“Young writers should read books past bedtime and write things down in notebooks when they are supposed to be doing something else.” – Lemony Snicket
Remember that new years resolution I talked about? The one where I tell myself to just go write something even if I really don’t want to? Yeah. That plan has gone out the window this week. All week I’ve been telling myself “meh… I’m really not in the mood to write. I’d rather catch up on my tv shows!” My god is that the wrong attitude or what?!
So tomorrow (because even with this realization of mine, I know myself and I’m not going to write tonight because I discovered a new show (just what I needed, right?) and I’m very excited to watch it. Maybe writing this will make me fight against my lazy nature and prove myself wrong and I’ll write something), I’m taking the day off work (because why not?) to meet some friends for lunch and I will be taking my computer with me so that afterward I can camp out somewhere that is not my house (where it is truly impossible for me to write) and I will get at least a little bit of writing done.
Saturday is my usual writing day (something I have done for the past few months with a lot of consistency (not including December because who really has time for anything in December)) with a lovely group of people who participated in NaNoWriMo this year along with me, so I will get some writing done there as well. But I really need to step up my game and not let my laziness get the best of me.
So here’s to a newly resolved new years resolution.
Daily Prompt: Simply the Best.
When and where do you do your best thinking? In the bathroom? While running? Just before bed, or first thing in the morning? On the bus? Why do you think that is?
The place I do my best thinking is undoubtedly the shower, cliché as that may be. I have had many an epiphany about my novel while in the shower. Usually evening showers are the best for me, as that is when I am at my most creative (being a night owl). Showers are healing to me. I’m upset, I take a shower. I don’t feel well, I take a shower. I don’t know what it is about them, but they always make me feel good, and of course I’m going to do my best thinking when I’m feeling good and am warm and happy.
I don’t even really have to be actively thinking about my writing or whatnot, but suddenly a though can just pop into my head. It might not work out in the end, but still. Showers. They’re like magic.
I’m telling myself I’m not allowed to watch the new episode of Sherlock until I’ve done at least a little bit of writing.
This is torturous!
This is undoubtedly some of the most useful advice from an author I’ve ever read. Though it is extremely difficult to follow sometimes (occasionally I want to take a page out of Jane Austen’s book (even though I typically loath her book) and just write what my characters are thinking), it is a great way to think about writing and to make it more interesting. So yes, here. Enjoy the brilliance that is 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.” – Chuck Palahniuk
In what may be a feeble attempt (and likely more of a distraction than a help), I have created this blog to help me keep writing.
I have told myself that my resolution for the new year is to write, even if I don’t feel like it. Even getting down 50 words is better than no words. Even ten words is better than no words.
The only resolution I’ve ever been able to keep was to drink more water a few years ago. Which is pretty lame. And sadly, the only one I’ve ever remembered to do. So let’s see if I can break my horrible and forgetful habits, and make this one a reality.
So. This is where I might, on occasion, post some of my writing. Responses to various prompts I find on the internet, some snippets of my novel (maybe… Don’t get your hopes up on this one), but more like rantings of a writer refusing to write and complaining about needing to write and yet still digging her heels in in an effort to not do the writing she said she resolved to do.
So yes. Here we go. Let’s see what becomes of this.