Monday, 11 February 2013

The 3 Things a Writer Needs According to William Faulkner

“A writer needs three things, experience, observation and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others.” - William Faulkner

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick /

Let's take a look at each component in turn.


We have all heard the age old advice of "write what you know". Some find this too limiting, but it doesn't just mean the jobs you have held and the places you have visited. Think in terms of emotions. You have a character with a gun to his head, and while you may never have experienced this yourself (I hope), I am sure you will have experienced fear at some point in your life, even if was just at the sight of a spider (if so, sorry for the picture). Think back to that experience. How did it make you feel? What went through your mind? Did your heart race? Did you go cold and clammy? Use your experience of that emotion to add depth to your character's. This will work with any emotion. The same can be done with the relationships between your characters, we have all come across people we have loved, hated, been indifferent too, people we have wanted to know more about, people we have felt wary of. You don't have to base your characters on these people, but you can use your experience of how you felt around them to help make the interactions between your characters more realistic and three-dimensional.

Your passions and your fears are other areas of personal experience that can be mined for use in your writing, both of which I will be exploring in more depth in future posts. If you write what you are passionate about it will come across to the reader. The same goes for fears.

Experience, in relation to the quote above, also means your writing experience. The more you write, the better you become. You learn what works and what doesn't. You learn to trust in your instinct and follow your gut. You learn how to show up at the page no matter what.


As a writer you need to pay more attention to the world around you. Any little thing can be the spark you need to inspire a new story or add greater depth or detail to a current one. You need to train yourself to look at people and wonder about their life story. Pay attention to body language and what it might suggest, take note of people's mannerisms and quirks, they way they dress. Listen to the way people talk. A building or a park may become the perfect setting for a scene in you novel, but unless you are constantly observing you may miss it.

Observation also relates to other people's work. Pay attention to the way a novel is constructed, how they have set the pace. Anytime you read something that sparks an interest, pay attention to why and how. If something jars you out of a story, look at why so that you can learn from their mistake.


It goes without saying that if you want to be a writer you need to have a strong imagination. This is something that comes easily when we are children, but as we grow up we become more logical and analytical and it can be easy to lose that imagination; we take ourselves too seriously. We need to become more childlike and see the whole world as a chance to explore, learn and imagine 'what if?'.

Do you agree with the quote above? Is there anything else you would add? Let us know in the comments.

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