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Monday, February 27, 2006

The Novel According to Irving

It was during the writing of perhaps his most popular novel, The World According to Garp, that Irving discovered he had to know where he was going in order to get there. Although he didn't discover it until he got to the end.

When Irving began the novel, he wrote, "In the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases." He thought he was writing the first line of the novel. Then he realized it worked better as an end to the first chapter.

"First I thought it was the first chapter, then the second, then it slowly made it's way through the novel until I finally realized it was the end." The line, of course, ended up as the last line of the book.

Since Garp, Irving always hones in on the last line before writing the rest of the novel. "That makes it as if the story already happened to me. I already know what I need to say and only need to focus on how to say it -- the language and structure and tone."

Do all authors agree? Only a terminal case would think so. Get another point-of-view from another established novelist in the next installment of Writeful.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Begin at the End

Was it Stephen Covey who first said "Begin with the end in mind?" Probably not -- he said it, but surely this advice comes from long before Covey's repackaging. And certainly it'll be repackaged again and again. Most recently, perhaps, by novelist John Irving.

Irving says he never begins writing a novel until he has decided on the end.

"I always start with the last sentence," he says. "I know exactly where I'm going. I have a far more fixed sense of the ending than the beginning. In the five, six, seven years it takes me to write a book, I always know the ending first and don't start writing until I know the last sentence. You need to know the ending to understand the tone and language to use. You need to know how to set everything up to get to where you're going."

When did Irving discover this method? Read Writeful next week as Irving elaborates.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Throw Another Blog on the Bonfire

Tom Wolfe stood at the podium at the National Mall in his white suit, white shoes, white glasses ... and white hair. "Most young writers today write out of vanity," he said. "Young writers have nothing to say. Older writers do."

Vain words, coming from an older writer? Perhaps. Then again, this is the author of Bonfire of the Vanities and A Man in Full. To Wolfe, younger writers tend to be vain, but not yet full.

"Young people just want to write -- what you tend to do is believe you can make music with words. And you can. So it's all about the writing and not about having something to say."

Older writer as he may be, Tom Wolfe knows a thing or two about young people. Not only was he once young himself, but his most recent novel, I am Charlotte Simmons, took him to college campuses and frat parties for intense, in-depth field research.

His message to young writers: "Your experience isn't sufficient. You need to get out there and find experience."

Ouch. A young writer could get burned by this man in full's bonfire of vanity. Visit the older writer at his online home.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Fiction or History?

Whether fiction or history, E.L. Doctorow believes in telling the truth. His recent novel, The March, remains popular with critics and the masses alike. What was Doctorow's intention as he mixed fiction with history?

"My purpose for writing this book was to finish writing this book," the writer said matter-of-factly.

Doctorow found the subject of Sherman's march worth exploring. "Sherman's march uprooted an entire civilization. Freed slaves attached themselves to the march, and so did white people whose lives were disrupted, both poor and wealthy alike."

Among U.S. Generals, Doctorow says Sherman and Grant are the best writers. "Their memoirs are well worth reading." And unlike many memoirs, they tell the truth.