You know how when you first become aware of the existence of something, you start noticing it everywhere? Like a new type of car you hadn’t paid attention to? A Chevy Volt would be a good example. Let’s say you don’t even know what they look like, having never seen one, but after your uncle buys one and bores you to death telling you all about it when you’re just trying to watch the game, the next day you see ten of them on your commute into work. You know that feeling?
That’s happening to me now with the things I’ve learned/absorbed/been forced to realize in the Mark Program. Let’s take, for instance, the importance of being clear about what each character wants, which seems obvious, but isn’t, until it is. I’m coming upon this concept everywhere now.
Here’s ZZ Packer being interviewed in a recent copy of The Writer magazine: “I love reading literary fiction... but sometimes I feel it’s a little bare on story, you know, and that sometimes writers are afraid to be too obvious. And so they’ll have all sorts of subtle things going on, and psychological things going on, but sometimes you just want to pick up a story and shake it, because you’re thinking, 'Oh, what is it that this character wants?'"
Words taken right out of Mark instructor Alan Watt’s mouth.
Or take this opening from Sam Lipsyte’s story “The Republic of Empathy,” in the current issue of the New Yorker: “My wife wanted another baby. But I thought Phillip was enough.” Clear as a glass bell. I know what each character wants and I’m in the story immediately.
The point is, I think the lessons I’ve learned in the Mark about writing fiction have stuck with me more than what I've learned in other workshops, and now I see these lessons everywhere I turn. In the novels I’m reading, short stories I’m reading, interviews, even articles about advertising and web traffic.
This is not going to help me weather my Final Review this Sunday, though. This coalescence is coming a bit too late for that. The review’s going to come down to the manuscript I turned in a couple weeks ago, which incorporated my work and the lessons learned both successfully and unsuccessfully.
Can I go back, get a do over? Can I start again, back in January, and make the adjustments that it took five months of cajoling to get me to do? Can I take my submission back and write a scene where the main character does drive up to Santa Barbara and confronts his wife, or tries to anyway, an idea which came to me just last week after turning in the manuscript. Can I redo the early spring and drop all the heavy blocks of backstory I wrote at the beginning of the program so I can be further along by the end? Because now I see how important that is.
Alas, I cannot turn back time, though that’s what I want.
I’ll have to settle for continuing to absorb what I’ve learned more deeply. I'll have to be reinforced by seeing my new knowledge presented again to me everywhere I turn, and apply it all to the future.
To the future!