Posted in Writing

6 Quotes by S.E. Hinton to Make You a Better Writer


S.E. Hinton (born in 1948) is the beloved author of The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, and Tex.

Here are six wonderful quotes from Ms. Hinton to inspire your writing!

1. My characters are fictional. I get ideas from real people, sometimes, but my characters always exist only in my head.

Something difficult about writing when it comes to the creation and development of your characters is making sure always that the characters are fictional and aren’t examples of real life people put directly on the page. You don’t want to embarrass anyone who might read your work in the future. You don’t want to get in trouble, either.

What I find works best is, as S.E. Hinton says, you get ideas from real people in your lives. You take little things away from the people you meet and incorporate those things into your fiction. The way someone talks. The way people hold themselves. An unusual hobby of someone you know. A detail about someone’s appearance.

Getting ideas about the characters in your fiction from the people you know well and also the people you pass by on the street is always fair game. What you don’t want to do is create characters who act and look and dress and talk exactly like the people closest to you. That’s a dangerous thing to do in the long run, I’m telling you. It’ll be better for everyone, as well as your imagination, to create characters that only exist in your head.

2. Anything you read can influence your work, so I try to read good stuff.

There are so many different pieces of advice when it comes to what you should read. I’ve heard that you should read anything you can get your hands on. If you write horror fiction, for example, you should still read outside of your genre and try to find non-fiction books, picture books, erotica, mystery, science fiction. That you should read as widely as possible. I’ve also heard you should read great books and terrible books in equal measure.

I think it’s important to occasionally dip your nose in a bad book. One where you can study what the author did wrong so you know what to avoid on your next project. But I do agree with Hinton in that most of what you read should be good stuff, not bad stuff. Good stuff inspires you. Gets your creative juices flowing. Makes you see what’s actually possible to create in your writing life.

You don’t want to accidentally let a bad piece of writing influence your own work, and you should instead aim high every time out and try to get better. You know what makes you write better? Writing a lot, and reading lots and lots of good material that inspires you.

3. I have no idea why I write. The old standards are: I like to express my feelings, stretch my imagination, earn money.

Every day I have a yearning to write. Every day I want to sit down at the computer and work on not just one thing but multiple things. I like to work on something new, and revise something else. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry. I’m obsessed with it all. I want to create as much as possible.

And yes, I hope to eventually earn money from the fiction work that I do. Don’t we all? So much of writing is about the creative urge, not so much the potential monetary compensation. If you get into the writing game because you want to make a lot of money, you’re in for a world of hurt. Sure, there’s lots of money to be made in this profession. But to do it only for the money? Not a great idea.

S.E. Hinton wrote The Outsiders because she had an incredible story to tell, and that incredible story has gone on to sell millions of copies for more than fifty years now. That book was published when she was really young, so she’s been able to enjoy a life of financial independence because of her writing. But of course she’s not just in this for the money. She loves to stretch her imagination and express her feelings on the page. So should you.

4. Since I am first of all a character writer, that character’s emotions are as vivid to me as my own. I always begin with an emotion after I have established a character in my mind. I feel what they feel. I guess that is why it comes across so strongly.

One of the worst things you can do for your fiction writing is create characters that are flat and lifeless on the page. Characters that don’t want anything and that don’t feel anything strongly in terms of emotions. If your characters don’t feel emotional toward anything, why are you telling this particular story, and why these characters and not others?

I’ve written twenty novels in ten years, and I find the projects that work best are the ones with rich characters who want something desperately. The novels I’ve written where things merely happen to my characters and that’s how the plot goes into motion, those are the books that don’t work as well. The ones where I have one or more major characters going after something, now we have lift-off.

And going a step further, it’s absolutely important for you to feel what your characters feel. You want to get so deep and connected with your storytelling that the characters begin to feel real, and that you want the things that they want. Once you believe in what they want and what they feel strongly, almost as if they’re real, that belief will come across on the page, and your readers will feel it, too.

5. Any writer who gives a reader a pleasurable experience is doing every other writer a favor because it will make the reader want to read other books. I am all for it.

There are so many options for consuming stories these days. And so many people want to consume them faster than ever before. Streaming has invaded our lives the last seven years in ways nobody thought possible. We binge an entire show in a day. We watch movies at home instead of in theaters. We listen to podcasts as we drive and watch Youtube videos on the computer instead of getting any work done.

Reading a book takes time. Reading a book requires more dedication to a story than watching a Netflix show with your phone in your hand. I’ve always felt reading a really great book is the most rewarding and pleasurable experience there is in the world of storytelling, but the key is to find those kinds of books as early as possible. And, of course, to write them, too.

The more great books that are put into the world, the better chance you have at reaching storytelling consumers who will become avid readers for life. We don’t want books to be seen as a lesser option than streaming, than Youtube, than podcasts. Books should be right there on top, and so it’s important we give people the best reading experiences we can.

6. How a piece ends is very important to me. It’s the last chance to leave an impression with the reader, the last shot at ‘nailing’ it. I love to write ending lines; usually, I know them first and write toward them, but if I knew how they came to me, I wouldn’t tell.

Endings are hard. Endings are tricky. Endings are so damn important. It’s true of all kinds of storytelling — movies, television, books. If they don’t end well, you’re in trouble. You can be watching the greatest movie of the year, but if the last scene sucks, you might not recommend it. If you watch eight seasons of a show you adore and they screw it up in the last episode, you’ll be pissed for life.

Same goes for a book that begins well, stays strong, but then falls apart at the end. There’s nothing worse, really. When you’ve given hours of your time to a book that you’re enjoying, only to see it go to total shit in the last chapter, in the last scene, there’s no getting that time back. And in some ways a bad ending to a good book is worse than just a bad book overall. You see the potential of what could have been. You see a book that almost got it right.

So when it comes to your own writing, you want to pay attention to two things always — how it begins, and yes, how it ends. You want the beginning to hook the reader, entice the reader, make that person want to keep flipping through the pages. You have to get them on board at the beginning. The first scene, the first chapter, is by far the most important.

But the ending is critical, too. You want to revise, revise, revise that ending until you get it right. You want to share your manuscript with beta readers and writer friends and get feedback about the ending. Does it work? Is it satisfying? Is it surprising? Sometimes you don’t need that last scene. Sometimes just a minor tweak will make all the difference.

There’s so much to think about in your writing life. So many things like character and tension and pacing and theme you want to be in control of at all times. But always pay close attention to your endings. If you get the ending right, there’s no telling how much success you can achieve.

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