— F.Scott Fitzgerald: This Side of Paradise
— Frederick Beuchner
— Francesca Lia Bloc
— Brooke F.
— Warsan Shire
One day, he’s going to know. He’ll know your birthday, your middle name, where you were born, your star sign, and your parents names. He’ll know how old you were when you learnt to ride a bike, how your grandparents passed away, how many pets you had, and how much you hated going to school. He’ll know your eye colour, your scars, your freckles, your laugh lines and your birth marks. He’ll know your favourite book, movie, candy, food, pair of shoes, colour, and song. He’s going to know why you’re awake at 5am most nights, where you were when you realised you’d lost a good friend, why you picked up the razor and how you managed to put it down before things went too far. He’s going to know your phobias, your dreams, your fears, your wishes, and your worries. He’s going to know about your first heartbreak, your dream wedding, and your problems with your parents. He’ll know your strengths, weaknesses, laziness, energy, and your mixed emotions. He’s going to know about your love for mayonnaise, your dream of being famous when you were five, your need to quote any film you know all the way through, and your fear of growing older. He’ll know your bad habits, your mannerisms, your stroppy pout, your facial expressions, and your laugh like it’s his favourite song. The way you chew, drink, walk, sleep, fidget and kiss. He’s going to know that you’ve already picked out wedding flowers, baby names, tiles for the bathroom, bridesmaid dresses, and the colour of your bedroom walls. He’s going to know, get annoyed at and then accept that you leave clothes everywhere, take twenty minutes to order a Starbucks, have to organise your DVD’s alphabetically, and check your horoscope… just incase. He’ll know your McDonald’s order, how many sugars to put in your tea, how many scoops of ice cream you want, and that you need your sandwiches cut into triangles. He’s going to know how you feel without you telling him, that you need a wee from a look on your face, and that you’re crying without shedding tears. He’s going to know all of it. Everything. You, from top to bottom and inside out. From learning, from sharing, from listening, from watching. He’s going to know every single thing there is to know, and you know what else?
He is still going to love you. It still won’t be enough, cause he won’t be you.
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.
“Brenda knew she’d never make the deadline. 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.”
“Ann’s eyes are blue.”
“Ann has blue eyes.”
“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.
- Writing advice from Chuck Palahniuk
But the 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.
We’ve been led into a culture that has been engineered to leave us tired, hungry for indulgence, willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have. We buy so much because it always seems like something is still missing.
- Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed
My second grade teacher liked to ask us, “How do you feel today, on a scale of one to ten?”
Ten always meant I’m super, thank you and one was always not today, Mrs. MacAuley, not today.
But I never liked numbers, they would always twist and rebel against my mind so I chose to speak in colors instead.
January third - I am the color of mint chocolate chip ice cream
but I’ve eaten all the chocolate chips. I am calm.
February seventh - I am a bruise of blues and violets today. I think it would be best if I sat by the window. These are unhappy colors.
April eleventh - I am turquoise, I am magenta, I am every color in the rainbow.
April thirtieth - I am gray, I am silent.
May first - I am orange, the color of melting creamsicles on a beach in July.
June twelfth - I am as yellow as the school bus that will bring me home to summer. I am free.
Twelve years later, I still use colors.
The winter makes me feel cobalt blue, the ocean turns me a seafoam green. Violets and purples leave me uneasy and scarlet is a fever of fury. Some nights I drown in shades of navy, denim and cornflower but other nights I meditate in forests of harlequin and shamrock.
But you, you leave me a blinding white followed by a soft yellow:
the color of sunlight after a period of darkness.
- Kelsey Danielle: A Diary of Colors
Some people are good at being in love. Some people are good at love. Two very different things, I think. Being in love is the romantic part—sex all the time, midday naps in the sheets, the jokes, the laughs, the fun, long conversations with no pauses, overwhelming separation anxiety … Just the best sides of both people, you know? But love begins when the excitement of being in love starts to fade: the stress of life sets in, the butterflies disappear, the sex becomes a chore, the tears, the sadness, the arguments, the cattiness … The worst parts of both people. But if you still want that person by your side through all of those things … that’s when you know - that’s when you know you’re good at love.
- Matthew Healy
— The All Nighter