Sally Forth

Hey, remember The Fourth of July, 2003? We don't, but found this in our archives:

Fourth of July Fourthiness.

Independence is on the march, patriots.

& Recently . . .

Kurt Cobain's Ghost with an Invitation to a Fourth of July Picnic and Fireworks by Angela Genusa

"B.L.T.": A Review by Will Layman

Ten Tiny Poems by Brian Beatty

Angry Words from a Gnome Who to This Day Continues to Think the Human Genome Project Was Actually The Human Gnome Project by David Ng

Key Party, N.Y.C., Circa Always by William K. Burnette

A Day on the Phone with Mythological Norse Firewarrior, Bringer of Storms by Aaron Belz

Polish Fact

Temperate with cold, cloudy, moderately severe winters with frequent precipitation; mild summers with frequent showers and thundershowers.

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Monday, February 9, 2004   |    How To

Writers-on-Writing Month

Writing Good

by John Irving*

The way I see it is, everybody has a Mother. So that’s something I make sure is in every story I write: a Mother. Another thing is that everybody is, at some point in his or her life, an only child. Yes, there are people who have brothers and sisters, people who are brothers or sisters, but everybody knows real characters are only children, and siblinged people are just jealous hobnobbers. So forget siblings. Pointless. Only only children are what matter, that’s where the true moxie lies. If you have a brother or sister, or multiples of these disgusting creatures, for the purposes of writing, eat them, pretend they don’t exist. And art is life, so when they call, until your story is done, hang up on them, turn them away, refuse all loans. This is the essence of writing good. There’s only one audience that I care about, people with Mothers who are only chil’ren.

The next thing I do is very thinly veil myself as the lead character. For example, I used to wrestle when I was a lad so I try to always make a point of the lead male character’s (let’s say, Ohn Jirving) physical ability. Also, he should be brilliant. Like me. Maybe a writer, like me. A wrestling writer. That’s good fiction. Lots of writers wrestle, like Ernest Hemmingway and John Irving and Truman Capote (gay midget Jell-O wrestling, but wrestling nonetheless). And some wrestlers write, too: Mick Foley’s Have a Nice Day was the best non-Irving book of the last twenty years. The Rubaiyat of Iron Sheik was fantastic, as well. Also, your main character should be a pretentious prick, a real cocksure jackass. This helps get the chicks. The more pretentious a prick the character, the better.

Another key to writing good is to not stray from home ground, ever. Take that one to heart. I grew up in New England and have been blessed enough to never have to leave. I’ve never endured the insanity of elsewhere. In fact, I’m not even sure if anywhere else even exists. So, again, people with Mothers, who are only children, who live in New England, X marks the spot, jackpot. Clam chowder, the Patriots, L.L. Bean, all good stuff. Maine works just fine for Stephen King, and he too can teach you a thing or two about how to write good. Despite living in New England, I do not, I repeat, I do not give real descriptions of places other people might have been because then they can realize the not-so-goodness of my fake recollection. If you leave your home ground, you can’t make shit up anymore because then other people can call you out. Bad idea.

Make the story take place during an indeterminate time period. Some people are into period pieces, and others enjoy attention to the details. These people will easily point out the stuff that’s made up in your writing. Whiny pusses. Ignore them, they most likely have a sibling, or are a sibling, and are therefore not in your target reading audience anyhow.

Be as boring and longwinded as possible. This is critical to being able to write good. If the sun shines through a blind, describe it at infinite detail. Think Charles Dickens, without the skill, but just as wordy. There you have it. For good measure, add two more paragraphs when you’re through getting your point across.

The most important thing in any story is this: everybody must be grieving for somebody who’s dead. Tell us on the first page which characters didn’t make it into the book. You need widows and orphans all over the place. Everybody crying. Crying sells. The Oprah demographic eats that shit up, even the ones that aren’t New Englanders. Crying, maybe some dirges. Dirges are good.

If I gave away all my secrets, I’d be a fool. However, in celebration of my own inimitable brilliance, I will divulge just one more: Dismemberment and/or inevitable death of the hero sells. A little dismemberment in a story never hurt anyone (except the dismembered), so I’m always sure to throw some in. Chop off a hand, gouge out an eye, yank out a tongue. Then go so far as to kill your lead character, whenever possible. I did. Owen Meany? Dead. Garp? Dead. Nibedermeyyyyyyyyer? Just kidding. Don’t worry if everyone knows it’s coming, just do it. Is it gimmicky? Perhaps, but so was Janet Jackson’s nipple dance at halftime, and I don’t hear anyone that I know that has a mother and is an only child and lives in New England complaining, do you? Well, there you have it: go write good, you princes of Maine, you kings, etc. GO PATS!

John Irving is the author of The Cider House Rules, The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and The Nanny Diaries.