Faulkner’s Advice

One of my favorite writers is William Faulkner. Some of my most cherished novels of his are The Hamlet, As I Lay Dying, The Sound And The Fury, and Absalom, Absalom! Faulkner once said, “A writer needs three things: experience, observation, imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others.” There is great wisdom here.


The first thing a writer needs to grasp is reality because if his stories do not seem real, then he will lose his readers. I understand the notion of a suspension of disbelief, but that does not give the author license to write about people and scenarios that make readers shake their heads and say That wouldn’t happen or No one would act like that.

Some of the harshest criticism I had to take as a writing student was when my Creative Writing teacher would tell me that he didn’t buy that my character would act like I described them. I was leaning too far on the Subvert Expectations side of things. Using twists and swerves does not preclude realism, and this begins with experience of life.


I have often thought that Observation was more crucial that sheer originality for the Creative Writer. I can’t count the times I had seen something or heard someone else describe some event, and my response is That’s going in a story some day. People can be entertaining enough. Let’s not be afraid to use the unique things that real people in our lives say and do to flavor and add depth to a tale.

I have a file of Observations. I keep a list of special and unique quotes and conduct. I review this list regularly, but most frequently when I am plotting a new tale and developing a fresh set of characters. These Observations that we may use in our stories can be everything from a good one-liner to a central event around which we compose an entire plot.


But for all the Observation in the world, we are still Creative Writers. We don’t just take dictation of life. We allow the muse of creativity and originality to mix these Observations from all of our Experiences into a tasty stew of stories.

I doesn’t matter if you are borrowing something clever your aunt said or using some literary allusion from the Classics, you make these words your own. While you may have a character based on your sister, that character is still not your sister. Even if you take advantage of the interplay in literature like Faulkner used “Orestes” as a basis for As I Lay Dying, the tale is still your own. One of the boldest areas where a Creative Writer’s Imagination comes into play is the uniqueness and individual genius that goes into developing a writer’s voice. There is more Imagination there than anywhere else in composition.

If you like this article, please chare it without writers you know. And as always your Comments below are always cherished.


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