Angela Fiddler, the Gap, and MFAs

Angela Fiddler emerged, fully armed and armoured, from my skull.

I wanted to write one of my best friends a vampire story for her birthday. It was the first book I wrote that had a modern urban setting and I was hooked. Writing is characters in worlds with problems. Having “city but with magic” be the world I didn’t have to create gave me more energy to write more complicated characters with more complex problems. Were any of the early stuff great works of literature? Heck no. But they’re fun, smexy romps where the running and screaming are just as important as the smooching and the riding crops.

I listened to Ira Glass’s video in 2010. I was already three years into my body of work. Angela Fiddler was routinely writing four or five novels of 50,000-70,000 words a year and she was having a blast. There wasn’t one story that wasn’t her absolute favourite in the crafting stage. Her stories got bigger, the stakes got larger and more personal. Characters developed more and had more complex characterization. The relationships between characters became more intricate.

I can’t say how many times I’ve watched this video in the past. Each year that goes by, though, I see less and less desire from my fellow writers to aspire to what they can achieve. I think I’ve had three conversations over my entire MFA where a classmate honestly wanted to know more about how to use craft to improve their work.

And I’ve had dozens of conversations with classmates who thought the idea that they could possibly improve was insulting to its core. It made me think each time about how much filling in the gap depends on the author seeing the distance between where they are and where they want to be.

In twenty years, ‘there are no rules so I don’t have to learn them’ has gone from newbie!think to axiomatic common knowledge. Underpublished writers were never easily convinced there is craft involved to writing but today, too many of them are unconvinceable. If a writer wants to significantly improve, they have to be willing to change what they’re doing. But most sit down at the critique table trying to polish what they wrote, not improve on it. Improving a story takes rewrites. Polishing takes a final pass.

The differences between the two are vast and wide. They’re both important, but the final pass is called the final pass for a reason.

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