Heart versus Head. In the first method as demonstrated in the preceding essay you risk revealing something that makes you look bad.
You allow yourself to become the fool instead of the hero. And by doing so, you allow your reader to risk becoming involved, emotionally involved, in your story. In a way, your honesty proves to the reader that the story will not be about proving your glory. You admit your failures and weakness, and doing so lets your reader admit and accept their own. That your narrator is the best, most-qualified person to tell this story. To illustrate, the story above is the Heart Method.
This essay that follows is more the Head Method. Emotion versus Intellect. It shows how the narrator is running a fake suicide hotline in order to meet people as damaged as himself. But Chapter 44 — with its chorus of obscure household hints — is the Head Method.
Again, the Heart Method impresses the reader with honesty and vulnerability. The Head Method impresses the reader with its knowledge. You could argue that Stephen King uses the Heart Method mainly. The way each character is introduced, slowly and carefully, to prompt the reader into bonding and feeling sympathy. And feel shocked and touched each time.
You could also argue that Tom Clancy uses the Head Method. The way military and government procedures and technology are used to assure a reader that the protagonist is smart and trained — and therefore worth spending time with. This includes wonderful insider, jargon-y language.
Another form of impressing the reader with knowledge. Among my favorite books, Ill Nature by Joy Williams is filled with such a burden of horrible data about the destruction of the natural world, that reading it is addictive. They engage the reader, and help prove the authenticity of the story.
With authority in mind, this series of essays is not the perfect way to write fiction. This is only what works for me. So, please, take or leave anything you read here. If it helps, use it. If not, thank you for considering my view. Or me looking good. Over the next year, this series of essays will cover a few basic rules that I wish someone had taught me in my first writing workshop. There are other possible ways to establish your authority.
The most popular is being Clever. But after a few minutes, you can tell cleverness is someone hiding. Someone scared and dishonest and trying to distract you from the truth of anything that matters. Another method to establish authority is to just bully the reader. To constantly tell the reader how to feel, how to react.
To spoon feed the reader every thought and insight. This is that bland, third-person, voice-of-God writing you see so much. But, God, that kind of story can get boring. Another method is to charm, but again — even the loveliest, most lyrical language gets boring after a few paragraphs. It still becomes a hero story, because it showcases the writing and the writer. Before that point, you need to make something interesting happen.
Convey concrete information. They tend to be early in a book, where the authority is most needed. For this, risk telling a painful, embarrassing story. The story of a scar or a humiliation. The glory of this risk is how it prompts other people to risk telling their own stories, and gives people an instant feeling of freedom and relief. Then, write an anecdote that establishes authority using knowledge and data. The stove was square, standing waist-high with slots for vents in the top.
A stove pipe ran out the back, a sheet-metal tube that ran up the wall behind the stove, and disappeared into a hole near the ceiling, connecting the stove to the brick chimney behind the plaster. The stove had a baked-on paint, a smooth enamel glaze like on old metal pans, brown and swirled to look like burled walnut, but it was really just painted metal.
Like diesel oil. Not like a cow. Or like tailgating too close, trying to pass a slow flatbed or cement mixer on your way to the hospital in town. No fan pushed the warm air out of the stove so on cold days you had to stand next to it in your Bugs Bunny pajamas, holding your hands over the slotted vents as the heat rose out the top.
In the basement was a cast-iron stove that burned wood. Heavy as little manhole covers. The kind of stove with a warming oven on top. The cook stove stood on nickelplated legs with feet shaped like lions paws, but gripping round balls. Our one bathroom had a bathtub that stood on eagle claws, but gripping the same kind of balls and painted white. If you dropped anything between the wall and the bathtub, you could just forget it. A pile of slippery soaps were dead back there.
Nobody could reach into that tight space. Not Mom or Dad. You lost it to a nest of scorpions who lived in the cracked concrete under that stove. This story starts the day my Mom told us kids to get in the car. She said our grandma was coming, to drive us into town. In and out. Still holding the phone after calling our grandma to come get us.
To drive us into Pasco, Washington, a drive long as twenty radio songs, two news casts, Paul Harvey, the farm report, maybe the same radio commercials fifty times for the Columbia Basin Department Store and Haas Western Wear. With only the straight-line horizon to watch the whole trip to Our Lady of Lourdes Emergency Room where they had antidote for scorpion bites. In the kitchen, Mom was standing on one bare foot, her other bare foot hung loose from her bent knee.
Her loose foot getting fat and red, already the foot of a huge red person instead of the skinny white person the rest of her was. Scorpions lived in the house. Rattlesnakes lived in the lawn. If it snowed, you had to remember where the cactus grew or risk sledding and bombing out, impaled in your nylon snowsuit, a pincushion landed on too many cactus spines as long as a mattress needle. There in the desert, with almost no trees and no rocks, only sand, the bats would burrow under the leaves to sleep in cold weather.
Any dive into 11 a pile meant getting bit by those two long bat teeth. Maybe rabies. My grandpa chewed tobacco while he drove, and the backseat window behind his was always a yellow-brown smear you had to look through. Our little town was people who lived in houses between the two-lane highway, the train tracks, and the river.
These people lived where people had always lived, along the river, and every house had a little collection of Indian knives and maybe a stone grinding bowl.
Arrowheads behind glass, displayed on white cotton wool in black, wood frames. Obsidian knives. Flint arrowheads and beads made of bone and shell. In the sand along the river, you could find shotgun shells not exploded. And blasting caps that were still good. The highway was re-routed, taking it somewhere else. The rivers got fatter and fatter behind the new dam, and all the people who used to have farms went to work at the paper mill or refining uranium for atomic reactor fuel.
Where the town used to be, the river lapped close by, but never did cover. All the left-behind basements and wells became rumors, warnings, covered with wood planks the desert sun dried, brittle and rotted. Along the river, the cottonwood groves were haunted by those hidden wells that no one could remember. Rotten wood waiting to break under one wrong step and drop a kid down into bottomless dark water.
The cottonwood groves criss-crossed with left- 12 behind, nameless streets. Abandoned lilac bushes growing tree-high. Orphaned rose bushes that never bloomed. Kneeling next to broken well covers, shouting his name down into each narrow pit. All day, until they found him curled up, asleep under their trailer. Even in the new town, high up in the wind, some of the houses stood moved but not wanted. They stood balanced on wood blocks, brushed with tall, dead weeds, with chickens or panting dogs resting in the dusty shade underneath.
Witches houses. House after house. One or two on every block. Empty houses with no paint left on the silver wood siding, the glass busted out of every window. Broken beer bottles and used rubbers and faded Hustler magazines left inside. Streets where loose boards lay everywhere, rusted nails stuck up to step on. Busted glass. Rusted nails. Another trip to town, for a tetanus shot. At night, with my Dad gone at work for the railroad, my Mom ran from room to room pulling curtains.
Even in daytime, if it was winter you had to pull the curtains closed before you could turn on a light. Before you could change clothes in a bedroom. The big house rule. One day, while pulling weeds in the flower beds outside the house, Mom had found a few cigarette butts. A few outside every window. They were the brand of cigarette smoked by our neighbor down the road, a skinny, stooped man with daughters who wore dirty clothes to school and never spoke or made eye contact.
There in the flower beds, where Mom weeded, this neighbor dropped empty matchbooks. And his phone 13 number. Outside every window, the beds of iris and petunias were littered with cigarette butts and these little notes. Close the curtains. Fat red ants that stung as bad as bees. Scorpions and rattlesnakes. Bats and skunks with rabies. The sour smell of dead skunks, shot-gunned or run over, that sour smell was always in the air.
Sometimes along the river lived porcupines, and your dog came home crying, his nose huge with quills your Dad had to pull out with pliers. Summers, the county sent trucks up and down every road to fog for mosquitoes. All us kids running along behind in the thick, white fog of insecticide, getting high on the tangy smell of the gasoline they mixed the spray with.
If you left the windows open, the house filled with the fog. That tangy smell in our new, wall-to-wall shag carpet. In the furniture. Winters, grade schoolers had to bring sack lunches for special fire drills where we pretended the nuclear reactors upriver had been bombed.
The yellow school buses would drive us out, all the way until lunchtime, into the desert. After Dad pulled the wood cook stove out of the basement, he put in a furnace that burned oil. To replace the upstairs one made of metal painted to look like polished wood. Dad buried the oil tank so only the delivery cap stuck out of the ground. This is what separated the nice people.
White trash still left their oil tanks where you could see, next 14 to the house and dripping, screened with a little forsythia or flowering almond bushes. The tank painted white or blue to match their house. After that, we had a furnace in the basement that chugged to let you know the house would get warm. It went all the way to the ceiling, boxes of sheet metal riveted and folded together at the corners, and Mom painted all of it chocolate brown and the concrete-block wall around the basement tangerine orange.
She put a Kelly green lounge chair with its back to the furnace. One Sunday, my cousin Bobby went missing. It was a fishing trip to the river, the summer the radio played Karen Carpenter singing Close to You until everyone knew every word.
Bobby was on a rock next to the river. Again, half the town went looking. All day. Then, all week. Then the next week until he washed up along the dock of a marina downstream, across the stateline in Oregon. My Dad was with them, and my grandpa.
All my uncles and aunts. Us kids all stayed home. It would get hotter and hotter until the furnace would explode. Those two switches down low where anybody could touch them. Summer or winter. Some nights, two or three times. To make sure they were still turned on. To turn the mores and expectations of society on their ears? And here he is, pandering to that. Or maybe that's the only thing he can do, and that is somehow even more disappointing.
Then, each of his characters must have a "thing. It's to make these characters seem more unique, but in reality, it just makes them seem Palahnuik-esque. And that's not a real person; it's a caricature.
I remember knowing someone who once told me about a conversation she was having with a friend. The entire time they were having this conversation they were taking out every screw they could see in the girl's restroom they were in. Why were they doing this? Who knows. I thought it was brilliantly strange and unique and "Palahnuik-esque" for them to do that. It's great when it happens every once in a while And redundant. I like Palahnuik's writing and story telling style.
When I first saw Fight Club, it blew me away. I knew I would love the book. During that time, he wrote manuals on fixing trucks and had a stint as a journalist, a job to which he did not return until after he became a successful novelist. After casually attending a seminar held by an organization called Landmark Education , Palahniuk quit his job as a journalist in He ceased volunteering upon the death of a patient to whom he had grown attached.
By his account, he started writing while attending workshops for writers that were hosted by Tom Spanbauer , which he attended to meet new friends. Spanbauer largely inspired Palahniuk's minimalistic writing style. Fight Club[ edit ] When he attempted to publish his novel, Invisible Monsters , publishers rejected it for being too disturbing.
After initially publishing it as a short story which became chapter 6 of the novel in the compilation, Pursuit of Happiness, Palahniuk expanded it into a full novel, which, contrary to his expectations, the publisher was willing to publish. Initially, Palahniuk struggled to find a literary agent and went without one until after the publication of Fight Club. The film was a box office disappointment although it was 1 at the U.
Three days from now, the crisis will be lessened or resolved. This gives her perspective and prevents her from reacting too brashly in the moment. Stressful events come and go, but Suzy — she reminds herself — is eternal. Being three people gives her stability.
Like a three-legged stool.
Those nights, our grandma would stay with us. Another form of impressing the reader with knowledge. Everybody laughing, I scrubbed. After that, he was popular. You could also argue that Tom Clancy uses the Head Method.
It was Robert Krause. No cussing. Those stupid, desperate things you actually think or do.
Again, the Heart Method impresses the reader with honesty and vulnerability. Keep adding to your list.
Then, write an anecdote that establishes authority using knowledge and data.
This friend of mine, he waits months under a black cloud, waiting for his folks to confront him. Or hide them. Twenty years later, her novel is still forthcoming. Any physical sensation that can evoke a sympathetic physical sensation from the reader. That alone should be enough reason for you to use verbs, to create action and make something happen in every scene or story.
Talk about putting me to sleep. Maybe hundreds. All of us lined up in front of the flowering almond bush at Easter, while our Dad took a picture. Those nights, our grandma would stay with us. With extra iron and omega-three fatty acids.
Arrowheads behind glass, displayed on white cotton wool in black, wood frames. Make it happen, and let the sensation of pain occur only in the reader. As homework, look at your existing work, and find examples where you started with a vague Thesis Sentence. I don't want to say anything negative about the quality of their writing or the quality of the story. Another year, she pieced together a full-body dog costume so my brother could be Snoopy.
Still, you should do it so well you give your reader a headache. A few outside every window. For now, here's a teaser of Chuck's first new essay "Consider This: Coping.
Internal organs. This story starts the day my Mom told us kids to get in the car. Not enough bleach. In the final scene, Jane Fonda pulls a gun out of her purse. In the wake of these events, Palahniuk began working on the novel Lullaby. Then, get together with people and share enough to get them talking about their childhood monsters.