At the beginning of 2020 (which must be about 40 or 50 months ago, right?), I stumbled onto a book that literally changed how I think about writing. During an email exchange with my dear friend and fellow writer Jocosa Wade, she recommended an early novel by Chuck Palahniuk, whom I only knew as the guy who had written Fight Club.
I loved the movie by the same name, but had never read any of his novels. To be honest, I’d always been a little afraid to read him, figuring he would be way too hip, dark and cynical for me. But Jocosa convinced me it was time to take the Palahniuk plunge.
Being a perennially cheap bastard, I hit the public library. Yes, this was back in that gilded age when I would still do things like a) leave the house, b) go to a public library – or any other public place, and c) actually touch books – or anything else that other people had likely touched. Ah, such sweet pre-Covid memories!
In searching the library’s catalog, I noticed Palahniuk had just released a new nonfiction book: a writing how-to called Consider This. The book had just come out that month, but to my amazement my local library system already had a few copies, so I nabbed one. My three-word review is below:
DAMN, it’s good.
Seriously, after just the first two chapters, I put the book down and got on the computer to order my own copy for my Kindle, so I could begin taking notes in it. Yeah, it’s that good. The thoughts and ideas Palahniuk shares are clearly stated and directly actionable, not pie-in-the-sky theoretical stuff. And he has such a unique way of looking at some of the most basic components and mechanics of storytelling, which he explains in ways that immediately make sense.
I’ve read a TON of writing how-to’s (it literally is my idea of a good time on a wild Friday night), and it’s been impossible not to notice that many of them are expressing VERY similar ideas. Not Chuck. He looks at writing in some ways that are completely new to me. And he’s a marvelous teacher.
For example, Chuck suggests that we incorporate these three elements in our storytelling: description, instruction, and either exclamation or onomatopoeia.
Instruction? Onomatopoeia? Wait, what? Here’s how Palahniuk clarifies this directive:
Most fiction consists of only description, but good storytelling can mix all three forms. For instance, “A man walks into a bar and orders a margarita. Simple enough. Mix three parts tequila and two parts triple sec with one part lime juice, pour it over ice, and—voilà—that’s a margarita.”
Using all three forms of communication creates a natural, conversational style. Description combined with occasional instruction and punctuated with sound effects or exclamations: It’s how people talk.
Throughout the book, Palahniuk repeatedly touches on tangible, nuts-and-bolts aspects of writing in ways I have never before seen discussed. [Read more…]