The Book After Which Everything is Different
I’ve never called myself a Chuck Palahniuk fan. I’ve been aware of him only since the Fight Club movie and have read only Invisible Monsters and Fight Club. I’ve never been to one of his readings, though they seem to be pretty amazing and I’ll probably catch one if I get a chance.
While looking him up online, I came upon a piece of his writing advice on Litreactor about avoiding the use of thought verbs. It was genius. It spoke directly to me and my worst tendencies as a writer like no teacher or article has before – and it came to me at exactly the right time. IE: while I’m on the fourth draft of the novel and that level of editing is at its easiest (which is a bit like saying it’s easiest jumping the Grand Canyon on a motorcycle when the sun isn’t directly in your eyes).
When I discovered that Palahniuk had written an entire book on writing, it seemed like a good investment, even if all I was doing by buying it was paying him properly for the thought verb essay.
I am delighted to report that Consider This is every bit as good an investment as I hoped it would be. The book sparkles with brilliant little nuggets of advice. The anecdotes in the memoir chapters are wildly entertaining and each contributes something insightful, poignant, and/or funny. The book fulfills the promise of its subtitle, “Moments in my writing life after which everything is different.”
Palahniuk’s advice certainly made the task of writing simpler for me. Everything really is different after reading it! The ‘thought verb’ advice is directly applicable to the piece I’m polishing, because he tells me how to check my blind spots and identify passive, expository writing. Once I find them, I do the actual work of bringing them to life quite well. Finding them has always been the hardest part for me.
I do not agree with his assertion that writing with thought verbs is intrinsically lazy. What comes naturally or easily to some of is very hard-earned for others. I’ve had 40 years of writing practice to get really good making at my bad habits less noticeable and annoying. My thought verbs are all beautifully displayed on beds of poetic language, vivid imagery and moody dynamic sounding prose. I contest that it took a great deal more work for me to write around the problem than it would have to address it directly a long time ago. I shouldn't complain, I suppose, since it's made me a much better than average expository writer. And every book needs exposition at some point, right???
The author has considerably more good advice. I was extremely intrigued by his chapters on establishing authority. He explains why it’s important to get the details right and to demonstrate depth of knowledge – just once or twice for the purpose of establishing authority. Once readers have ceded that authority to you, you can get them to buy into the really crazy stuff much more easily.
Consider This is mostly about finding your own truth and your own way to bring it to the world. Palahniuk repeats throughout the book that literary trends have a shelf-life. Writing within a given school is probably a recipe for failure – because all movements and sub-genres outlive their audiences and essentially become roads to nowhere. Unless of course you can essentially reinvent the genre in the process – in which case you’re not actually following a trend, you’re starting a new one.
If you’re a writer, you’ll benefit greatly from all the insights in Consider This, if you’re not a writer, you’ll enjoy this glimpse into storytelling from the tellers perspective and have a great time while you’re at it.