Literary Birthday – 21 July – John Gardner

John Gardner was born 21 July 1933, and died 14 September 1982.

John Gardner Quotes

  1. One has to be just a little crazy to write a great novel. One must be capable of allowing the darkest, most ancient and shrewd parts of one’s being to take over the work from time to time.
  2. The very qualities that make one a writer in the first place contribute to the block: hypersensitivity, stubbornness, insatiability, and so on. Given the general oddity of writers, no wonder there are no sure cures.
  3. In the final analysis, real suspense comes with moral dilemma and the courage to make and act upon choices. False suspense comes from the accidental and meaningless occurrence of one damned thing after another.
  4. We read five words on the first page of a really good novel and we begin to forget that we are reading printed words on a page; we begin to see images.
  5. Writer’s block comes from the feeling that one is doing the wrong thing or doing the right thing badly. Fiction written for the wrong reason may fail to satisfy the motive behind it and thus may block the writer, as I’ve said; but there is no wrong motive for writing fiction.
  6. It is the nature of stupid people to hide their perplexity and attack what they cannot grasp.
  7. Fiction, like sculpture or painting, begins with a rough sketch. One gets down the characters and their behaviour any way one can, knowing the sentences will have to be revised, knowing the characters’ actions may change. It makes no difference how clumsy the sketch is—sketches are not supposed to be polished and elegant.
  8. The primary subject of fiction is and has always been human emotion, values, and beliefs.
  9. There is something mysterious about the writer’s ability, on any given day, to write. When the juices are flowing, or the writer is ‘hot’, an invisible wall seems to fall away, and the writer moves easily and surely from one kind of reality to another.
  10. The best way in the world for breaking up a writer’s block is to write a lot.
  11. Good writers may ‘tell’ about almost anything in fiction except the characters’ feelings. One may tell the reader that the character went to a private school (one need not show a scene at the private school if the scene has no importance for the rest of the narrative), or one may tell the reader that the character hates spaghetti; but with rare exceptions the characters’ feelings must be demonstrated: fear, love, excitement, doubt, embarrassment, despair become real only when they take the form of events—action (or gesture), dialogue, or physical reaction to setting. Detail is the lifeblood of fiction.
  12. The trick, of course, is to find a profession you like and one that will also feed your writing, and not eat up all your time.
  13. Character is the very life of fiction. Setting exists so that the character has someplace to stand. Plot exists so the character can discover what he is really like, forcing the character to choice and action. And theme exists only to make the character stand up and be somebody.

John Gardner was an American novelist, essayist, and literary critic. He is well known for his novel Grendel, a retelling of the Beowulf myth from the monster’s viewpoint, and On Becoming a Novelist.

Source for image: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

by Amanda Patterson

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Posted on: 20th July 2017