Periodically, I will go scanning for an interview of a favorite writer of mine. Today, I stumbled across a gem of an interview with novelist John Irving in the Summer-Fall 1986 issue of The Paris Review.
Before following the link, consider this excerpt:
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. I knew that Garp’s mother would be killed by a stupid man who blindly hates women; I knew Garp would be killed by a stupid woman who blindly hates men. I didn’t even know which of them would be killed first; I had to wait to see which of them was the main character. At first I thought Jenny was the main character; but she was too much of a saint for a main character—in the way that Wilbur Larch is too much of a saint to be the main character of The Cider House Rules. Garp and Homer Wells are flawed; by comparison to Jenny and Dr. Larch, they’re weak. They’re main characters. Actors know how they end up—I mean how theircharacters end up— before they speak the opening lines. Shouldn’t writers know at least as much about their characters as actors know? I think so. But I’m a dinosaur.