Goodbye Omelas

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This is an excellent writing advice from Chuck Palahniuk. This was first seen on tumblr. Unfortunately, when I clicked on the link, it no longer existed.

But, I still think it’s worth sharing.

writingadvice: by 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.

For example:
“Brenda knew she’d never make the deadline. Traffic
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.”

For example:
“Ann’s eyes are blue.”

“Ann has blue eyes.”

Versus:

“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.

Thanks Hiraku! (via wingedbeastie)

(via blooming-white-tea)

Filed under Writing

95,196 notes

adriofthedead:

the-fandoms-are-valentines:

grandtheftautosanandreas:

Douglas Adams is the best when it comes to describe characters

we need to teach classes on Douglas Adams analogies okay
“He leant tensely against the corridor wall and frowned like a man trying to unbend a corkscrew by telekinesis.”
"The Galaxy, which had been enjoying a period of unusual peace and prosperity at the time, reeled like a man getting mugged in a meadow.”
"it was a deep, hollow malevolent voice which sounded like molten tar glurping out of a drum with evil on its mind.”
"Stones, then rocks, then boulders which pranced past him like clumsy puppies, only much, much bigger, much, much harder and heavier, and almost infinitely more likely to kill you if they fell on you.”
"… a large and voluminous creature who looked like someone losing a fight with a pink duvet …”
"He screwed up his face and then dropped his head forward, shaking it like someone trying to shake a coin out of a money box.”
"He gazed keenly into the distance and looked as if he would quite like the wind to blow his hair back dramatically at that point, but the wind was busy fooling around with some leaves a little way off.”
"He leapt to his feet like an author hearing the phone ring”
"he started to stalk forward slowly and stealthily wearing a puzzled frown of concentration, like a leopard that’s not sure whether it’s just seen a half-empty tin of cat food half a mile away across a hot and dusty plain.”
"it looked only partly like a spaceship with guidance fins, rocket engines and escape hatches and so on, and a great deal like a small upended Italian bistro.”
"If it was an emotion, it was a totally emotionless one. It was hatred, implacable hatred. It was cold, not like ice is cold, but like a wall is cold. It was impersonal, not as a randomly flung fist in a crowd is impersonal, but like a computer-issued parking summons is impersonal. And it was deadly - again, not like a bullet or a knife is deadly, but like a brick wall across a motorway is deadly.”

You forgot one of the best ones:
"The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t."

adriofthedead:

the-fandoms-are-valentines:

grandtheftautosanandreas:

Douglas Adams is the best when it comes to describe characters

we need to teach classes on Douglas Adams analogies okay

He leant tensely against the corridor wall and frowned like a man trying to unbend a corkscrew by telekinesis.”

"The Galaxy, which had been enjoying a period of unusual peace and prosperity at the time, reeled like a man getting mugged in a meadow.”

"it was a deep, hollow malevolent voice which sounded like molten tar glurping out of a drum with evil on its mind.”

"Stones, then rocks, then boulders which pranced past him like clumsy puppies, only much, much bigger, much, much harder and heavier, and almost infinitely more likely to kill you if they fell on you.”

"… a large and voluminous creature who looked like someone losing a fight with a pink duvet …”

"He screwed up his face and then dropped his head forward, shaking it like someone trying to shake a coin out of a money box.”

"He gazed keenly into the distance and looked as if he would quite like the wind to blow his hair back dramatically at that point, but the wind was busy fooling around with some leaves a little way off.”

"He leapt to his feet like an author hearing the phone ring”

"he started to stalk forward slowly and stealthily wearing a puzzled frown of concentration, like a leopard that’s not sure whether it’s just seen a half-empty tin of cat food half a mile away across a hot and dusty plain.”

"it looked only partly like a spaceship with guidance fins, rocket engines and escape hatches and so on, and a great deal like a small upended Italian bistro.”

"If it was an emotion, it was a totally emotionless one. It was hatred, implacable hatred. It was cold, not like ice is cold, but like a wall is cold. It was impersonal, not as a randomly flung fist in a crowd is impersonal, but like a computer-issued parking summons is impersonal. And it was deadly - again, not like a bullet or a knife is deadly, but like a brick wall across a motorway is deadly.”

You forgot one of the best ones:

"The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t."

(Source: pizzahottie, via pensivepblossom)

Filed under Douglas Adams Writing

59 notes

Fantasy Author:
I'm going to use this cis white male to represent the prejudices suffered by people with aids!
Tamora Pierce:
I'm going to use this canon trans character to talk about the problems that trans people face.
Fantasy Author:
I'm going to use these cis white fantasy creatures to represent racism and prejudice!
Tamora Pierce:
I'm going to show a country with decades of racism and oppression towards POC and use that to talk about racism and social issues.
Fantasy Author:
I'm going to use the cis white male characters to talk about sexism and respect!
Tamora Pierce:
I'm going to create a world with entirely female protagonists who deal with sexism and prejudice in their lives.

Filed under Tamora Pierce better than your faves Fantasy Writing

198,114 notes

helivesunderawaterfall:

h-o-r-n-g-r-y:

di-stressing:

it’s a shame the original caption for this is gone bc it was a really nice story. An author decided he she wanted his her 2000-ish word essay tattooed onto people, but only one word per person, if someone was to die, the story would be gone.It’s kind of amazing to think, imagine being that author and having a story that could never be read, yet it could be anywhere in the world. idk man I just think it’s pretty incredible.

"Shelley Jackson’s Skin project, a 2095-word story published exclusively in tattoos, one word each on as many willing volunteers, so it can never be read in its proper order, but just exists, pulsing, out in the world at all times."

You know what’s the coolest part? If those 2095 people where ever to get together and try to write the story, they have extremely high chances of writing a different story that the one the author intended. They’d even want to write a different story each. With no more clues than punctuation, and 2095 words floating around and 2095 people being part of it, Shelley Jackson story is just one in a hundred possible stories.

helivesunderawaterfall:

h-o-r-n-g-r-y:

di-stressing:

it’s a shame the original caption for this is gone bc it was a really nice story. An author decided he she wanted his her 2000-ish word essay tattooed onto people, but only one word per person, if someone was to die, the story would be gone.

It’s kind of amazing to think, imagine being that author and having a story that could never be read, yet it could be anywhere in the world. idk man I just think it’s pretty incredible.

"Shelley Jackson’s Skin project, a 2095-word story published exclusively in tattoos, one word each on as many willing volunteers, so it can never be read in its proper order, but just exists, pulsing, out in the world at all times."

You know what’s the coolest part? If those 2095 people where ever to get together and try to write the story, they have extremely high chances of writing a different story that the one the author intended. They’d even want to write a different story each. With no more clues than punctuation, and 2095 words floating around and 2095 people being part of it, Shelley Jackson story is just one in a hundred possible stories.

(via fsufeministalumna)

Filed under Shelley Jackson is awesome I met her and she signed my copy of Half Life you should read Half Life I'm not just saying that you should Shelley Jackson Writing

102,263 notes

lipslikemarilyn:

orima-kazooie:

mister-smalls:

outerheavenuprising:

do you think like 600 years ago book nerds got real mad when the printing press was invented because filthy casuals could get books without having to copy them out themselves

Actually yes they did

and there were certain ancient Greeks who were angry when writing was invented, because it meant that literature was more accessible to the filthy casual masses

true shit, people

People never change do they

we got taller

(Source: tonberrys, via knitmeapony)

Filed under Reading Writing Literature

39,292 notes

I think fanfiction is literature and literature, for the most part, is fanfiction, and that anyone that dismisses it simply on the grounds that it’s derivative knows fuck-all about literature and needs to get the hell off my lawn.

Most of the history of Western literature (and probably much of non-Western literature, but I can’t speak to that) is adapted or appropriated from something else. Homer wrote historyfic and Virgil wrote Homerfic and Dante wrote Virgilfic (where he makes himself a character and writes himself hanging out with Homer and Virgil and they’re like “OMG Dante you’re so cool.” He was the original Gary Stu). Milton wrote Bible fanfic, and everyone and their mom spent the Middle Ages writing King Arthur fanfic. In the sixteenth century you and another dude could translate the same Petrarchan sonnet and somehow have it count as two separate poems, and no one gave a fuck. Shakespeare doesn’t have a single original plot—although much of it would be more rightly termed RPF—and then John Fletcher and Mary Cowden Clarke and Gloria Naylor and Jane Smiley and Stephen Sondheim wrote Shakespeare fanfic. Guys like Pope and Dryden took old narratives and rewrote them to make fun of people they didn’t like, because the eighteenth century was basically high school. And Spenser! Don’t even get me started on Spenser.

Here’s what fanfic authors/fans need to remember when anyone gives them shit: the idea that originality is somehow a good thing, an innately preferable thing, is a completely modern notion. Until about three hundred years ago, a good writer, by and large, was someone who could take a tried-and-true story and make it even more awesome. (If you want to sound fancy, the technical term is imitatio.) People were like, why would I wanna read something about some dude I’ve never heard of? There’s a new Sir Gawain story out, man! (As to when and how that changed, I tend to blame Daniel Defoe, or the Modernists, or reality television, depending on my mood.)

I also find fanfic fascinating because it takes all the barriers that keep people from professional authorship—barriers that have weakened over the centuries but are nevertheless still very real—and blows right past them. Producing literature, much less circulating it, was something that was well nigh impossible for the vast majority of people for most of human history. First you had to live in a culture where people thought it was acceptable for you to even want to be literate in the first place. And then you had to find someone who could teach you how to read and write (the two didn’t necessarily go together). And you needed sufficient leisure time to learn. And be able to afford books, or at least be friends with someone rich enough to own books who would lend them to you. Good writers are usually well-read and professional writing is a full-time job, so you needed a lot of books, and a lot of leisure time both for reading and writing. And then you had to be in a high enough social position that someone would take you seriously and want to read your work—to have access to circulation/publication in addition to education and leisure time. A very tiny percentage of the population fit those parameters (in England, which is the only place I can speak of with some authority, that meant from 500-1000 A.D.: monks; 1000-1500: aristocratic men and the very occasional aristocratic woman; 1500-1800: aristocratic men, some middle-class men, a few aristocratic women; 1800-on, some middle-class women as well). What’s amazing is how many people who didn’t fit those parameters kept writing in spite of the constant message they got from society that no one cared about what they had to say, writing letters and diaries and stories and poems that often weren’t discovered until hundreds of years later. Humans have an urge to express themselves, to tell stories, and fanfic lets them. If you’ve got access to a computer and an hour or two to while away of an evening, you can create something that people will see and respond to instantly, with a built-in community of people who care about what you have to say.

I do write the occasional fic; I wish I had the time and mental energy to write more. I’ll admit I don’t read a lot of fic these days because most of it is not—and I know how snobbish this sounds—particularly well-written. That doesn’t mean it’s “not good”—there are a lot of reasons people read fic and not all of them have to do with wanting to read finely crafted prose. That’s why fic is awesome—it creates a place for all kinds of storytelling. But for me personally, now that my job entails reading about 1500 pages of undergraduate writing per year, when I have time to read for enjoyment I want it to be by someone who really knows what they’re doing. There’s tons of high-quality fic, of course, but I no longer have the time and patience to go searching for it that I had ten years ago. But whether I’m reading it or not, I love that fanfiction exists. Because without people doing what fanfiction writers do, literature wouldn’t exist. (And then I’d be out of a job and, frankly, I don’t know how to do anything else.)

“As a professor, may I ask you what you think about fanfiction?” (via meiringens)

(via knitmeapony)

Filed under Fanfic Literature Writing

5,049 notes

There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children’s book.

The reason for that is that in adult literary fiction, stories are there on sufferance. Other things are felt to be more important: technique, style, literary knowingness. Adult writers who deal in straightforward stories find themselves sidelined into a genre such as crime or science fiction, where no one expects literary craftsmanship.

But stories are vital. Stories never fail us because, as Isaac Bashevis Singer says, “events never grow stale.” There’s more wisdom in a story than in volumes of philosophy. And by a story I mean not only Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk but also the great novels of the nineteenth century, Jane Eyre, Middlemarch, Bleak House and many others: novels where the story is at the center of the writer’s attention, where the plot actually matters. The present-day would-be George Eliots take up their stories as if with a pair of tongs. They’re embarrassed by them. If they could write novels without stories in them, they would. Sometimes they do.

But what characterizes the best of children’s authors is that they’re not embarrassed to tell stories. They know how important stories are, and they know, too, that if you start telling a story you’ve got to carry on till you get to the end. And you can’t provide two ends, either, and invite the reader to choose between them. Or as in a highly praised recent adult novel I’m about to stop reading, three different beginnings. In a book for children you can’t put the plot on hold while you cut artistic capers for the amusement of your sophisticated readers, because, thank God, your readers are not sophisticated. They’ve got more important things in mind than your dazzling skill with wordplay. They want to know what happens next.

Philip Pullman, born October 19, 1946 (via annaverity)

Exceedingly apropos of my last reblog, and also just some Basic Truth.

(via sarahreesbrennan)

(via teacoffeebooks)

Filed under Writing Books Philip Pullman