Empathy:

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

“We care how things turn out because the character cares—our interest comes from empathy.” John Gardner

“We empathize—it’s our chief way of learning. And the more complex the pattern of ideational connections—that is, the more fully we understand the scene adding up the facts, metaphors, and rhythms—the more completely we slip, unwittingly, into it, pitying, smiling at, or despising the crate. Thus the idea that the writer’s only material is words is true only in a trivial sense.” John Gardner

“He must be able to report, with convincing precision, how the world looks to a child, a young woman, an elderly murderer, or the governor of Utah.” John Gardner

“That is, in great fiction, we are moved by characters and events, not by the emotion of the person telling the story.” John Gardner

“Within a single scene, . . . it seems to be unwise to have access to the inner reflections of more than one character. The reader generally needs a single character as the means of perception, as the character to whom the events are happening, as the character with whom he is to empathize in order to have the events of the writing happen to him.” John Ciardi

“Readers, after all, are making the world with you. You give them the materials, but it’s the readers who build that world in their own minds.” Ursula K. Le Guin

“It’s no use telling us that something was ‘mysterious’ or ‘loathsome’ or ‘awe-inspiring’ or ‘voluptuous.’ By direct description, by metaphor and simile, by secretly evoking powerful associations, by offering the right stimuli to our nerves (in the right degree and the right order), and by the very beat and vowel-melody and length and brevity of your sentences, you must bring it about that we, we readers, not you, exclaim, ‘how mysterious!’ or ‘loathsome’ or whatever it is. Let me taste for myself, and you’ll have no need to tell me how I should react.” C.S. Lewis

“All of us are persons who have never been anybody but ourselves, and if a writer can tell his story in terms of only one vicarious self the reader can become submerged deeper in the story than if he has to surface to change age, condition, and even sex.” William Sloane

“The glory of fiction is that it gives us the effect of being someone else. This is the human reason why the means of perception is central to the experience of reading fiction.” William Sloane

“The question one must always ask is, who is the reader being as he reads.” William Sloane

“Another reason I think the novel will survive is that the reader has to work in a novel. In a film, you are presented with someone else’s imagination exactly bodied out. The marvelous thing about a novel is that every reader will imagine even the very simplest sentence slightly differently.” John Fowles

“We do sympathetically engage ourselves in the struggle that produces the fictional events.” John Gardner

“Part of the particular interest and beauty of science fiction and fantasy: writer and reader collaborate in world-making.” Ursula K. Le Guin

“In good poetry and fiction the writer speaks, first, to clarify in his own mind what he thinks and feels and, second, to make that clear to somebody else, on the assumption that the reader has sometimes felt, or can now be encouraged to feel, the same.” John Gardner

“Far be it for me to have worked it out in any abstract way. I don’t know why the bull and Mrs. May have to die, or why Mr. Fortune and Mary Fortune: I just feel in my bones that that is the way it has to be. If I had the abstraction first I don’t suppose I would write the story . . .” Flannery O’Connor

“It [art] can only succeed through the cooperating imagination and intelligence of its consumers, who fill out, for themselves, the artist’s world and make it round, and whose own special genius partly determine the ultimate glory of it.” William Gass

“The lyrical beauty of the prose entices us into participation.” Donald Guttenplan

“Consciousness must consent for literature to happen.” Donald Guttenplan

“Our easiest approach to a definition of any aspect of fiction is always by considering the sort of demand it makes on the reader. Curiosity for the story, human feelings and a sense of value for the characters, intelligence and memory for the plot. What does fantasy ask of us? It asks us to pay something extra.” E.M. Forster

“I have said that each aspect of the novel demands a different quality of the reader. Well, the prophetic aspect demands two qualities: humility and the suspension of the sense of humour.” E.M. Forster

“The mind must be allowed to settle undisturbed over the object in order to secrete the pearl.” Virginia Woolf

“If [the character] is clearly drawn and interesting, a lifelike human being, the reader worries about him, understands him, cares about the choices he makes. Thus if [the character] at some point, out of cowardice or indecisiveness, makes a choice any decent human being would recognize as wrong, the reader will feel vicarious embarrassment and shame, as he would feel if some loved one, or the reader himself, were to make such a choice. If [the character] sooner or later acts bravely, or at least honestly, selflessly, the reader will feel a thrill of pride as if he himself or some loved one had behaved well—a pride that, ultimately, expresses pleasure in what is best not just in the made-up character but in all humankind. If [the character] finally behaves well, and [another character] shows unexpected (but not arbitrary or writer-manipulated) nobility, the reader will feel even better. This is the morality of fiction. The morality of the story of [the character] and [another character] does not reside in their choosing not to commit incest or in their deciding they will commit incest. Good fiction does not deal in codes of conduct—at least not directly; it affirms responsible humanness.” John Gardner

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