S2/E11: Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life After Which Everything Was Different by Chuck Pala
Hi! Welcome to Season 2 Episode 11 of The Rookie Writer Show! I’m Robin Knabel, and I will be your host today. I am a fiction author of quiet horror, and I have a twisted love of proofreading as well as red ink pens. My Twitter name is @LaConteuse (spell it). I’d like to thank Dair for allowing me to guest host this week.
I am excited to announce that we are going to be reviewing the book Consider This: Moments In My Writing Life After Which Everything Was Different. It was recently published in January 2020 by author Chuck Palahniuk.
Chuck Palahniuk has been a nationally bestselling author since 1996 when his first novel, Fight Club, was made into a motion picture. An author of numerous novels and short stories, he describes his writing as transgressional fiction. He is also a fan of a minimalist approach to writing, using short sentences and a simplistic style. He is fearless in his writing, resulting in fainting spells at some of his live readings.
***Transgressive fiction is a genre of literature that focuses on characters who feel confined by the norms and expectations of society and who break free of those confines in unusual or illicit ways. (Wikipedia)
This book was originally suggested to me by a local writer. I was lamenting the fact that my stories simmer in a creepy, visceral, macabre stew, and it makes for awkward feedback in certain settings and that I never felt like I belonged in some writing circles. She told me I needed to read Consider This, and I took her advice. I was thrilled to find an anecdote early on in the book about the author being asked to leave a writing group because, as he said, “Due to my fiction, no one felt safe around me.” This led him to his mentor Tom Spanbauer, a minimalist author, and that became the point for him and his writing in which everything was different. After reading that, I felt I had found my tribe, a clan of people who write from darker places with no regret.
Also, I had originally gotten the book from the library but quickly realized I needed it for my own personal collection and purchased it.
Consider This is filled with writing craft nuggets as well as anecdotes from many of his book tours and his experiences with mentors and authors who have helped shape his writing. One of my favorite things he did was the inclusion of “If you were my student” comments at the end of sections giving bits of his own wisdom on how to handle craft situations.
1 Clock vs. Gun: If your stories tend to amble along, lose momentum, and fizzle out, I’d ask you, “What’s your clock?” And, “Where’s your gun?” The clock and the gun are tools used to move a story along and also bring tension. The clock can be anything. It can be a pregnancy, a length of time, a series of events that act as a countdown such as assembling something or a voyage that will indeed come to an end in a timely manner. A clock is set to run for a specified time period and can be in one scene or span the full length of a book. Its function is to limit time and heighten tension along the way. It tells us what to expect so that we, as readers, can focus on the emotion of the story. The gun, however, can be pulled out at any moment to bring the story to a climax. It is something you introduce and hide in hopes that your audience will forget about it until it is brought forth again. The reveal should feel both surprising and inevitable. An example he uses is the faulty furnace in The Shining that explodes later in the book. Chuck gives a myriad of excellent examples of both clocks and guns in his chapter on tension.
2 Attribution: “Language is not our first language.” – Tom Spanbauer. Chuck explains that dialogue is our weakest storytelling tool. Attribution is described as the little signposts inserted in the dialogue that tell us who said what. He believes you should combine gesture, action, and expression with your dialogue. Readers have a tendency to rush over the words “he said” and land on the following dialogue without giving it the proper pause or weight it needs. As a writer, you can control your character’s delivery of dialogue in the same way an actor inserts a dramatic pause in a scene. You can create tension by pitting characters’ opposing gestures with their words. Characters have arms, legs, and faces. Use them to accentuate the dialogue. The physical actions give insight into the motives of your characters. Chuck brings up a study from UCLA finding that some 83% of what people understood came from body language, tone of voice, and speaking volume. Actual spoken words only accounted for 17% of the information passed between people. Learn to inject attribution into your dialogue. (Bonus Hack!) Chuck suggests: Make a list of all the quick wordless gestures you do every day.
3 Unpack the big stuff! If a plot point is worth including, it’s worth depicting in a scene. Don’t deliver it in dialogue. He doesn’t believe in furthering a plot with dialogue, giving away a reveal that should have been delivered in a process of discovery for the reader. As a matter of fact, he refers to it as being cheap and lazy. Having a character spout off the plot leaves a reader feeling cheated. Allow your readers to take the emotional journey with the characters in the book. When you are writing important scenes that will further your plot, don’t distract the reader with comforting memories or unfold the scene as a tasteful snippet of memory. Get your hands dirty and unpack all of the details of the scene without holding back. Have the courage to write the tough stuff. And if you were his student, he would tell you that that is your job.
*There is no more honest feedback than laughter or groans or the motionless silence that genuine tension creates. Read your story aloud. Listen for where it plods along or falls flat. It’s also great practice for reading in public on a book tour.
As mentioned, Chuck is a minimalist, to-the-point kind of guy. The quote today reflects that:
“Do not write to be liked. Write to be remembered.” Chuck Palahniuk in Consider This
This book is a concise 235 pages. If you’re like me, you will get your hands on a copy of this book and find yourself jotting down notes and ideas and ways you can revise your current work in progress. There is a lot of beneficial information that can help your writing.
I hope this was helpful to you! Next week Dair will be back and applying this same approach to Neil Gaiman’s MasterClass: Neil Gaiman Teaches the Art of the Storytelling.
Until then. . .
Happy writing, people!