Imagination:

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

“What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth.” Denise Levertov

“The soul, by an instinct stronger than reason, ever associates beauty with truth.” Henry Theodore Tuckerman

“I’m am sure of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affection and the truth of the imagination.” John Keats

“The mistress of the world… This superb power, this enemy of reason.” Blaise Pascal

“Everything one invents is true.” Gustave Flaubert

“It is a complete fallacy to believe you must always experience what you put into a book, what matters is whether you can imagine it or not; there is no automatic connection between experience and imaginative writing.” Salman Rushdie

“The imagination disposes all things; it is the imagination that creates beauty, justice and happiness.” Blaise Pascal

“Poetic imagination is the only clue to reality.” Ernst Cassirer

“The imagination is the only genius.” Wallace Stevens

 “Only in men’s imagination does every truth find an effective and undeniable existence.” Joseph Conrad

“Imagination, not invention, is the supreme master of art as of life.” Joseph Conrad

 “An imaginative and exact rendering of authentic memories may serve worthily that spirit of piety towards all things human which sanctions the conceptions of a writer of tales, and the emotions of the man reviewing his own experience.” Joseph Conrad

“The writer must summon out of nonexistence some character, some scene, and he must focus that imaginary scene in his mind until he sees it as vividly as, in another state, he would see the typewriter and cluttered desk in front of him, or the last year’s calendar on the wall. But at times—for most of us, all to occasionally—something happens, a demon takes over, or nightmare swings in, and the imaginary becomes real.” John Gardner

“I speak of the poet because we think of him as the orator of the imagination.” Wallace Stevens

“The fact seems to be that I can think almost anything, which means I suppose that I can be almost anything.” John Steinbeck

“Out of the artist’s imagination, as out of nature’s inexhaustible well, pours one thing after another. The artist composes, writes or paints just as he dreams, seizing whatever swims close to his net.” John Gardner

“The novelist’s imagination has a power of its own. It does not merely invent, it perceives. It intensifies, therefore it gives power, extra importance, greater truth, and greater inner reality to what well may be ordinary and everyday things.” Elizabeth Bowen

“Before you begin to write a sentence, imagine the scene you want to paint with your words. Imagine that you are the character and feel what the character feels. Smell what the character smells, and hear with that character’s ears. For an instant, before you begin to write, see and feel what you want the reader to see and feel.” Othello Bach

“Poetic value is an intrinsic value. It is not the value of knowledge. It is not the value of faith. It is the value of the imagination.” Wallace Stevens

“The truth seems to be that we live in concepts of the imagination before the reason has established them. If this is true, then reason is simply the methodizer of the imagination.” Wallace Stevens

“In literature, you know only what you imagine.” Carlos Fuentes

“You put yourself apart from yourself, and you enter the imaginary world.” Andrew Lytle

“The realm where the narrative you are working with becomes true and alive for you.” Madison Smartt Bell

“The composition of fiction can, at least theoretically, be broken into two stages. First, and most important, comes imagination. Next is rendering. Imagination is no more or less than a highly structured form of daydreaming. Daydreaming is fun, a form of play. Once the people, the places, the events you are imagining become fully present to your senses, then it’s time for rendering. . . . to express your vision in language.” Madison Smartt Bell

“I do find something distressingly amoral in the very nature of film and TV—possibly because the photographic image denies the spectator virtually all use of his own imaginative powers. Whereas reading requires a constant use of the reader’s imagination.” John Fowles

“Imagination is the light by which we see.” Flannery O’Connor

“The real man, the imagination.” Blake

“The artist’s imagination, or the world it builds, is the laboratory of the unexperienced, both the heroic and the unspeakable.” John Gardner

“It [imagination] is the one thing beside honesty that a good writer must have. The more he learns from experience the more truly he can imagine. If he gets so he can imagine truly enough people will think the things he relates all really happened and that he is just reporting.” Ernest Hemingway

“There is something in the nature of nature, in its presentness, its seeming transience, its creative ferment and hidden potential, that corresponds very closely with the wild, or green man, in our psyches.” John Fowles

“The writer’s sole authority is his imagination. He works out in his imagination what would happen and why, acting out every part himself, making his characters say what he would say himself if he were a young second-generation Italian, then an old Irish policeman, and so on. When the writer accepts unquestioningly someone else’s formulation of how and why people behave, he is not thinking but dramatizing some other man’s theory: that of Freud, Adler, Laing, or whomever. Needless to say, one may make some theory of motivation one’s premise—an idea to be tested. But the final judgment must come from the writer’s imagination.” John Gardner

“You have to distinguish two kinds of writing: most important is first-draft writing, which to an extraordinary degree is an intuitive thing—you never quite know when you sit down whether it’s going to come or not, and you get all kinds of good ideas from nowhere. They just come between one line and the next.” John Fowles

“A strong imagination makes characters do what they would do in real life. A subtler work of the imagination—a subtler way in which the writing of fiction is a morally serious mode of thought—is symbolic association.” John Gardner

“Romantic theory: the imagination, wellspring of compassion, is an innate faculty but one which requires exercise and training.” John Gardner

“The bad writer may not intend to manipulate; he simply does not know what his characters would do because he has not been watching them closely enough in his mind’s eye—has not been catching the subtle emotional signals that, for the more careful writer, show where the action must go next.” John Gardner

“The imagination sees with the eyes of the spirit; the maker, finished with his making, must then see what he has done, like the reader, with corporeal eyes.” Guy Davenport

“The intellect has withdrawn its watchers from the gates, and the ideas rush in pell-mell, and only then does [the creative mind] review and inspect the multitude.” Schiller

“Ridiculous little parakeet faced woman; but not quite sufficiently ridiculous. I kept wishing for superlatives; could not get the illusion to flap its wings.” Virginia Woolf

“I began the making up of scenes—unconsciously: saying phrases to myself; and so, for a week, I’ve sat here, staring at the typewriter and speaking aloud phrases of The Pargiters.” Virginia Woolf

“Elvira and George, or John, talking in her room. I’m still miles outside them, but I think I got into the right tone of voice this morning.” Virginia Woolf

“A novel, as we say, opens a new world to the imagination.” Percy Lubbock

“All literary and dramatic enjoyment, whether of nursery tales in childhood or of moving pictures later on or of ‘great literature,’ appears to involve to some degree the reader’s imaginative identification of himself with the roles portrayed and his projection of himself into the situations described in the story. (At what age does the capacity for imaginative identification of oneself with the roles portrayed in a story begin? The writer would suggest, on the basis of very limited observation, that it begins around the age of two or earlier. An interesting test case is to read the story of the Three Bears to a very small child to see when he begins to identify himself with Baby Bear.)” S.I. Hayakawa

“The first conception of the work needs intuition and imagination more than the craftsman’s toolbox, and so does the final consummation.” Madison Smartt Bell

“The landscape that opens before the critic is whole and single; it has passed through an imagination, it has shed its irrelevancy and is compact with its own meaning. Such is the world of the book.” Percy Lubbock

“Safety is a crime writers should never commit unless they are after tenure or praise.” Pat Conroy

“Don Quixote does not invite us into ‘reality’ but into an act of the imagination where all things are real.” Carlos Fuentes

“If the writing is any good, it struggles free of you, and the feeling of being inside it just as it moves away is so brief; a sensual visitation, the brush of His hand.” Jayne Anne Phillips

“Throughout time great writers have always been able to transpose themselves imaginatively into not just the racial other, but the sexual other and also into other historical periods.” Philip Gerard

“I think you will agree that the good lasting stuff comes out of one individual’s imagination and sensitivity to and comprehension of the suffering of Everyman, Anyman, not out of the memory of his own grief.” William Faulkner (in a letter to Richard Wright)

“The storyteller is deep inside everyone of us. The story-maker is always with us. Let us suppose our world is attacked by war, by the horrors that we all of us easily imagine. Let us suppose floods wash through our cities, the seas rise . . . but the storyteller will be there, for it is our imaginations which shape us, keep us, create us - for good and for ill. It is our stories that will recreate us, when we are torn, hurt, even destroyed. It is the storyteller, the dream-maker, the myth-maker, that is our phoenix, that represents us at our best, and at our most creative.” Doris Lessing

“[A]rt’s validity can only be tested by an imaginative act on the reader’s part.” John Gardner

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