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In fiction, of course, language is our medium, that’s obvious. More importantly, fiction is about human beings and human emotions. Fiction is not about ideas. Students are writing from their heads, and that’s the problem. Art does not come from the mind; it does not come from ideas. It comes from the place where you dream. Because they are writing from their heads, they are abstracting and generalizing, and interpreting and analyzing people’s feelings, characters’ feelings. They aren’t expressing feeling. They lose track of yearning.

Any Buddhist will tell you — this is one of the great truths of their religion — that as a human being with feelings, you cannot exist for even thirty seconds on Planet Earth without desiring something. That’s their word. I prefer yearning; it suggests the deepest level of desire. The manuscripts that I get from my students have characters with problems, much elaborated problems, and attitudes and opinions, and sensibility, and a voice, and a point of view, and ideas, maybe a vividly evoked milieu. But these things do not inevitably or automatically add up to the dynamics of desire. And it’s the dynamics of desire that make stories go.

from a 2007 interview with Robert Olen Butler at Bookslut

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