We’ve sourced some of the most interesting and thought-provoking Novelists Quotes from Jonathan Coe, Margaret Atwood, Will Self, Jay McInerney, J. J. Abrams. Each of the following quotes is overflowing with creativity, and knowledge.
I think it’s also the case that I’m not as widely travelled, or as well-educated in history, as most of the other novelists I meet: so I have to write about my own country, at the present time, because it’s more or less all I know about!
Once upon a time, novelists of the 19th century, such as Charles Dickens, published in serial form.
The British and American literary worlds operate in an odd kind of symbiosis: our critics think our contemporary novelists are not the stuff of greatness whereas certain contemporary Americans indubitably are. Their critics often advance the exact opposite: British fiction is cool, American naff.
Most novelists I know went through a period of intense self-examination and self-loathing after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. I certainly did.
Stories in which the destruction of society occurs are explorations of social fears and issues that filmmakers, novelists, playwrights, painters have been examining for a long time.
Love of place is one of the characteristics I enjoy most about novelists.
Novelists are not equipped to make a movie, in my opinion. They make their own movie when they write: they’re casting, they’re dressing the scene, they’re working out where the energy of the scene is coming from and they’re also relying tremendously on the creative imagination of the reader.
Novelists can ask – they can ask for anything – but their books are their answers in advance.
I became fascinated by the fact that people write to give away rather than write to be read. It’s the difference between playwrights and novelists.
All novelists I speak to about how they started usually say it was by pulling up their roots and going to live somewhere else. You see the shape of your life at a distance.
For purposes of marketing, writers are designated as poets, novelists, or something else. But writing is about matchmaking, an attempt to marry sensations with apt words.
In writing my historical novels, I have to rely upon my imagination to a great extent. I think of it as ‘filling in the blanks.’ Medieval chroniclers could be callously indifferent to the needs of future novelists. But I think there is a great difference between filling in the blanks and distorting known facts.
I saw novelists as being admirable people and I thought… I thought… maybe, one day, I could be one of them.
Noir was a brainchild of the United States. And most of the creators of classic noir – novelists and screenwriters, directors and cameramen – were men. Women were their mysterious, sometimes villainous, always seductive objects of desire.
Of course all novelists are egomaniacs and want to draw everyone to their fold just like any other preacher. The snake-oil peddler, the false prophet, all of this is fascinating to me. But I certainly hope that I’m more humane than that.
Novelists in particular love to rhapsodize about the glory of the solitary mind; this is natural, because their job requires them to sit in a room by themselves for years on end. But for most of the rest of us, we think and remember socially.
History is the history of human behavior, and human behavior is the raw material of fiction. Most people recognize that novelists do research to get the facts right – how a glove factory works, for example, or how courtesans in imperial Japan dressed.
Novelists go about the strenuous business of marrying and burying their people, or else they send them to sea, or to Africa, or at the least, out of town. Essayists in their stillness ponder love and death.
For a while, when I got out of college, I tried to write fiction. I’d grown up more around novelists, and my initial attraction was to write fiction. But I was much less suited for it. I always struggled to figure out what people were saying or doing in a particular moment.
We crime novelists have a great pulpit. We write about justice and about correcting injustice.
Kingsley Amis was one of a trio of brilliant comic novelists who made English literature sparkle in the twentieth century.
I’ve spent most of my adult life in the United States, and there the celebrity culture has been entrenched for a long time. It has made people almost literally insane, even those who make a great show of repudiating it. Those people, like novelists, who can no longer enjoy this status are condemned to despise it.
Novelists get to say plenty in their massive tomes; rock singers only get four-minute songs with two verses and a chorus’ worth of lyrics, and so there’s a real pleasure in accessing the intelligence behind the music, even if it doesn’t qualify as ‘great literature.’
We all now tell stories by cutting from one dramatic scene to the next, whereas Victorian novelists felt free to write long passages of undramatic summary.
It feels like when novelists say they find their characters are doing things they never thought they’d do, the material comes alive, and that’s how I feel making music.
The fundamental difficulty that most novelists face when they are trying to adapt their own book into a screenplay is realizing that a screenplay is a completely different way of storytelling, and it has limitations.
Alternate history fascinates me, as it fascinates all novelists, because ‘What if?’ is the big thing.
Actors love to do extreme things, so that is why they become actors; otherwise, they’d be novelists.
In the ’70s, the newspaper guild managed to get people paid what they were worth, but the reporters suddenly became middle class. It’s much more respectable, more uptight, and everyone speaks in guarded tones. And the writing isn’t as good. We always had guys who were failed poets and failed novelists who did it to eat.
If you need proof of how the oral relates to the written, consider that many great novelists, including Joyce and Hemingway, never submitted a piece of work without reading it aloud.
A good writer knows that if her style and perceptions are really cooking, she can bring anything off. It’s okay, of course, for novelists to depict bland, average families living bland, average lives in bland, average towns. But it isn’t okay when those novelists don’t outshine their bland, average subjects.
God gets the great stories. Novelists must make do with more mundane fictions.
For novelists, the imagination is everything. The trick is to guide one’s imagination using research. I love using old maps. When I wrote my novels on London and New York, I found wonderful historical atlases. Paris has the most lavish maps of all.
The bicycle, the bicycle surely, should always be the vehicle of novelists and poets.
I don’t have doctrinaire views about how we should relate to Asia. But novelists reflect the world they live in, and that world propels you, to some extent. I’m a creature of the British Empire, and of the period of transition from the Empire.
Novelists are too often assumed to write veiled autobiography.
One of the admirable features of British novelists is that they have no scruple about setting their stories in foreign settings with wholly foreign personnel.
Novelists do not swing on the same pendulums as critics.
Most novelists are narcissistic egomaniacs who would probably fit somewhere on the CEO spectrum.
Even the best novelists are rarely congratulated on the quality of their observations about contemporary life.
All novelists must form their personal pacts in some way with the slowness of their craft. There are some who demand of themselves a ‘rate of production,’ for whom it’s a matter of pride to complete, say, a book every year.
My grandmother’s first husband was a spiritualist medium. What fascinates me about that is the balance between conviction and sincerity and trickery, which is also something that novelists are very familiar with.
You could say that all novels are spy novels and all novelists are spy masters.
I like novelists who can create other interesting worlds.
I think, in common with a lot of novelists, I wasn’t the most athletic guy at school.
Some novelists want to give people in history a voice because they have been denied it in the past.
A petty reason perhaps why novelists more and more try to keep a distance from journalists is that novelists are trying to write the truth and journalists are trying to write fiction.
I don’t know who said that novelists read the novels of others only to figure out how they are written. I believe it’s true. We aren’t satisfied with the secrets exposed on the surface of the page: we turn the book around to find the seams.
There are so many new young poets, novelists, and playwrights who are much less politically committed than the former generations. The trend is to be totally concentrated on the literary aesthetic and to consider politics to be something dirty that shouldn’t be mixed with an artistic or a literary vocation.
Basically, all novelists should want to tell a story, and if they don’t want to, they shouldn’t be novelists. I think story-telling is important and underrated.
San Francisco has long been a leader in the arts, nurturing generations of painters, sculptors, poets, novelists, playwrights, film-makers, and performing artists and innovators of every kind.
America may have great poets and novelists, but she never will have more than one necromancer.
All novelists write in a different way, but I always write in longhand and then do two versions of typescript on a computer.
I love the idea of trying to do the work of old-fashioned novelists of plotting and of really making you curious about what’s going to happen next and all that, but also trying to load it up with your weird thoughts and opinions.
I know I’m a rare person, a trained scientist who writes fiction, because so few contemporary novelists engage with science.
It seemed to me you could do anything in comics. So I started doing my thing, which is mainly influenced by novelists, stand-up comedians, that sort of thing.
Writing for the theatre is so different to writing for anything else. Because what you write is eventually going to be spoken. That’s why I think so many really powerful novelists can’t write a play – because they don’t understand that it’s spoken – that it hits the air. They don’t get that.
It used to be that the highest ambition of American novelists was to write ‘the Great American Novel,’ that great white whale of American fiction that would encompass all the American experience in one great book.
Novelists are always resisting autobiographical readings of their work, because they know how false those can be.
In the 1930s, all the novelists had seemed to be people who came blazing up into stardom from out of total obscurity. That seemed to be the nature of the beast. The biographical notes on the dustjackets of the novels were terrific.
Many first-time novelists end up rewriting their first two or three chapters, trying to get them ‘just right.’ But the point of the first draft is not to get it right; it’s to get it written – so that you’ll have something to work with.
I wrote my first novel in the same conditions as most first novelists – I had a full-time job, I shared an apartment, I had no time – and so I became a compulsive outliner of everything. Ever since then, my process has consisted of trying to forcibly rid myself of that compulsion.
Some novelists are luckier than others in the eras of their formative intellectual years, but all Weltanschauungs return, which means that most novelists have at least a chance of a revival.
Short-story writing requires an exquisite sense of balance. Novelists, frankly, can get away with more. A novel can have a dull spot or two, because the reader has made a different commitment.
Even if I couldn’t get my early novels published, I could still write. I went into newspapers, where I got paid to write every day. If there’s a better school for would-be novelists, I don’t know what it is.
Many of the novelists I admire never left their hometown. Look at Flannery O’Connor. So many of the great Russians never left Russia. Shakespeare never left England. The list goes on.
For novelists, sharply drawn moral conflicts are often useful, and even human and personal disasters can be seen as material.
The truth is that I know very few novelists who have been satisfied with the adaptation of their books for the screen.
Things were easier for the old novelists who saw people all of a piece. Speaking generally, their heroes were good through and through, their villains wholly bad.
‘Shun security,’ I advise aspiring novelists when they complain to me that they are stuck. ‘Get disoriented. Maybe your agonizing writing block isn’t agonizing enough. Your enemy is comfort.’
Novelists embody plural selves all the time. What are characters, after all, if not other selves?
Woman novelists seem to have a reputation for being dowdy.
Novelists and poets have existed side by side forever.
I cling to the basic set of tenets laid out in Tom Wolfe’s ‘New Journalism’ – to get out there like the great French novelists of the 19th century and study life. I am a Tom Wolfe fan of the first order.
There is not now, nor I suspect will there ever be, a le Carre novel with ninjas in it. Most serious novelists are wary of including ninjas in their writing. That’s a shame, because many much-admired works of modern fiction could benefit from a few.
It’s the duty of all novelists, all painters, all musicians, all people who try to make art move: to look for something they feel authentically, without paying attention to styles.
It may be time for serious literary novelists to take back some of the subject matter we abandoned to hack novelists and the movies.
Historians tell the story of the past, novelists the story of the present.
Novelists are no more moral or certain than anybody else; we are ideologically adrift, and if we are any good then our writing will live in several places at once. That is both our curse and our charm.
People really want to believe that there is no fiction. I think they find it much easier to imagine that novelists are writing memoirs, writing about their lives, because it’s difficult to conceive that there’s a great imaginary life in which you can participate.
Let the novelists fret about consistency – story writers should feel free to jam; to get things right in new, surprising ways by allowing themselves, now and then, to get things wrong.
I’ve known several spies who have wanted to become novelists. And novelists who became spies, of course.
That’s the most terrible thing about being an author – standing there at your mother’s funeral, but you don’t switch the author off. So your own innermost thoughts are grist for the mill. Who was it said – one of the famous lady novelists – ‘unhappy is the family that contains an author’?
Do we value privacy in any real way? Thinking about blogs, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace… all these suggest we value exposure rather more. And instead of challenging this transformation, as they are supposed to – certainly at the more thoughtful edges of the art – novelists are buying into it wholesale.
Somehow we must reintegrate the scientific with the popular and reconnect the future to the present. This is less a job for scientists, engineers, bureaucrats, and administrators and more a job for novelists, moviemakers, popularizers, and politicians.
I have argued about the future of fiction with jaded novelists, far-seeing postmodernists, technologists, television critics. The argument that future generations will not know the pleasures of the novel has been a staple of book reviewing since at least 1960.
I always counsel aspiring novelists that passion is the most important quality for a writer to possess – technique can be taught, but that relentless desire to write has to come from within.
I think novelists should be disciplined and self-imposed working hours. I work a lot, but I don’t feel that I’m working. I always feel that there is a child in me, healthy, and I’m playing.
We sometimes forget that human invention can also be a subject of human invention: that might seem a modern notion, or a postmodern one, but novelists have taken time – sometimes time out from their realist fixations – to source and satirise the speech and power we rely on.
Novelists lie for a living – what is a novel, after all, but an assembly of fibs paradoxically meant to illustrate something true? – but generally see a distinction between lying on the page and lying off it.
For novelists or musicians, if they really want to create something, they need to go downstairs and find a passage to get into the second basement. What I want to do is go down there, but still stay sane.
I’m inspired by playwrights, novelists, poets: The value of language has been a lifelong passion of mine. I enjoy it. I’m good at it.
The novel is just fine: It’s novelists who aren’t doing so well.
Novelists should be free to write whatever they want, to let their imaginations roam as close to or as removed from reality as they see fit.
It is true that it is usually for their books that novelists reserve their most considered and ordered thoughts, but the fact is they arise inescapably from one consciousness: the same one that is occupied in all the other activities which make up a life.
Compared to the big 19th-century novelists, I’ve got a slim volume of work.
Having judged a few competitions, it’s clear that novelists are often the laziest short story writers.
Novelists tend to go off at 70, and I’m in a funk about it, I’ve got myself into a real paranoid funk about it, how the talent dies before the body.
I’ve always played that edge of fact and fiction. I used to be a filmmaker, and certainly in film that’s a line that filmmakers cross more readily and more easily than novelists.
It is a commonplace to say that novelists should be judged by their work rather than their private lives or their publicly expressed views. And writers, of course, subscribe enthusiastically to this idea.
From Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos to Google and Facebook, many of America’s greatest entrepreneurs, musicians, movie directors and novelists are world beaters.
When you get inside a literary novel you feel that the author, more often than not, just doesn’t know enough about things. They haven’t been around enough – novelists never go anywhere. Once I discovered true books about real things – books like ‘How To Run a Company’ – I stopped reading novels.
I feel that historical novelists owe it to our readers to try to be as historically accurate as we can with the known facts. Obviously, we have to fill in the blanks. And then in the final analysis, we’re drawing upon our own imaginations. But I think that readers need to be able to trust an author.
Novelists of a conservative or more purely aesthetic bent hold up better on the surface, but their novels go in and out of fashion according to relevance or irrelevance.
James Salter has talents on the page we novelists would sell souls to the devil for.
I cannot and do not live in the world of discretion, not as a writer, anyway. I would prefer to, I assure you – it would make life easier. But discretion is, unfortunately, not for novelists.
Novelists don’t age as quickly as philosophers, who often face professional senility in their late twenties.
I think there are a lot of really positive aspects to social media for novelists. Even though our work is pretty solitary, through Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook and Instagram and blogging in general, we’re better able to connect directly with readers.
I recognize myself to be an intensely naive person. Most novelists are, despite frequent pretensions to deep socio-political insight.
I came to feel that, in addition to Imre Kertesz, Hungary has produced at least three contemporary novelists who deserve the Nobel: Peter Nadas, Peter Esterhazy and Laszlo Krasznahorkai.