I recently had a dispiriting exchange with a former student on Facebook.  I’d said something about revision, being in the midst of it, and she commented she’d abandoned fiction after grad school and worked in non-fiction where revision made sense, a process she described as “tuning the language and getting the story correct.”  But in fiction, she observed, “what’s to change if the story is just ‘made up’?”

Where did I go wrong?  I won’t quibble with “tuning the language” except to ask “to what frequency?”  And a quick perusal of Fox News, PBS, and Scientific American might lead to the conclusion that not every true story has the same “correct” for everyone.  But this “made up” charge misses the point.  All lies are made up, but are all equally effective?  You parents are familiar with bad lies and know what I’m talking about.  There are teachable, usable skills for telling more effective lies.  More importantly, this student is one of my most often quoted to later classes.  At the beginning of her workshop, I asked the class to talk about what they considered to be good fiction.  I had the usual answers for a while, straight from English classes of yesteryear, but then she said, “It changes your life.  When you read a really good novel, it can change your life.  That’s what I hope for every time I pick up a new novel—that it will change me.”  I would add that whatever magic the fiction may or may not work on the reader, it should work on the writer first.  If the book I’m writing isn’t changing me, isn’t making me re-examine myself and my world, I feel like I should be writing a different book.  So in answer to the question, “What’s to change?”  I’d say yourself and others.  Have you created a life-changing experience with words?  No?  Then revise.

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