The Mark Blog

Space And Time

We haven’t had workshop since mid-March. This time is to be spent finishing and rewriting our manuscripts. At our last meeting, I was given notes on how to make a story better. Over the past couple of weeks I had completed most of my rewrites. However, a couple of small but important matters were still bothering me about the story. They’re the type of rewrites that require deep thought: a character’s reaction to conflict, a story title.

These issues can be tricky. They involve authenticity with characterization and a precision with words. Getting in touch with characters is like getting a bucket of water from the same well where our dreams reside. Logic doesn’t always apply. It’s not the same type of thinking required when writing an outline or legal brief. If it were, the story would come across as contrived and manipulated by the writer. Sometimes this type of revision involves luck and time and the “answer” coming to you—not the writer coming up with the “answer.” Writing can be a balancing act between art and craft.

Frustrated with the lack of insight and progress I was making with one of my stories, I needed a little space and time. This weekend I decided to spend some unstructured time with the story–to just sit and think and read and look at the physical pages without a goal or end product in mind. Like most people these days, my hours are scheduled and accounted for. This move was an anomaly for me. I spent time rereading the stories in “After Rain,” a stellar collection by William Trevor. I analyzed and reflected on the titles of his stories. Trevor has a way with titles: “Timothy’s Birthday,” “Child’s Play,” “Lost Ground,” and “A Day” are some of my favorites. Sometimes Trevor simply lifts a small detail from the story, such as “After Rain.” And yet the phrase is much more than a little detail. It somehow makes the entire story even more resonant. It reminded me that a title doesn’t need to be smart or funny or witty. In fact, that can often hurt more than help, setting the reader up for a misread. The title also shouldn’t give away too much of the ending or the theme.

After this mini-study of Trevor’s collection, I went back to my manuscript and lifted a detail to use as a title. It feels like the right title—I’ll have to wait and see if it sticks with me. This issue is only one example. A lot of breakthroughs happened this weekend with a couple of stories in the collection. A little space and time was all I needed.