The Art of Fiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers gives a private series of extemporaneous lectures, analyzing the four essential elements of fiction.
If you know where your inspiration really comes from, you will never run out of material.
“A rational writer can stoke his subconscious just as one puts fuel in a machine. If you keep on storing things in your mind for your future writing and keep integrating your choice of theme to your general knowledge, allowing the scope of your writing to grow as your knowledge widens, then you will always have something to say, and you will find ever better ways to say it. You will not coast downhill after one outbreak of something valuable.”
The wider a novel’s theme, the better it is as a work of art.
“If a novel presents a marvelous philosophical message but has no plot, miserable characterization, and a wooden style full of bromides, it is a bad work of art.
In today’s literature, many books do not have any abstract theme, which means that one cannot tell why they were written. An example is the kind of first novel that relates the writer’s childhood impressions and early struggle with life. If asked why the particular events are included, the author says: ‘It happened to me.’ I warn you to write such a novel. That something happened to you is of no importance to anyone, not even to you (and you are now hearing it from the archapostle of selfishness). The important thing about you is what you choose to make happen—your values and choices.”
Never hang a gun on the wall in the first act if you don’t intend to have it go off in the third.
“Never resolve a smaller issue after the climax. In a story with multiple threads, the problems of the lesser characters, if not involved in the climax, have to be solved before the climax.
An annoying aspect of badly constructed novels is that the author poses minor problems and then leaves them hanging in the air, as if he has forgotten all about them. (Of course, in really bad novels, even the major issues are not resolved.)”
Concretize your abstractions
“A writer has to project his abstractions in specific concretes. That he knows something inwardly is not enough; he has to make the reader know it; and the reader can grasp it only from the outside, by some physical means. Concretize to yourself: If a man and a woman are in love, how do they act? What do they say? What do they seek? Why do they seek it? That is the concrete reality, for which ‘love’ is merely a wide abstraction.”