Friday, May 9, 2008

Knowing the ending when you start

Interviewer: I think academics tend to assume writers write novels the way freshmen write term papers. You have a thesis . . .

Larry McMurtry: That’s right. And you explain your thesis. But that isn’t what happens. What happens is a process of discovery in which a writer is compelled as much by curiosity as to how things will turn out and who people are as anything else. I get curious about a group of characters and I start investigating them.

I wish it was that way for me. That’s the way I would like to write, but after many years of trying to just finish something, I mostly only had mere sketches of characters I was curious about. The breakthrough for this book came when I pictured the ending and I realized I could just keep writing toward that ending and that if I kept moving toward that ending I would logically have to create a plot along the way. For me, plot has always been the weakness I had to work on most consciously.

Now, this didn’t necessarily make a good ending a good plot, but since experience told me the biggest risks were not starting and not finishing, I decided not to worry about “good” and to focus on “finished.” That insight was what it took for me, with my particular mix of talents and deficiencies, to get a complete draft written.

Also, it didn’t necessarily mean that the ending and plot, however good they might be, would still go together very well. In fact, in the last two days as I was writing down the final scenes, half of my brain was celebrating—“I’m almost done!”—and the other half was admitting how unsatisfactory the ending was.

So the ending really served as a kind of placeholder that I’m now going to have to get rid of in favor of some other ending, still to be thought of. I love what the ending did for me. It served me well. But now I have to retire it.

More on Larry McMurtry tomorrow.

1 comment:

Tana said...

Keep up the good work.