C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

See all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

The I of the Eye

When I’m not working on my latest apocalyptic WIP, I’m reading Chuck Palahniuk’s guide to writing. Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life After Which Everything was Different is a humdinger. Each short chapter mines his success and ends with simple, direct advice: “If you were my student,” I’d tell you X. From craft to how to run a writer’s group and how to make author readings extra interesting, he shares wonderful experiences and solid tips for writers at all levels. I admire his writing and bold story choices. His cynical worldview delivers on dark, perverse fun and a rich subtext of social commentary.


As a fan of Fight Club, Survivor, Choke, and Lullaby, I was curious about his writing process and what he considers good writing. I once thought I was a minimalist writer. As a former journalist who read Hemingway, I even identified as such. I was wrong, but Chuck Palahniuk is a real minimalist. Stuff happens, but he goes to great lengths to avoid judgments. At all costs, Palahniuk eschews telling readers how they should feel about plot events, no matter how disturbing. His fiction style is influenced by what straight journalistic reportage is supposed to be.
For instance, X and Y happened. Draw your own conclusions. Even better if readers draw different conclusions so they can argue with each other over their literary takeaways.

Where We Differ

Recently, I followed a guided meditation in which each meditator was asked to adopt a mantra that reflected some facet of their base state. For instance, hands over heart, you could say to yourself, “I am a compassionate person dedicated to helping others.” My mantra that night was, “I explore consciousness.” In the writing context, that would send up red flags for Mr. Palahniuk.

To contrast his approach with my own, plenty of events happen in Endemic, my next novel. However, the neurotic protagonist indulges in internal commentary. Off medication and arguing with the voices in her head, Ovid Fairweather needs therapy and it shows. If you’re unfamiliar with my work, I admit I dare to do this sort of thing often. In The Night Man and AFTER Life, the main characters are conflicted souls. Ernest Jack has PTSD, a physical disability, and a fraught relationship with his criminal father. Officer Dan Harmon battles a killer artificial intelligence and brain parasites while doubting his career choices. (You ever notice that, in fiction, cops are always full of certainty they shouldn’t be off somewhere else painting watercolors? That’s not Dan in AFTER Life.)

I acknowledge writing about feelings is dangerous territory. It can drag the words too far from the plot. Every writing guide advises writers to delete “I remember…” or “I felt…” Delete the I of the eye. Be imaginative and descriptive, but don’t tell us, show us. Evoke feelings in readers instead telling them how to feel. Good advice, but there are exceptions and I do gravitate toward guidelines rather than rules. Mama Chute certainly didn’t mean to, but she raised a rebel.

What Dreams May Fail

Palahniuk advises writers to avoid dream sequences. His argument is that reality has plenty of drama and weirdness without resorting to fanciful sleep adventures that lower the stakes. I see what he’s saying and, in general, I agree. I often draw on a context of real life happenings to cushion the fiction in verisimilitude.

I can also say I’ve broken that no-dream rule on numerous occasions. To good effect, I think. (Consider This Plague of Days, Wallflower, and especially Dream’s Dark Flight). The trick to making those scenes work is to have dream life collide with reality. In real life, dreams mean nothing at all, or at least nothing to anyone other than the dreamer. If you use them in fiction, probably do so sparingly and definitely make them relevant. Inception made the use of dreams work, sure, but that’s the end of the shortlist.

How people react in stressful situations fascinates me, but if a novel is crammed with reactions alone, the story is weakened and skids to a dead stop. People can have feelings and dwell on them, but avoid pounding the reader into the ground. For example, if you’re a fan of The Walking Dead, you know the television show devolves into annoying self-parody each time Rick returns to the same drawling speech, “Things have chaaaaaaaanged!” Yeah, things have changed in the Don’t-Call-Them-Zombies Apocalypse. We get it. Move along, please.

The Rancid Pickle Jar of Self-indulgence


Endemic will be my most personal novel yet. After a furious writing session, I had to sit back and recover when I realized several true stories from my childhood fit perfectly in an adventure about desperate people trying to survive a viral apocalypse. I’m confident I’ve sifted, intertwining action and reaction sufficiently that the story is propelled forward with each new twisty revelation. My hope is that, as screwed up as my protagonist is, Ovid remains relatable. She’s an ordinary person trapped in extraordinary events, much like all of us have been trapped through the pandemic.


Warning: If your book reads like therapy for the writer alone, you’re five knuckles-deep in the Rancid Pickle Jar of Self-indulgence. This September, when Endemic is unleashed upon the world, you’ll decide if I’ve found the balance. Until then, I heartily recommend reading Chuck Palahniuk’s book on writing. You’ll undoubtedly find engaging advice that will enhance your writing and your writing life. It’s so good, I might even cowboy up and try to take all his advice with my next novel.

Until then, I’m conflicted and arguing with myself about it.

~ For links to all my books, head over to AllThatChazz.com for killer crime thrillers and apocalyptic epics. Thanks!

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How to write more, faster, now

After I publish a book, I tend to fall into a mild bout of postpartum depression. To head that off, I’m writing a new crime novel as I prepare to launch the finale to This Plague of Days. This new one has a very fast pace and I’m also writing it fast. This isn’t going to fall into a plotting versus pantsing discussion because, Thor knows, we’ve all hit that gong plenty hard already. Today, let’s talk about how to discover your story.

Here’s four writers to pay attention to, in case you don’t care what I think:

1. Anthony Burgess had a cool trick I’ve used. Pick three words at random. Those words will appear in your next chapter.

Go! You’ll find gooey, fudge brownie richness with that one tool alone.

2. E.L. Doctorow said writing a book is, “like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

When I wrote my first crime novel, Bigger Than Jesus, I knew the last line of the book, but I had no idea from one night to the next what tomorrow’s chapter might bring. It worked out in a really peachy way.

3. Stephen King talks about excavating the story, discovering and unearthing dinosaur bones.

Some people start with character. I often find my brush and trowel to dig the dirt away is conflict. Everybody wants something. It’s more interesting if everyone’s competing for the same thing but use different methods to get what they want. (Game of Thrones, anyone?) Through conflict, character and snappy dialogue often emerge. Direction and velocity will reveal themselves as you discover how the story evolves. It may divert from your outline. That’s okay. Follow the drama. It might lead you off the map to a beautiful place.

4. Chuck Palahniuk suggests writing each chapter as a short story.

As each story connects to the next until the end, this process cuts down on a lot of intimidation. It also lessens the danger of a saggy middle because you’re demanding more of each story element instead of relying on the reader’s patience. Each chapter is a pillar. Don’t build a weak one and depend on it to hold up the structure.

I’m going to suggest the writing process as an exercise in free association.

Free association emerged as a counselling approach in Freudian analysis. The core of the therapy was to let the mind wander and for the patient to tell his or her own story rather than take on the worldview of the therapist. This was resolution by exploration.

The key is to let ideas bubble up and connect unhampered by the choke valve of self-criticism. Criticism is for later. In the creative process, let it go and flow. You’ll go faster and arrive in places that aren’t mundane and expected. Using these methods, you’re going to cut down on procrastination, too. You’ll write more because you’re having more fun. Stop agonizing. This is entertaining fiction you’re writing, not a eulogy.

In This Plague of Days, the autistic hero of my zompoc epic (Season 3 coming June 15!) is Jaimie Spencer. He’s obsessed with the dictionary. That’s me. I collect odd factoids. I let one Wikipedia entry lead me to another and to another until I free associate my way to new plot developments. The world is made of details and small components build bigger things. That’s also true if your world is fictional. The dictionary and Wikipedia are full of the atoms of your next story.

For instance, take a swig of Doctorow.

In my current WIP, I know the destination and I have a hastily drawn outline of how to get there. It’s not deep in details. I came up with most of it while watching my son’s soccer game. The first atom was a small conceit. The idea exploded when I had my hook. More on this later this summer.

Enjoy a tall, cold glass of Burgess.

Take a random fact from Wikipedia and see where that leads you. Your foundation is already getting poured.

In the crime story I’m working on, I needed to show the love interest’s character. She’s an underdog determined to win. That led me to a story from Wikipedia she could identify with. By showing the tragic, yet heroic story that guided her life, we understand her better and we like her immediately. (Me? I’m big on pathology. Give a character a medical problem and I can use that, for them and against them. Desmoid tumors saved the life of one character in This Plague of Days, for instance. Read the books. You’ll get that reference.)

Free association comes faster from good questions.

Quick! What are the hits playing on the radio in 1974? Which manager was first to get kicked out of a baseball game twice in the same day? What was happening to your protagonist that day in 1974 when he was thinking about baseball and listening to the radio? What song titles spoke to his state of mind? These are the connections I made to write a chapter (a pillar, if you will) that could stand on its own as a short story. Hello, Mr. Palahniuk!

As the factoids build and scenes connect into a river of stories that collect and flow into one ocean of words, new connections are made. New developments float to the surface. You’ll discover new intersections in the network of your story you didn’t suspect were there when you began to write.

That’s Stephen King’s story archeology.

Good stories aren’t written. They are discovered. It is the nuance we find in the depths of free association that contribute to verisimilitude and character interplay. It’s nuance that builds, not just a book, but a believable world.

Those details you’ll use through free association? It’s not the only key to Creativity’s lock, but it’s a good one. Try it.

~ I wrote Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book, Aspire to inspire. Check out AllThatChazz.com for affiliate links to all my fiction. That would be double plus cool. Thanks.

Filed under: Writers, Writing exercise, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writing: How to get it done

1. Write what you’ll finish and publish soonest, first. Propulsion increases closer to payoff.

2. Don’t tinker forever. Set a deadline. Stick to it, on penalty of noogies.

3. If you’re a slow writer, outline first so you’ll stay on track. Stop at a place where you know what happens next. You’ll start tomorrow without pausing, stopping or getting stumped.

4. Think of how great it’s going to be once you’ve published. Alert your readers to your progress so they know when to expect the next book launch. You’ll keep your momentum going with a little positive pressure. There are numerous free word count bars you can put on your author site to display your daily progress. That which is measured, improves. That which is not, is rued.

5. Give your graphic designer enough warning so when you’re ready with the manuscript, he’s ready with the cover. You’ll deliver rather than stretch it out past the deadline you set.

6. Give editors, proofreaders and beta readers a deadline so the manuscript gets read, checked and back to you in a timely manner. Write an editorial and production schedule down but put it up where you can see it.

7. Write to a word count or write to a page count or write to a timer. Write. The hardest part is to start. If the story is any good, you won’t want to stop.

8. Don’t wait for inspiration. Go find it by sitting down to write. (My bills, narcissism and terror are all the inspiration I need. What motivates you? Use that.)

9. Don’t count procrastination, marketing, or Internet distractions as writing time. The earlier in the day you get your writing done, the more you’ll get done because your greatest resistance is at the beginning. Start early and you’ll write longer and more.

10. Sleep, exercise and eat well so you don’t rob from your writing time by having to take a nap (due to a gluttonous, glutenous binge.) Naps can be great and rejuvenating, if they’re short and scheduled. (If you’re sleeping to retreat to a safe place, stop reading your bad reviews.)

BONUS:

If you aren’t lost in fun as you write, something’s probably wrong.

Spice it up and twist that plot like you’re wringing out a wet towel.

No one willingly gives time. Take it. Have a schedule and control it.

Write.

Filed under: getting it done, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

You can pick this ebook up for free today at this link: http://bit.ly/TheNightMan

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