Monthly Archives: September 2013

I hate/love Chuck Palahniuk

Don’t talk about Fight Club
Courtesy of The Gardian.

I hate Chuck Palahniuk. Saying his name gives my tongue herpes. He’s a vile, vile, horrible man. He’s also a damn good writer, which is why I love him so much.

Did I just contradict myself? Yes, I think I did. Well, it’s true. I have a love/hate relationship with Chuck Palahniuk. My hatred for him is not borne from anything pedestrian such as an aversion to his particular writing style. No, my hatred for him comes from his aversion to “thought” verbs.

My Short Story Writing instructor passed around an article Chuck wrote, which you can find by clicking that magic link.

Chuck starts out with this line:

“In six seconds, you’ll hate me. But in six months, you’ll be a better writer.”

Bold words, Palahniuk! Well, challenge accepted!

Chuck issues this demand, this challenge to all creative writers out there, established or not:

“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.”

Well, ain’t that a bitch! I love using those words. See, I hate Chuck not just for his aversion to the aforementioned words, but because he’s right about them.

They’re lazy. They’re telling. As writers, we should be showing. We should be, as Chuck puts it, “unpacking.”

Let’s look at this example:

Bobby felt Anna’s absence.

This is nice, but it’s also lazy. It’s telling. Great, Bobby has separation anxiety. What else you got?

Try something more along the lines of this:

Bobby traced his fingers across the crocheted lace and silk gown Anna wore during their honeymoon. It still bared the sweet and faint scent of jasmine and honey. Smell is the strongest sense tied to memory, and memories of her laugh and the way her eyes sparkled when she did flooded him with such force, he nearly lost his balance. Bobby’s world became a blurred mess as tears poured from his eyes, slid down his cheeks and dripped from his five o’clock shadowed chin.

OK, brevity obviously isn’t one of my strong points, but you get the idea. I unpacked “Bobby felt Anna’s absence.” Sure I wrote more words, but in showing you have to add nuance and flavor or else it’ll be a bland and boring mess of instructions and not a story.

The only exception to this rule is when you’re writing your first draft. Use all the thoughts, felts, and loves, etc. you want on your first draft. The first draft serves as a canvass for getting your ideas on paper. During your rewrite, unpack the fuck out of it and nix anything that doesn’t help the narrative.

So in closing, I want to say that I hate your fucking guts, Chuck.

But I love you, too.  Thank you for helping me become a better writer.

Now don’t talk about Fight Club (I’m sure you hear that all the time.)


Listening to music while writing.

War. . . War never changes.

Any of you listen to music when you write? I do. In fact, I can’t seem to write without listening to a majestic score, which punctuates the scenes I’m working on. I’m pretty eclectic with my music tastes. One day, I’ll listen to NWA and the next day, you’ll hear me bumping Mozart. At this very moment, I’m listening to Evanescence (did I even remotely spell that right? Fuck it). I’ve created a playlist in my iTunes that, miraculously, captures every emotion and feeling I’m trying to go for with my WIP (what’s a WIP you ask? It’s Work In Progress. Keep up, man). Since I’m writing a post-apocalyptic novel set in the not too distant future, I’m listening to a lot of rock and hard sounding industrial music (Nine Inch Nails anyone). If anyone reading this had the pleasure of playing Fallout 3, you should check out the soundtrack–it’s hauntingly beautiful.

Since I’m feeling a tad saucy, I’m gonna add a poll to this blog (and watch woefully as NO ONE votes on it–come on people, vote on it). Do you listen to music when you write, go ahead and let your voice be heard.


More on that nut-crunching exercise I love – – Outlining.

The Lord of the Rings outline. Basically, a bunch of fucking walking.

Do you like the title? I like the title. Anyway, I’ve noticed two blogs have referenced our article on Outlining, which is fucking fantastic. Thanks Burgess and Cassie. You can check out their blogs by clicking the respective links. I want to touch on outlining again because I’ve read something I found interesting that could add nuances to the argument. In John Truby’s Anatomy of Story, he makes the point that an outline (he has 22 steps to become a master storyteller that my Novel Writing II instructor, Leslie Lehr condensed into seven) is like a road map. You would not go on a cross-country road trip without knowing where you’re going first, right? An outline works in the same way as a road map. Sure you can venture off the beaten path, but so long as you have some inkling of where you’re going, then you should be fine.

So how do you write an outline?

Well, I write a series of events and scenes that I number in terms of importance and order. Cause and effect. This event happens, which leads to this and causes this, which effects that. In each chapter I write, which I open as a separate document in Scrivener, I write down all the events that need to happen in the chapter. I leave it open enough for myself to decide how and when those events happen, but they have to happen.

One argument against the outline is that it can derail the creative process, or stunt creative flow. Not necessarily. I admit, I don’t like outlining, but it has its uses. Furthermore, as the writer, you reserve the prerogative to do whatever the hell you want with your story. The outline is more like a guide, but not a rule.

I think I might be turned around on the subject of outlining. Could it be I’m beginning to like it?

Nah, still hate its fucking guts. But admittedly, it has its uses.


Starburst Berries and Creme!

I’m sweet little lad who chews Starbucks and starts fires under your bed. What?

I like this dude, he’s funny in a creepy Charles Dickens kinda way. Don’t judge me. Any way, thought I’d add something comical for the night and remind everyone to read the last post on character arcs. Also check out Burgess Taylor. She pinged us on our outline entry, so we’re showing some love her way.


Character Arc (I used to do this, now I do that!)

I hear Luke is a bad mutha. . . Shut yo’ mouf. But I’m only talkin’ bout Luke. And I can dig it.

What is a character arc? Well, if you cheat and click the link, there’s no need to read the rest of this entry; but I think you guys will stick around to see this to its end. The simplest description of a character arc is that a character in a story, usually the protagonist, starts off, in a manner of speaking, one way and ends up at the other end of the spectrum by the story’s end. Take Luke Skywalker as an example. In Episode IV, Luke starts off as just a young kid unaware of his destiny. He actually tries to run from his calling, but is thrusted into the Jedi life when his foster/adoptive parents are killed (seriously, if this is a spoiler for anyone, you’ve been living in a cave for thirty-six years–go rent the movie already!). George Lucas, before he anally raped his franchise, was inspired by Joseph Campbell and his work on world myths. What most, if not all, world myths share in common is the idea of the hero and the call to adventure. Luke follows this arc perfectly. He starts off a scared kid, but with the help of Obi Wan Kenobi, his sister Leia, Han Solo and even Chewbaca’s hairy ass, he rises to the occasion and becomes a full fledged Jedi. By Episode VI, Luke is a bona fied bad ass. That was his arc, he started off as a novice and ended up a master. But in order for Luke to make it from point A to B (or Z–whatever), he had to go through some pretty fucked up shit. That’s what writers must do, we must be sadistic bastards who throw fecal matter, chainsaws, torches and anything our wicked minds can conjure at our protagonists. It’s the only way they’ll get stronger and make that change–thus move along their arc.

For compelling stories, a protagonist must go through an arc. It doesn’t necessarily need to be exactly like Luke’s arc, but the character should be different from where he (I’m going to use the masculine pronoun for simplicity’s purposes, at the risk of appearing sexist–sorry ladies) started from in the beginning of the story.

Now there are exceptions to the rule. For example, the character does not have to be “better” or “wiser” by the story’s end. He could be more corrupt, if he started out that way. The protagonist could remain the same, but others around him could be different. I’ve read stories that have done exactly that, changed the world around the protagonist while he remained blissfully ignorant.

The point is that for stories to work, the character must change in some way and the more monumental the change, the better.  How that change happens and when is all up to you, the writer. So write on!


Outlining. The Scourge of My Existence . . . Well, Not Really.

I used to do this. Thank God for Scrivener.

I’ll just get this out of the way right now. I fucking hate outlining. I know some novelists swear by it, but I’m not in that crowd. I admit, it is necessary if you’re writing fantasy or Sci-Fi. I’d even suggest it’s necessary for horror writing and even thrillers. Since I’m working on several projects, two Sci-Fi and one fantasy, outlining is essential. But sometimes, I like the idea of writing by the seat of my pants–making shit up as I go. It’s thrilling to discover what you can write on the fly; tapping into that subconscious mind and coming up with reveals, twists and thickening subplots all in real time.

I don’t outline my work to such an extent that I’m “married” to the outline. I try to give myself some wiggle room to think of things on the spot. Currently, I’m outlining a novel I’ve been writing for nearly four years (maybe longer than that, I’ve lost count). I feel that with each new idea, revision and rewrite, I’m closing in on the novel I really want to write. Begrudgingly, I’m finding that outlining is helping. I also have an amazing program called Scrivener. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of outlining and helps keep all my research and outlines in one central place. Very convenient and easy to use. It was originally for Macs, but PC owners can share the love too.

I enjoy researching as part of the novel-writing experience, but I’m not totally in love with outlining. Go figure.

Do any of you outline your work prior to writing? Do you write without an outline? Do you do a little bit of both? Share your thoughts.