Tag Archives: advice

Kill Your Thought Verbs, With Chuck Palahnuik

I’ve just discovered this “how to be a better writer” essay from Chuck Palahnuik: Nuts and Bolts, “Thought” Verbs. It’s a good essay: go read it.

He says, as a writing exercise, that you ought to go out and immediately throttle all our “thought” verbs: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires…etc etc.

He says you should replace these “telling” verbs with “showing” explanations.

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.

That is definitely a way to add some detail to your book, right?

Further, he says to not let your character be alone.

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.

Wilson, the ball from True enough. There’s not always much action that comes directly from “aloneness.” We don’t have many stories of just one person in the wilderness, and if they are, you’ve gotta get them a “Wilson” to talk to.

That’s mostly for the author’s benefit: we need someone to bounce all our character’s thoughts off of.

I recently edited a really fun YA witch novel-in-progress, and that was one of the things I told the author: “OMG, your character is always sleeping! Get her out of the house and doing something! Sitting in her room pouting, while very “teenagery,” is not action!”

So while I think there’s a lot to like in this essay, and it’s certainly a useful tool and good advice, I also want to point out that it’s not the end-all-be-all. If all authors everywhere followed this advice completely, a) books would get a lot wordier, b) we’d have a lot more authors who sound like Chuck Palahnuik, with his trademark rambling craziness, and c) we’d miss out on those stories where someone is alone: like the original “Castaway,” “Robinson Crusoe” –one of my favorites. Or when someone just feels really alone, like “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” or “Catcher in the Rye.”

So don’t go around striking out all your “thought” verbs: they are useful, too. In moderation. A skillful author will be able to use them well, even if it is more than Mr. Palahnuik would like.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Don’t Let Rejection Weigh You Down

This New York Times article is…weirdly composed. It’s a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster (what do odd resume’s and rejection lists have in common?), but I’m glad it brought the rejection list to my attention.

Basically, author Monica Byrne has kept track of every single rejection she has ever gotten. There are more than 500 now on her list, compiled over 6 years. Which just has to be brutal. But I found her comments about it inspiring:

“Of all the things I’d ever submitted to or applied for,” she writes at The Washington Post, “I’d gotten only 3 percent of them. That’s a 97 percent rejection rate. That means I got 32 rejections for every acceptance.”

But she DOES have acceptances, including a book deal and a sold-out play. I also liked this quote:

“The anti-résumé remains my deceptively simple answer to the question, ‘How do you do it?’: that I persisted during all those years of rejection for no other reason than that I loved writing so much I wanted to spend all my time doing it. Writing must be its own reward, even for the most talented and hardworking writers, or they’re going to have a tough time.”

I’ve not had much success with courting agents. I’ve gotten some nice comments, a few requests for manuscripts, but nothing has really gelled. And it’s been frustrating. Sometimes I think back on my rejection list and wonder if maybe I’m “doing it wrong”–“it” in this case being “everything.” But Byrne reminds me that this is sort of just how it is. Just keep going for it.


Filed under Publishing, writing

Best Social Media Advice Ever

This post by the Bloggess is the best and truest advice about social media I have ever seen.

It was on the internet, so it must be true.

As a new-ish blogger, it’s easy to find tons of “advice” about how to be rich and famous and awesome. It’s freakin’ everywhere. I have to keep up with a high-level internet marketing blog that shall not be named for my 9-to-5, and it’s full of those shitty articles, except they aren’t kidding. And every time I look one over, I see gads of banal comments about how “OMG THIS is the best advice ever!”

Spare me.

At the day job, I can’t say anything for fear of pointing out the emperor is naked, but I have always held the belief that the incredible vast majority of internet stardom is generated by pure dumb luck. The internet is mostly about showing up and getting lucky. (Unrelated, but the internet is also the reason every time I hear that Daft Punk song I think it’s saying “Get Loki.” Which is fun).

Don’t trust anyone who says they know the answer; they’re lying.

The best advice I have is better spoken by a Blue Tang…

Leave a comment

Filed under Publishing