DFW Rewritten

Here is the first paragraph of David Foster Wallace’s “Good People” rewritten:

Lane A. Dean, Jr. and his girlfriend sat at a picnic table. They’d gone to different high schools but attended the same junior college. Now it was springtime and they were near a lake. The air was suffused with honeysuckle and lilacs, almost too much for them to take in. The recent storms had downed trees. One tree had collapsed near the shallows of the lake where Lane and his girlfriend were now sitting. Lane liked his girlfriend and her smell, but he was distracted by another man, whose incongruous hat reminded him of his grandfather. This stranger was still, more like a man than a picture.

DFW’s paragraph is 502 words. My revised paragraph is 107 words.


  1. Your paragraph is awful–bland, facile. DFW’s is artful.

    Suppose you prefer a text message to a letter.

  2. Sorry, I am missing the point. You revised a long well written paragraph into a shorter boring one?

    Why do you love to hate on DFW?

  3. Color me unsure of what the point of this exercise was as well. This loses all feeling of atmosphere, of the emotion attached to the description. I understand DFW isn’t for everyone, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t for anyone.

  4. For

    Here is the first paragraph of David Foster Wallace’s “Good People” rewritten:


    I re-wrote the opening of David Foster Wallace’s “Good People”:

    and for

    DFW’s paragraph is 502 words. My revised paragraph is 107 words.

    swap in

    His was 502 words; mine, 107.


  5. I’m curious — did you first read the story online or in print? The layout of the print version is (to my mind) intended to be aesthetically pleasing — three long paragraphs on page one, almost like tapestries. However, that format also points out what could be taken as the story’s major flaws.

  6. awesome work Ed. I always think of “it’s not writing it’s typing” when I read DFW? But try doing it for the first graph of *A Farewell to Arms*

  7. Re: Who says I hate DFW?

    I wouldn’t say you hate him but you do seem to bash him from time to time. Perhaps the following seems familiar:

    While it breaks my heart to say it, I think Wallace is washed up. He could very well prove me wrong. But if he has nothing playful or interesting to contribute to the world of letters, I’d much prefer it if he threw in the towel and coasted on his past achievements, rather than writing work that sometimes reads and feels as dated and inconsequential as a 1997 episode of Seinfeld.

    Also you once made this (in my opinion) ridiculous claim comparing DFW to MZD:

    Well, I am here to tell you that I have discovered a man who can write David Foster Wallace under the table, if indeed a comparative summation between writing and drinking can be consummated.

    I liked House of Leaves but it’s cleverness does not match up against the brilliance of Infinite Jest (obviously, again, my opinion).

  8. Whether your feelings for Mr. Wallace fall foul, fair or just plain indifferent, I cannot comment upon. But I will say that his 502 words of prose—while convincing and even beautiful, themselves—paint a “picture” that is still and lifeless. [“…more like a picture than a man.”] This was probably his intent. Each reader will make of it what they will.

    Your 107 words succinctly convey the essence of the scene—with one all important distinction: While the words you chose may not fit together nearly so beautifully (imho), you describe something that may convincingly be thought of as “alive.” [“…more like a man than a picture.”] I’d surmise this has something to do with “the purpose of this experiment.”

    The success of one approach or the other all comes down to what an individual reader values more highly: beautifully described death (inanimateness), or coarsely described life.

    Of course, certain combinations of the two yield the best results.

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