Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life after Which Everything Was Different
“Chuck Palahniuk writes short . . . that is to say, his message is concise, given to us in few, well-chosen words that get the point across without a lot of fuss.”
Any author worth his or her weight in ink understands that they never know it all. There is always something new to learn, something old to remember or to brush up on. For that author who wants to expand his or her horizons and try something new, Consider This by Chuck Palahniuk is the book to pick up.
His presentation is very casual, and at times laugh-out-loud funny as he relates episodes in his life that have taught him how to write, or what not to do with his writing!
Each section starts with “A Postcard from the Tour.” It is in this section that Palahniuk gives the reader some background on his own life. He talks about book tours, writing groups, and what he has learned about writing—successes and failures.
Each topic that he has chosen to write about he further breaks down into brief subtopics that relate to the main heading. These topics include Textures, Establishing Your Authority, Tension, Process, Selling Books, and advice on why we should bother writing at all.
In the subject Textures, he talks about communication. This includes but is not limited to mixing point of view, voice, attribution, silence, repetition, and paraphrasing. Each item is specific to communicating—the author with the reader as well as what occurs between the characters.
Throughout the book Palahniuk often refers to author Tom Spanbauer’s writing group and the fellow authors who absorbed his wisdom. As he enters into the topic of Authority, he quotes Spanbauer’s advice: “Don’t use abstract. Don’t use received text . . . And once you establish your authority, you can do anything.”
As he dives into the topic of authority, he shares his thoughts on speech, getting the small stuff right, truism, cribbing authenticity from a nonfiction form, and again on point of view. The topic of authority moves through a number of subtopics, but each relates back to showing the author how to establish his own authority as a writer. It’s basically a lesson in getting to know yourself and learning to expand upon that knowledge.
In Palahniuk’s postcard introduction to the section on Tension he relates a drop-dead funny experience about autographs on book tours. It’s too funny to relate here, but is a definite grabber to introduce you to tension and how it affects the reader.
When discussing Tension, he explains the concept of the vertical versus the horizontal in a story. “The horizontal refers to the sequence of plot points . . . the vertical refers to the increase in emotional, physical, and psychological tension over the course of the story.” The section on tension is fraught with, well, tension, and it requires some close reading, and maybe even rereading to fully understand where he is going with this important concept. One of the most important points he makes is the issue of avoiding is/are/was/were – forms of the verb to be in order to keep the pace moving quickly.
As he works his way into the subject of Process, he sends another Postcard from the Tour. Throughout the book, Palahniuk provides references in his own and other authors’ works to ensure that his explanations are clear. In this postcard he discusses Shirley Jackson’s story “The Lottery” and how his goal was to match the power of her story. Thus, he discusses the process he followed to achieve this goal.
In this section he touches on the importance of listening to those around us—what he refers to as “crowd seeding.” He also talks about external processes such as art, imitation, and showmanship. His advice: “Find some way to love every aspect of the writing job.”
Coming to the end of the book, Palahniuk shares some sales strategies, ensuring that the reader realizes there are no surefire strategies . . . those that came before, such as Chick Lit, failed not long after their arrival. He also shares a list of his recommended reading in both fiction and nonfiction.
Chuck Palahniuk writes short . . . that is to say, his message is concise, given to us in few, well-chosen words that get the point across without a lot of fuss. And yet his message is detailed. It is clear that he has learned his writing lessons from others whom he quotes and references. His message comes from others as well as himself. He shares many gems in this book, two that stand out are: “When you meet a reader, it’s your turn to listen.”—David Sedaris; and “Write about the moment after which everything is different.”—Tom Spanbauer.
For the author who is looking for a new way to express herself, Consider This is a good place to start that journey. You may not agree with everything he says, but listen carefully. There is a world of information in this small book.