million times in the supermarket—and there is always one guy there with a key who can help with this—but the phrase was, “I need a void!” At that moment I was receptive to other meanings of that phrase, not just the need to void the cash register but rather the idea of somebody saying, “I'm in need of a void in my life or my spiritual existence at this moment.”
Elif Batuman in an essay on Orhan Pamuk's real-life museum “full of stuff that had ‘belonged’ to the protagonists of his last novel, The Museum of Innocence”:
Pamuk calls it a ‘tactical error’ for writers to show their characters’ faces, on book jackets or elsewhere. I wondered why it was OK to show all Füsun’s personal effects when it was not OK to show her person. It occurred to me that the novel, though fiction, isn’t uniformly fictional. Endings are fake, because nothing in real life ever ends; characters are composites, because real people are either too close to you or too far. But the furniture and clothes: that stuff must almost all be real. There’s no way Balzac invented all that furniture. All those soaring ambitions and human destinies are just a pretext for telling the truth about the sofas and the clocks.
Mavis Gallant in the preface to The Collected Stories of Mavis Gallant:
The first flash of fiction arrives without words. It consists of a fixed image, like a slide or (closer still) a freeze frame, showing characters in a simple situation. For example, Barbara, Alec, and their three children, seen getting down from a train in the south of France, announced “The Remission.” The scene does not appear in the story but remains like an old snapshot or a picture in a newspaper, with a caption giving all the names. The quick arrival and departure of the silent image can be likened to the first moments of a play, before anything is said. The difference is that the characters in the frame are not seen, but envisioned, and do not have to speak to be explained.
Walter Mosley in Off the Page:
I think of novels as mountains, and short stories as far-flung islands that are the tips of mountains. The idea is that poetry and short stories are very crystalline. Each word, each idea, each movement is specific and unalterable. Whereas in novel writing, as E.M. Forster says, “It's 50,000 words more or less of spongy prose.”
Aleksandar Hemon in a conversation with Book Forum:
If I try to tell you what happened to me in '91, I'll have to guess about certain things, I'll have to make up certain things, because I can't remember everything. And certain memories are not datable. You and I might remember our lunch, but some years from now we won't remember it was on a Friday. I will not connect it with what happened this morning because they are discontinuous events. To tell a story, you have to —not falsify—but you have to assemble and disassemble. Memories are creative. To treat memory as a fact is nonsense. It's inescapably fiction.
John Steinbeck on Louis Paul's novel, The Wrong World –as read in Working Days:
But the sureness of touch, the characters that move about, the speech that sounds like speaking, the fact that it happens, that one is never conscious of how a thing is said but only of what is said. I know the why and how of that. It's the millions of words written, all the short stories, even the ones that weren't any good. Without the millions of words written it is impossible to write a book like this. And by the same token–those millions of words are a guarantee that the last half will not falter for a moment.
Muhammad Umar Memon in introduction to The Seventh Door and Other Stories by Intizar Hussain:
If you want to know how simple, ordinary lives are wasted by politics and history, read a novel, a short story, a poem.
Which is not to suggest some inevitable causality between politics and creative endeavor, or that fictional aesthetics invariably do or should lie in the socio-political reality that in fact inspired a work. Of course something of the empirical will always survive in a fictional piece—however oblique and tenuous its ascription to the times—if only because fiction knows no way wholly to transcend temporality; even the best attempts in the “spatial form” have not accomplished that. But the writer's world is a radically autonomous world. It is equally fictive. An action of the imagination. It will always be different from the sum of its empirical parts. In the final synthesis of the real and the fictive, objective truth will always be subverted, almost of necessity, in favor of a fierce personal vision. Nothing, however, can stop this “personal vision” from providing insights into socio-political reality that are truer than any afforded by even the most objective chronicle of events.
Thomas McGuane in The Art of Fiction No. 89:
When I start something it’s like being a bird dog getting a smell; it’s a matter of running it down in prose and then trying to figure out what the thing is that’s out there. Sometimes it might be a picture. This morning when I was writing I was chasing down one of those images. It was just a minute thing that happened to me while I was recently down in Alabama. We had rented a little cottage on the edge of Mobile Bay and at one point there was stormy weather out on the bay; I wandered out to see what kind of weather it was and the door blew closed and locked me out of the cottage. I thought about getting back inside and I sat down and there was one of those semi-tropical warm summer rains starting to come down like buckshot. Somehow the image of stepping outside to see what’s going on and having the wind blow the door shut has stuck in my head. I don’t know what that image is exactly, or what it means, but I know that ever since I came home I’ve been trying to pursue that image in language, find out what it is. That image begins to ionize the prose and narrative particles around it so that words are drawn in, people and language begin to appear. That’s when things are going well. When that’s happening, any reader will recognize that flame-edge of discovery, that excitement of proceeding on the page that is shared between the reader, the writer, and the page.
Lawrence Durrell in The Big Supposer:
If you write bad French you end up with bad French. Whereas in English you can make any number of grammatical errors and still retain control, so that mistakes (whether or not they are deliberate) turn into gems. Take Conrad: his mistakes had such a beauty about them that the English ended by imitating them. A French poet needs a lot more temerity before he sets about destroying the grammar. When Rimbaud writes ‘Je est un autre’ he is deliberately attempting to break down logical structure; as a result he thought of as a phenomenon. In England we take that sort of thing in our stride, as if the language belonged to each individual.
Geraldine Brooks in introduction to Best American Short Stories 2011:
The best short stories and the most successful jokes have a lot in common. Each form relies on suggestion and economy. Characters have to be drawn in a few deft strokes. There’s generally a setup, a reveal, a reversal, and a release. The structure is delicate. If one element fails, the edifice crumbles. In a novel you might get away with a loose line or two, a saggy paragraph, even a limp chapter. But in the joke and in the short story, the beginning and end are precisely anchored tent poles, and what lies between must pull so taut it twangs.
Truman Capote in a Paris Review interview:
When seriously explored, the short story seems to me the most difficult and disciplining form of prose writing extant. Whatever control and technique I may have I owe entirely to my training in this medium.
Milton Crane in introduction to 50 Great Stories:
What makes a great short story?
The sudden unforgettable revelation of character; the vision of a world through another’s eyes; the glimpse of truth; the capture of a moment in time.
All this the short story, at its best, is uniquely capable of conveying, for in its very shortness lies its greatest strength. It can discover depths of meaning in the casual word or action; it can suggest in a page what could not be stated in a volume.
Grace Paley in “The Value of Not Understanding Everything,” collected in Just as I Thought:
What I’m saying is that in areas in which you are very smart you might try writing history or criticism, and then you can know and tell how all the mystery of America flows out from under Huck Finn’s raft; where you are kind of dumb, write a story or a novel, depending on the depth and breadth of your dumbness. Some people can do both. Edmund Wilson, for instance — but he’s so much more smart than dumb that he has written very little fiction. When you have invented all the facts to make a story and get somehow to the truth of the mystery and you can’t dig up another question —change the subject.
Let me give you a very personal example: I have published a small book of short stories. They are on several themes, at least half of them Jewish. One of the reasons for that is that I was an outsider in our particular neighborhood — at least I thought I was — I took long rides on Saturday, the Sabbath. My family spoke Russian, but the street spoke Yiddish. There were families of experience I was cut off from. You know, it seemed to me that an entire world was whispering in the other room. In order to get to the core of it all, I used all those sibilant clues. I made fiction.
Kevin Barry discussing his story, “Ox Mountain Death Song,” on Page-Turner:
At the level of the sentence, what interests me above all is its sound. I will happily subvert a sentence’s meaning for the sake of how it sounds, and then just go with whatever change results; I’ll let the sound dictate the story. I work it along like this, sentence by sentence, and try to give the story a melody or a tune. And yes, I very much wanted that mythic note—or maybe better to say an epic note. I was trying to write a compressed epic. I wanted a Big Story but told as economically as possible. It was kind of a test for me—how quickly can you tell something epic, mythic, of great proportions? Technically, this involved removing chunks of the narrative spine and presenting it in these fragments. It’s a story that’s also very influenced, I would say, by the fact that I spend a lot of my time now writing film scripts—it has jump-cuts, pans, fades, and so forth.
Steve Almond's “Funny is the New Deep” in The Writer's Notebook II
The idea isn't to crack jokes about your life. On the contrary, the idea is to engage in a ruthless pursuit of the truth, and to allow the comic impulse to do its intended and instinctual work. It's not some wrench you hoist out of your writer's toolbox when the action seems to be flagging. It's the impulse that naturally arises when you reach a moment that is too painful to confront without some form of self-forgiveness. It's not a conscious decision, but an unconscious necessity.
Frank O'Connor in epilogue to The Lonely Voice:
The story, like the play, must have the element of immediacy, the theme must plummet to the bottom of the mind. A character is not enough to make a play; an atmosphere is not enough to make a play, for the audience falls asleep. It must have a coherent action. When the curtain falls everything must be changed. An iron bar must have been bent and been seen to be bent.
Etgar Keret in an interview with Rain Taxi:
All my writing-life people kept telling me that I should stop writing short stories and start writing novels: my agent, my Israeli publisher, my foreign ones, my bank manager—they all felt and keep feeling that I'm doing something wrong here. But for me taking a pragmatic decision when it comes to art is almost an oxymoron. The reason I first picked up a pen and wrote a story had nothing pragmatic in it. Making up characters and places and plots, unlike fixing your plumbing or doing dishes, is anything but practical or rational. I write what needs to be written the way that seems genuinely right. If what comes out of it are stories, then it is my vocation to believe in them and in the fact that they'll interest people and maybe affect their lives.
Richard Ford in the introduction to The Granta Book of the American Short Story:
...there is no perfect English — not in America anyway, and certainly not for the purposes of imaginative writing. There is only interesting and not interesting English, vivid and boring English.
...I've always liked stories that make proportionately ample rather than slender use of language, feeling as I do that exposure to a writer's special language is a rare and consoling pleasure. I think of stories as objects made of language, not just as reports on or illustrations of life, and within that definition, a writer's decision to represent life ‘realistically' is only one of a number of possibilities for the use of his or her words.