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Writers on Writing: Selected Quotations


Plots are nothing devious. I have heard some literary or dramatic critics talk of plot in ways that indicated they had no grasp of the idea at all. A plot is nothing but a normal human situation that keeps arising again and again….normal human emotions—envy, ambition, rivalry, love, hate, greed, and so on. Louis L'Amour

I write a book with a strong plot line, and the reason I do that is because I felt one of my weaknesses when I was failing was a weakness of plot…I felt I had style, I felt I could turn a phrase, but I didn’t feel I knew how to construct a story. Jonathan Kellerman

Plot-driven commercial fiction needs to have large stakes, something that’s a threat to the lead character from the outside. James Scott Bell

MFA’s (Master of Fine Arts) write lovely stuff. Rarely, though, have I read a novel by an MFA that had a terrific plot. MFA’s do not generally make their living writing novels; mostly they teach, and perhaps there is a connection. Donald Maas

A woman never remembers the pain of childbirth and a writer never remembers his plots. James M. Cain

Starting in the late 1960s and continuing on through to the 1980s, plot became a dirty word in literary circles. Fiction lost its way. A great novel comes when there is beauty of language, illumination of character and a great plot. Dennis Lehane

Many writers spend the majority of their time devising their plot. What they don’t seem to understand is that if their execution—if their prose—isn’t up to par, their plot will never be considered. Noah Lukeman

I think plots are made up of strings of events, elaborated by description and dialogue. Stuart Wood

A plot isn’t merely a string of occurrences; it is a carefully orchestrated telling of events that might include breaking up their temporal order, taking out certain pieces or emphasizing other pieces. It is that manipulation that a simple story becomes a plot. Robert Kernen

Since a novel is a recreation of reality, its theme has to be dramatized, i.e., presented in terms of action….A story in which nothing happens is not a story. A story whose events are haphazard and accidental is either an inept conglomeration or, at best, a chronicle, a memoir, a reportorial recording, not a novel….It is realism that demands a plot structure in a novel. Ayn Rand

I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all of our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible. Stephen King

Know the story—as much of the story as you can possibly know, if not the whole story—before you commit yourself to the first paragraph….If you don’t know the story before you begin the story, what kind of a storyteller are you? John Irving

Probably more than any other type of story, a mystery must have a tight plot….It is not enough to get your protagonist in deep trouble and out again. When the problem is finally solved, it must be done in a satisfying way. This means the solution comes about in a logical manner, not through coincidence or happy accident. The solution must also come about through the actions of the protagonist. Stephanie Kay Bendel

A reader can buy one coincidence, but when you start throwing in coincidence after coincidence, then it becomes very difficult (for the reader). Michael C. Eberhardt

This page was last updated on: Tuesday, January 22, 2008

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A. James Fisher
Dept. of Political Science & Criminal Justice, 146 Hendricks Hall
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Edinboro, PA 16444
e-mail: jfisher@edinboro.edu blog: http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com