Tag Archives: David Foster Wallace

Precision: David Foster Wallace at work

Came upon this document over on Ron Silliman’s blog which shows the changes between the transcription of David Foster Wallace reading “A fragment of a longer thing” (Dec. 2000) and The New Yorker’s publication of that story as “Backbone” (Feb. 28, 2011).

It’s fascinating and exciting to see Wallace’s editorial mind at work here. The writing is so much cleaner and more efficient in the New Yorker version. The story was really made by the revision, all my favorite moments (“The boy had turned seven.”) and elements (the detailed medical descriptions of the boy’s movements) edited in and all the redundant wording edited out. “Precision” is the word that comes to mind when I look at this. I have been geeking out over this and plan to continue the geek out for a while. Pure brain candy. What do you think?

David Foster Wallace has made my students yawn, and I think it’s making me mad

“Forever Overhead” by David Foster Wallace made me fall out of my chair when I first read it. In my late teens and twenties, it was the story I’d photocopy and hand to friends, saying: read this because it’s awesome and because maybe you’ll think I am a cool guy for introducing you to the story. And this worked, more or less, throughout college. College, where I now teach writing.

I give out certain stories to class because they are great examples of particular craft elements. One craft element is DETAIL. Sensory details — use all the senses to plant your readers in moments and scenes. Good writing tips are usually obvious ones: don’t just describe what things LOOK like, describe the sounds all around your characters, give details on scent and touch and taste. It sounds obvious that we live with five senses, so should the characters. But students nod and say: “Oh yeah…” Continue reading