Elements of Fiction


(To survey other elements and author quotes, visit the Elements of Fiction home page)

“The more I hung out doing research, the more the story changed, the more specific and the more intimate it became, and also the more daunting and endless.” Richard Price

“Research encompasses everything the writer does, accidentally or deliberately, randomly or systematically, to put him in direct touch with his subject.” Philip Gerard

“If you’re going after big ideas, universal themes, you have to know — really know — what you’re writing about. The best books of this type — nonfiction and fiction — are firmly grounded in research.” Philip Gerard

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent reading in order to write. A man will turn over half a library in order to write.” Samuel Johnson

“I’ve somewhat delayed my start [of a new book] because I’ve got a couple of years’ reading to do.” Salman Rushdie

“In order to get on with my novel I need to see a part of the region that hasn’t already been dealt with by everyone else, and where there are real local people in their own surroundings: peasants, fishermen, a genuine village among the rocks. . . . I’d like to see their faces, their clothes, their houses, and the landscapes they live in. That’s enough for my purposes; I only need them as props. I don’t really mean to describe things; I just need to see them, so as not to get the lighting wrong.” George Sand

“I can’t possible overstate the importance of good research. Everyone goes through life dropping crumbs. If you can recognize the crumbs you can trace a path. For every crime there is a motive. For every motive there is a passion. The art of research is the ability to look at the details and see the passion.” Jake Kasdan

“In the first draft I don’t do any research at all. I write little things like check up or develop in the margin, because I think the skeleton of a novel must be the narrative — I call it the ‘spine.’ I let the spine dominate the whole first draft. That means the story must keep going, so I often leave out descriptions of clothes or the mood of a scene or other non-narrative elements, and deal with them later on.” John Fowles

“The sort of research that grocers call useless.” George Sand

“I was in Paris for three days, which I spent doing research and errands for my book.” Gustave Flaubert

“As a writer, my motto has always been don’t confuse me with the facts’ . . . I want to know just enough so I can lie colorfully.” Stephen King

“Whatever success I have had has been through writing what I know about.” Ernest Hemingway

“Knowledge is what makes the underwater part of the iceberg.” Ernest Hemingway

“If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.” Ernest Hemingway

“I spent a week in Paris verifying boring details.” Gustave Flaubert

“A vital aspect of the fiction-writing process, and most surely of all creative writing processes, is the matter of density. By density I mean richness, substance. It is the core of knowing your materials.” William Sloane

“Do research. I think it’s very important. The reader knows when there’s something authentic. You can’t fake it.” Sidney Sheldon

“Research is back story, and the key work in back story is back. . . . What I’m looking for is nothing but a touch of verisimilitude, like the handful of spices you chuck into a good spaghetti sauce to really finish her off. That sense of reality is important in any work of fiction, but I think it is particularly important in a story dealing with the abnormal or paranormal.” Stephen King

“When you step away from the ‘write what you know’ rule, research becomes inevitable, and it can add a lot to your story. Just don’t end up with the tail wagging the dog; remember that you are writing a novel, not a research paper. The story always comes first.” Stephen King

“I did a year’s research for the second section of a novel and ended up using very little. This is what the film business aptly calls ‘back story,’ without knowledge of which it is difficult to proceed. If a woman character is thirty-seven, you still have to figure out the nature of her personality when she was a child, even if you have no intention of using that.” Jim Harrison

“You research it any way you have to in order to know — really know — its truth.” Philip Gerard

“While memory and reflection always play important roles in writing, research focuses the writer outside himself, beyond personal perspective, toward the facts of the world. In this way it opens up the subject. This tension between the personal voice and a larger context — social, historical, scientific, moral — drives the classic books in our literature.” Philip Gerard

“You want knowledge against which to test your personal intuition.” Philip Gerard

“One important function of research is to inspire you with humility about your subject, reminding you that you can get only so close and no closer to perfect understanding, forcing your imagination therefore to work harder, forcing you to deeper research. Keeping you honest.” Philip Gerard

“You must inspire the reader with the confidence that you know the fascinating inside story, that you’re not just faking it. Not just that you can recite the facts — but that you feel the truth of the subject, physically, emotionally, spiritually. That it has somehow entered you, changed you. It’s not a superficial knowledge, the kind that wins trivia tests. It’s something deeper, something about which you finally have come to a beginning of understanding. Even in a novel, your world has to be so convincingly grounded in the facts and feeling of the real world that the reader doesn’t doubt it for an instance.” Philip Gerard

“Research brings knowledge to your writing, where it mingles with personal experience, and intellectual and aesthetic judgment to create an authentic voice.” Philip Gerard

“Good research can add knowledge, power, and authenticity to the writing, helping readers understand and more fully participate in the world the writer is creating.” Philip Gerard

“If you can’t afford to do the essential research, if you don’t have time to learn what you need to learn, the book will not happen.” Philip Gerard

“There’s no one right way; there’s only the way that’s right for your subject.” Philip Gerard

“As a practical matter, how can I capture this elusive subject? That’s every writer’s essential question, because all subjects worth writing about are elusive in some important way.” Philip Gerard

“Research, like writing, is a craft, and after reasonable preparation, the only way to learn how to do it well is to do it.” Philip Gerard

“During the research phase, the clock is always ticking toward the moment when you will begin to write, but you can’t rush. There are no shortcuts.” Philip Gerard

“The Internet, including the World Wide Web, with all its attendant databases and home pages and hotlinks, can serve a researchers well, but it can only take you so far. It’s a great well of information, bogus as well as reliable, but it is no substitute for the real thing, for being there, for the thing itself. The great books seem to be earned, not always through physical danger, but through a deep experience with the subject. And some courage to put yourself on the line.” Philip Gerard

“The more complex the events of your book, the more time it encompasses, the more useful the chronology is likely to prove. Once you have it straight, you have your Bible: Here’s what happened and in what order. It liberates you not to have to create a strict chronology in the work itself. You may choose to fragment the narrative, or to transpose the ending with the beginning, or to simply move around thematically rather than in chronological order. Once you have the chronology on your writing desk — and in your head — you’ll never get lost, and you have a better chance of not losing the reader, no matter how you skew time.” Philip Gerard

“Less can be more: By carefully selecting which parts of your research to include, you can create fuller, more lasting impressions of them. They won’t be summarized, glossed over, lost in the thicket of other less compelling parts.” Philip Gerard

“Don’t cheat. You will always regret it later. Always. No exceptions.” Philip Gerard




Raised by trolls in northern Sweden, now settled on the California coast a stone’s throw south of the Oregon border. Here I meditate and write. Wolfstuff.com.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Poker semi pro definition francais
What is comma club?

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Ulf Wolf

Ulf Wolf

Raised by trolls in northern Sweden, now settled on the California coast a stone’s throw south of the Oregon border. Here I meditate and write. Wolfstuff.com.

More from Medium