Honesty:

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

“[The artist is] the conscious guardian of his society, the only man in town who’s honest by profession.” John Gardner

“False feelings are a slap in the face of grace.” Lu Chi’s Wen Fu

“It is like a bad musician who, to drown out imperfections, plays too loudly.” Lu Chi’s Wen Fu

“The one principal reason I think the novel is not in any danger as a form is that it is a marvelous changer of social sensibility. In any society on the wrong road, there’s always going to be someone who writes a novel saying so; because it’s a highly individual form, some writer is always ready to express what thousands of others secretly feel is wrong with their society. There’s no art form, actually, that can do this as well as the novel.” John Fowles

“I think a novelist’s first duties, oddly enough, are really toward himself. To be honest to his own imagination, his own total knowledge of existence. That’s the primary duty to me.” John Fowles

“There can be no truly moral art that isn’t social, at least by implication (a point T.S. Eliot tried to deny in his essays but was driven to accept); and on the other hand, there can be no more social art without honesty in the individual—the artist—as a premise for just and reasonable discussion.” John Gardner

“A writer is governed by his deepest conviction, rather than by some professed belief.” Ayn Rand

“Art that tries hard to tell the truth unretouched is difficult and often offensive. It tears down our heroes and heart-warming convictions, violates canons of politeness and humane compromise.” John Gardner

“In order to be intellectually honest, you have to have an intellect in the first place.” Flannery O’Connor

“I only worry in these things about serving my own artistic conscience, not a mythical set of admirers who expect a certain thing.” Flannery O’Connor

“Honesty is only honesty, not truth.” Flannery O’Connor

“We recognize true art by its careful, thoroughly honest search for and analysis of values. It clarifies and confirms.” John Gardner

“Music goes wrong as any other dramatic development goes wrong. Honest feeling has been replaced by needless screaming, pompous foolishness, self-centered repetitiousness, misuse of the vocabulary.” John Gardner

“[Talent is] (1) a correct, that is moral, relation of the author to his subject; (2) clearness of expression, or beauty of form—the two are identical; and (3) sincerity, that is, a sincere feeling of love or hatred of what the artist depicts.” Tolstoy

“None of the three [writers] care enough about his characters to use them as anything but examples in a forced proof. The novelist’s ‘message’, in each case, is only loosely related to the characters: they exist for the sake of the predetermined message, not as subjects for the artist’s open-minded exploration of what he can honestly say.” John Gardner

“To learn about reality by mimicking it, needless to say, the writer must never cheat. He may establish any sort of givens he pleases, but once they are established he must follow where, in his experience, nature would lead if there really were, say, griffins.” John Gardner

“He cannot, for instance, make the reader accept some event on the basis of the writer’s stylistic eloquence. By rhetoric any writer worth his salt can convince the reader that an eighty-pound griffin falls twice as fast as a forty-pound griffin, but if natural law in a world containing griffins is one of the premises the writer has accepted, the rhetoric is a betrayal of honest thought.” John Gardner

“Neither can the honest writer make the reader accept what he says took place if the writer moves from a to b by verbal sleight of hand; that is, by distracting the reader.” John Gardner

“What kind of articulation of his intuition satisfies the artist? The answer is, one which honestly feels to him like art and which people he tentatively trusts are willing to look at to see if it is art.” John Gardner

“Hollowness in poetry or fiction shows itself mainly in the writer’s exaggerated interest in the trimmings of his drama—in compulsively elaborate description which does not feel to the reader like description of objects loved or hated but seems creative emotion (concentration) arbitrarily directed.” John Gardner

“He [the average Catholic reader] forgets that sentimentality is an excess, a distortion of sentiment usually in the direction of overemphasis on innocence, and that innocence, whenever it is overemphasized in the ordinary human condition, tends by some natural law to become its opposite.” Flannery O’Connor

“This is both writer and character honesty. The writer’s honesty to tell what he sees, and the honesty to see and tell who the character is. It includes the strength to resist temptation towards clichés and sentimentality.” Ulf Wolf

“Honesty is the strength to see what is there.” Ulf Wolf

“The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience.” Flannery O’Connor

Honesty in story-telling makes up for a great many stylistic faults.” Stephen King

“As in political, so in literary action, a man wins friends for himself mostly by the passion of his prejudices and by the consistent narrowness of his outlook. But I have never been able to love what was not lovable or hate what was not hateful out of deference for some general principle. Whether there by any courage in making this admission, I know not. After the middle turn of life’s way we consider dangers and joys with a tranquil mind. So I proceed in peace to declare that I have always suspected, in the effort to bring into play the extremities of emotions, the debasing touch of insincerity. In order to move others deeply we must deliberately allow ourselves to be carried away beyond the bounds of our normal sensibility—innocently enough, perhaps, and of necessity, like an actor who raises his voice on the stage above the pitch of natural conversation—but still we have to do that. And surely this is no great sin. But the danger lies in the writer becoming the victim of his own exaggeration, losing the exact notion of sincerity, and in the end coming to despise truth itself as something too cold, too blunt for his purpose—as, in fact, not good enough for his insistent emotion. From laughter and tears the descent is easy to snivelling and giggles.” Joseph Conrad

“I walk over the marsh saying, I am I: and must follow that furrow, not copy another. That is the only justification for my writing, living.” Virginia Woolf

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