"Don’t worry, you’ll often meet callous people with callous hearts, as if they’ve been carrying around too many broken dreams. Your problem is you gave five fucks too many."
My heart is not for hire.
I cannot keep leasing it
To pristine angels with dirty souls,
Who have no concept of ownership.
It will NOT be sold.
Those hands are untoward
Holding thorns which may pierce me.
No atoms or molecules,
Staring at minutiae of the whole;
Covering the ones and zeroes of your mind.
We are all infinite.
Try to split me.
You can keep your ‘love’.
Writing Advice: by Chuck Palahniuk
In six seconds, you’ll hate me.
But in six months, you’ll be a better writer.
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.
And it should include: Is and Has, but we’ll get to those later.
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
mornings after Kenny had stayed out, beyond the last bus, until he’d had to bum a ride or pay for a cab and got home to find Monica faking sleep, faking because she never slept that quiet, those mornings, she’d only put her own cup of coffee in the microwave. Never his.”
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.
“Brenda knew she’d never make the deadline. was backed up from the bridge, past the first eight or nine exits. Her cell phone battery was dead. At home, the dogs would need to go out, or there would be a mess to clean up. Plus, she’d promised to water the plants for her neighbor…”
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.
Get them together and get the action started. Let their actions and words show their thoughts. You—stay out of their heads.
And while you’re avoiding “thought” verbs, be very wary about using the bland verbs “is” and “have.”
“Ann’s eyes are blue.”
“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.
“Hold on tighter to your balloon, oh dear child. When the wind blows, everything changes.”
Now that was an interesting ride, wasn’t it? It was all going so fast I couldn’t see it careening towards the wall. Soft and slow. Let me explain myself.
Sometimes after certain events unfold when you look over them you realise that something like that was bound to happen. My phone got stolen last night and instead of stressing or wondering why, it had me thinking. Mostly it had me thinking about karma, power and possession. One of the theories I would like to advance with this piece is the thought of karmic momentum. Now, it doesn’t take a genius to see that I believe in karma. It also shouldn’t take a genius to understand why. Some of us are intuitive, some of us are sensory, if you believe the personality tests many of us have taken either in pursuit of a clearer definition of ourselves, or towards some or other ends. I found out I was intuitive way before the test – before any of the modern psychoanalysis attempted to deconstruct my being. You know it from experiences. How sometimes you can wake up with a feeling of foreboding or sometimes have a ‘gut’ feeling about specific people and situations. It’s all what many, including the psycho-analysers refer to as your ‘sixth sense’. Now, I personally don’t subscribe to that since I’ve read a few theories about senses and how the usual five are just a limited list of all the sense one possesses. You possess senses that you daily take for granted, seemingly dumb senses like being able to tell hot from cold or that inexplicable sense of someone watching or following you. Would we call those sixth senses too?
Anyway, my phone got stolen. And it wasn’t really much stealing as it was re-appropriation, a balancing act between the universe, those others and myself. I wasn’t at all innocent in this exchange. I said and did some things which I’m not at all proud of but for which I take full karmic responsibility. It’s one of those things with karma, responsibility. If you don’t accept it and you don’t then acknowledge it as such to the universe as a whole, then you’re not really driving the karmic vehicle, you’re being driven. Karma is based on one concept but it’s underlined by two. Essentially karma boils down to Newton’s third law, or the so-called universal law of cause and effect: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Now, I’m not averse to thinking of myself as awake to all these things but Karma is still a bitch sometimes. When you forget and think yourself above it, as some sort of demi-god figure, then watch out, dear friend, Karma will be out to get you.
Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern.
The country is grey and
brown and white in trees,
snows and skies of laughter
always diminishing, less funny
not just darker, not just grey.
It may be the coldest day of
the year, what does he think of
that? I mean, what do I? And if I do,
perhaps I am myself again.
And so he asked him, “Son, what happened to your words?”
“Who am I punishing but the world?” came the reply.
The river seemed to slow but the birds continued their merriment in the trees. Both men looked upon the water. One, with an image of the weeping willow, its sagging branches trailing the riverbanks of his mind. The other, simply staring. There was nothing much to see save for that tree. And in all the world, no other tree meant as much to both of them. It was beneath the willow that it all began - the thorny triptych which became their alliance. With the smoke spread thinly, like a veil, one could be mistaken for thinking them brothers. Or father and son. Not just some lonely old man and the orphan down the street.
"Spare no thought for our alliance. Life’s generality makes us one. Unlike those who do, I’ve always found it best not to think," the old one says.
After a while the curdled milk runs dry and the carton is fed to the embers. Too much of it dribbled down his chin. Now the laundry basket stands full and foreboding, waiting for patient arms to rifle and cleanse.
"I saw a tortoise once. Down by the sea… And I know you’re probably thinking I mean a turtle but this time it wasn’t. It had a pattern on its back like the ones you get on really muddy roads after streams of cars have gone passed. I chose that pattern and thought that it could comfort me. That and the slow, measured movements of the tortoise. But all it did was make me tetchy. I thought about all the patterns possible just on that shell and I wanted to kill myself. Why is it that the grandeur of everyday things is so overwhelming? That smelling a flower can be enough to kill isn’t something most people like to think about. But it’s true, isn’t it?"
The old man was silent, taking in the other man’s words.
"And then we all die, don’t we?" continued the young man. "And then nobody smells the flowers. Nobody even remembers them."