Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Ending Comes First: John Irving's Writing Process

Scott D. Parker

I was listening to the What It Takes* podcast yesterday. The latest installment features John Irving. Now, he’s an author whose name I know but I’ve never read any of his books. And I’ve only watched one of his movies (“The Cider House Rules”). I think. Maybe more.

Anyway, a couple of things stood out in the interview. One, Irving considers himself to be in the tradition of the 19th Century novelist. He prefers novels with lots of details, intricate plots, and—this is very cool—where the passage of time is like another character. He name-dropped Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy. Having never read an Irving novel, that immediately got my attention. I may have to check out one of Irving’s novels. Anyone have any suggestions?

Perhaps the strangest thing Irving mentioned was how he writes his novels. He said he writes the last sentence(s) first. Why? Because he wants to know how the novel feels at the end of the story so he can drive every sentence to that end. That floored me, to be honest. While I may have an ending before I start a book—i.e., the events—I don’t have a sense of how the ending will feel or how the characters may change from the get-go. I journey through the book with my characters, even when I know the road map. That enables me to have a good understanding of the true ending.

Have y’all heard about Irving’s process? Do any of y’all do the same thing?

*What It Takes is a part of the Academy of Achievement website and group. You can subscribe from there. Definitely check it out.


Al Tucher said...

I read several of his before age and the internet destroyed my attention span. The idea that he knows from the beginning where his huge novels are going astonishes me.

I would recommend HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE.

Dana King said...

Interesting. I think the final line of A Widow for One Year is as good as any ending I've read. I guess he takes as much time on the last line as some do in the first.