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.)