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Bookworm: For the writer in all of us, there is 'Consider This'

Bookworm: For the writer in all of us, there is 'Consider This'

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You’ve got a tale to tell.

Everybody does, but people believe that yours would sell. Write a book, they say, your story is interesting/funny/exciting. And so you start to imagine the crowds at your book signing. You think about the money you’ll make. You picture the life of a writer. You should read “Consider This” by Chuck Palahniuk before you go any further.

Long before he was an author of novels, Chuck Palahniuk was a truck assembly line worker with a journalism degree, struggling to be a better writer through a series of expensive, ineffective workshops. Then he met Tom Spanbauer, who offered “less a class than a dialogue.”

That, says Palahniuk, is what he hopes this book will be.

“If you’re dedicated to becoming an author, nothing I can say here will stop you,” Palahniuk cautions. “But if you’re not, nothing I can say will make you one.”

If you were Palahniuk’s student, though, he would tell you to pay attention to the “textures” in your characters’ conversations. Use textures as you would in normal conversation; they’ll help your readers know who said what, they’ll bridge conversational gaps, and they help indicate time passed.

“Establish… authority” to make your characters relatable. Offer real-world context; never, ever ignore fine details; and don’t worry about making people likable. Some of literature’s best-loved characters were despicable.

If you were Palahniuk’s student, he’d tell you to “plant a gun” and an object that quietly returns again and again. He’d instruct you to surprise your readers and raise tension, both correctly, and to avoid ping-pong conversations. You’d start to listen to other people’s stories because that’s where your novel lies. You’d know how to rescue a boring character and how to write dialogue that sounds authentic. And if Palahniuk were your teacher, you’d learn this: “Don’t overthink your creative process.”

Great writers are not born that way. They are molded from a mixture of sweat, rejection, odd hours, tiny pieces of notepaper, antacids, and books like “Consider This.”

Your readers have a short list of things they hate in a novel, and author Chuck Palahniuk shows you how not to do those things when writing your future bestseller. Replacing bad behavior with good is part of this book, including advice that makes so much sense that you wonder why you never thought of it before. (Hint: you didn’t because you’re not his student).

On that note, Palahniuk will delight you as he instructs, by subtly using his own advice scattered throughout this book amid stories of his struggle to become a novelist and tales of booksignings that were held on his behalf. There are shout-outs to other authors that serve as a kind of reading list for prospective writers, and yes, you’ll find a few head-scratchers that may not make sense until you’re there.

Writers who are readers will enjoy this book for its anecdotes. Readers who are writers will love it for the chance to watch a master in action. If you are both, “Consider This” tells the tale.

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