Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

John Irving on plot

with 4 comments

Titles are important; I have them before I have books that belong to them. I have last chapters in my mind before I see first chapters, too. I usually begin with endings, with a sense of aftermath, of dust settling, of epilogue. I love plot, and how can you plot a novel if you don’t know the ending first? How do you know how to introduce a character if you don’t know how he ends up? You might say I back into a novel. All the important discoveries—at the end of a book—those are the things I have to know before I know where to begin.

John Irving, to The Paris Review

Written by nevalalee

January 29, 2011 at 1:19 am

Posted in Quote of the Day

Tagged with ,

4 Responses

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  1. Knowing the ending is why I can’t finish my definitely Asian American experience novel. The obvious contrast this brings up is with Mailer’s comments at the Barnes and Noble way back in January 2003.


    January 29, 2011 at 2:16 am

  2. What did he say? I only remember him telling me how tough I was.


    January 29, 2011 at 11:23 am

  3. I understand how sensible this advice is and wish I could follow it, but my writing never quite works that way. If I do start with an ending in mind, it’s never the actual ending that fits the story I end up writing.

    I tend to go more with what I think Vonnegut said about writing: set up the situation and the characters and then, as a writer, do sadistic and bad things to the characters. I don’t think he specified how the ending should happen. I find that somehow they find their own way out of the situation, or at least my subconscious finds it for them.

    Jon Vagg

    January 30, 2011 at 12:01 pm

  4. My approach, like most of my writing strategies, tends to be a makeshift compromise: I usually have a general idea of how the story ends, but only a vague sense of how to get there.


    January 30, 2011 at 12:59 pm

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