The Last (Sentence) Shall Be First?

I just listened to a local NPR interview with John Irving, author of The World According to Garp and The Cider House Rules, among other iconic novels.  One thing during the interview that he lingered upon for quite awhile was his unintentional “schtick” that his novels are usually born out of the last sentence.  He gets a novel’s final sentence stuck in his head and then he builds the entire story around it–or behind it, I guess.  In the case of Garp:  “In the world according to Garp, everyone was a terminal case.”

This is fascinating to me.  I work similarly, I suppose, but not at the micro level of the sentence.  I usually have a very clear ending in mind for my story ideas, and then I figure out how to lead up to it.  I intentionally leave the details very vague, though, because I want to avoid the pitfall of writing myself into a corner.  My books “write themselves,” as they say, and I’m always willing to let the narrative take me in a new direction.

Incidentally, that’s part of what is so fun about writing for me: learning the details of character and plot with all the anticipation and curiosity of an objective reader.  I’m wrapping up my fourth novel right now (about 30 pages, or so, to go!) and subsequently the ENTIRE Sunbird Chronicles Series, and it’s been super exciting to see how the details are coming into focus after ten years of thinking daily about the characters and where they’re (supposedly) going.


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