"Writing Advice: by Chuck Palahniuk
In six seconds, you’ll hate me.
From this point forward—at least for the next half year—you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use.
The list should also include: Loves and Hates.
Until some time around Christmas, you can’t write: Kenny wondered if Monica didn’t like him going out at night…”
Instead, you’ll have to Un-pack that to something like: “The
Instead of characters knowing anything, you must now present the details that allow the reader to know them. Instead of a character wanting something, you must now describe the thing so that the reader wants it.
Instead of saying: “Adam knew Gwen liked him.” You’ll have to say: “Between classes, Gwen had always leaned on his locker when he’d go to open it. She’s roll her eyes and shove off with one foot, leaving a black-heel mark on the painted metal, but she also left the smell of her perfume. The combination lock would still be warm from her butt. And the next break, Gwen would be leaned there, again.”
In short, no more short-cuts. Only specific sensory detail: action, smell, taste, sound, and feeling.
Typically, writers use these “thought” verbs at the beginning of a paragraph (In this form, you can call them “Thesis Statements” and I’ll rail against those, later). In a way, they state the intention of the paragraph. And what follows, illustrates them.
Do you see how the opening “thesis statement” steals the thunder of what follows? Don’t do it.
If nothing else, cut the opening sentence and place it after all the others. Better yet, transplant it and change it to: Brenda would never make the deadline.
Thinking is abstract. Knowing and believing are intangible. Your story will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and details of your characters and allow your reader to do the thinking and knowing. And loving and hating.
Don’t tell your reader: “Lisa hated Tom.”
Instead, make your case like a lawyer in court, detail by detail.
Present each piece of evidence. For example: “During roll call, in the breath after the teacher said Tom’s name, in that moment before he could answer, right then, Lisa would whisper-shout ‘Butt Wipe,’ just as Tom was saying, ‘Here’.”
One of the most-common mistakes that beginning writers make is leaving their characters alone. Writing, you may be alone. Reading, your audience may be alone. But your character should spend very, very little time alone. Because a solitary character starts thinking or worrying or wondering.
For example: Waiting for the bus, Mark started to worry about how long the trip would take…”
A better break-down might be: “The schedule said the bus would come by at noon, but Mark’s watch said it was already 11:57. You could see all the way down the road, as far as the Mall, and not see a bus. No doubt, the driver was parked at the turn-around, the far end of the line, taking a nap. The driver was kicked back, asleep, and Mark was going to be late. Or worse, the driver was drinking, and he’d pull up drunk and charge Mark seventy-five cents for death in a fiery traffic accident…”
A character alone must lapse into fantasy or memory, but even then you can’t use “thought” verbs or any of their abstract relatives.
Oh, and you can just forget about using the verbs forget and remember.
No more transitions such as: “Wanda remembered how Nelson used to brush her hair.”
Instead: “Back in their sophomore year, Nelson used to brush her hair with smooth, long strokes of his hand.”
Again, Un-pack. Don’t take short-cuts.
Better yet, get your character with another character, fast.
And while you’re avoiding “thought” verbs, be very wary about using the bland verbs “is” and “have.”
“Ann has blue eyes.”
“Ann coughed and waved one hand past her face, clearing the cigarette smoke from her eyes, blue eyes, before she smiled…”
Instead of bland “is” and “has” statements, try burying your details of what a character has or is, in actions or gestures. At its most basic, this is showing your story instead of telling it.
And forever after, once you’ve learned to Un-pack your characters, you’ll hate the lazy writer who settles for: “Jim sat beside the telephone, wondering why Amanda didn’t call.”
Please. For now, hate me all you want, but don’t use thought verbs. After Christmas, go crazy, but I’d bet money you won’t.
For this month’s homework, pick through your writing and circle every “thought” verb. Then, find some way to eliminate it. Kill it by Un-packing it.
Then, pick through some published fiction and do the same thing. Be ruthless.
“Marty imagined fish, jumping in the moonlight…”
“Nancy recalled the way the wine tasted…”
“Larry knew he was a dead man…”
Find them. After that, find a way to re-write them. Make them stronger."
Masterpost of drinking experiences….
"Don’t quit. It’s very easy to quit during the first 10 years. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit."
ANDRE DUBUS (via kadrey)
I’m on year eight (of seriously pursuing publication) and I still need this reminder sometimes. Thanks, Mette.
So many young writers have asked me for advice on publication lately. Here it is: don’t give up. Write a little every day. Don’t be in such a rush to publish that you don’t take the time to develop and sharpen your skills. And, again, don’t give up.
Decided to make this into my own post with my response.
So for my Special Needs Education course we have devotionals at the beginning of class given by students. Usually, to be honest, they’re some teachers-are-an-inspiration paragraph possibly also about God (because of “integration of faith in education” and whatnot).
I didn’t want to do that.
I wanted to point out the irony of stock words of inspiration we won’t remember because they’re trite and useless for a career that is yes very inspiring but also a massive daily-grind profession. I wanted to deflate the concept of inspiration for teaching when teaching realistically is demanding and often difficult and based in WHAT YOU DO rather than HOW YOU FEEL.
So I took Neil Gaiman’s words on inspiration and writing—being, you have to write whether you are inspired or not. You have to write the scenes that don’t inspire you—and months after the fact, you won’t remember what days you were inspired and what days you were just plugging away because you needed to work at it.
There will be days you are uninspired. Where you got three hours of sleep and your car is in the shop and you had to carpool with someone you didn’t want to and you’re barely prepared and your students are less prepared and even though you’re working and bringing it to class they’re putting their heads down and going to sleep because they have home lives that encroach on school performance too.
And you still have to bring it, work at it, and perform. Whether you’re inspired or not.
So. I’ll close here as I closed in class: Go forth, and be uninspired. (Because being uninspired is -not- a -bad- thing.)
All About Subplots
Writing poetry live beats liveblogging like hell, man.
"Screw writing “strong” women. Write interesting women. Write well-rounded women. Write complicated women. Write a woman who kicks ass, write a woman who cowers in a corner. Write a woman who’s desperate for a husband. Write a woman who doesn’t need a man. Write women who cry, women who rant, women who are shy, women who don’t take no shit, women who need validation and women who don’t care what anybody thinks. THEY ARE ALL OKAY, and all those things could exist in THE SAME WOMAN. Women shouldn’t be valued because we are strong, or kick-ass, but because we are people. So don’t focus on writing characters who are strong. Write characters who are people."
"‘Don’t be pretentious’ is my first advice to young writers. This is the big problem - just because you’re getting an MFA doesn’t mean you have to write for the Academy. Be true to your personality. Don’t temper your personality down with words. Don’t build defensive fortresses around yourself with words - words are your friends."