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in Filmmaking
on May 29, 2009

In Bookforum, novelist Richard Ford discusses his method for writing his acclaimed “Frank Bascombe” trilogy of novels, The Sportswriter, Independence Day, and The Lay of the Land. Along the way he references some useful theories about art, literature and character creation. An excerpt:

To my mind, and faithful to Frost, these three Frank Bascombe novels, along with everything else I’ve ever written, have been largely born out of fortuity. First, I fortuitously decided I wanted to write a book. I then collected a lot of seemingly random and what seemed like significant things out of the world, things I wanted to make fit into my prospective book—events, memories, snippets of what someone said, places, names of places, ideas—all, again, conveyed in language (sometimes just words I liked and wanted to put into play). After that, I set about trying to intuit that unruly language into a linear shape that was clear enough to make a reader temporarily give up disbelief and suppose that herein lies a provoking world with interesting people in it. And I did this with the certainty that even if I were working straight from life, and was trying to deliver perfect facsimiles of people directly to the page, the truth is that the instant one puts pen to paper, fidelity to fact—or to one’s original intention or even to sensation itself—almost always goes flying out the window. This is because language is an independent agent different from sensation, and tends to find its own loyalties in whimsy, context, the time of day, the author’s mood, sometimes even maybe the old original intention—but many times not. Martin Amis once wrote that literature “is a disinterested use of words. You need to have nothing riding on the outcome.” Another way of saying that is: The blue Bic pen glides along the page, and surprising things always spill out of it.

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