I’ve been thinking a lot about action in scene lately. Turns out I’m not the only one. In fact, according to this gem of a post I found on The Writing Garden, one of my favorite contemporary authors, Chuck Palahniuk, has some great advice on the subject: It’s all about eliminating thought verbs. I’ve reposted it here as I find the font of the original to be difficult on the eyes. Enjoy.
Ideas don’t grow on trees, but wouldn’t it be something if they did? A world where great ideas sprouted every spring, just waiting for motivated writers to come pluck ingenuity from the Idea Tree. For a writer, it’d be the greatest harvest ever. And yet, every October, we’d all be rushing to the Idea Tree, hoping to gather up some sort of bounty to make up for our procrastination, only to leave empty-handed and stepping on rotten ideas that fell from the tree long ago.
Aside from the Idea Tree, where do they come from? A silly question, no doubt. The truth of the matter is rather simple: anywhere. The above paragraph is an example of such an idea farm–literally and figuratively. Ideas growing on a tree is absurd, but the fiction of such a notion isn’t half bad. It’s the all important what if moment. When thinking about even the most trivial of topics or cliche phrases, just imagine what life would be like if that crazy thing were actually real. Raining cats and dogs? Dangerous. Stock market crash? I hope no one was hurt.
Of course, practicing this isn’t a recipe for instant success, though. Keeping an open ear–and mind–when listening to people speak, or watching a movie, can spark the what if idea. In fact, I was watching the incomparable George Carlin on Netflix before writing this post, and he does a bit about dead people and address books. He made a joke about deleting people from the contacts list of a phone after they die. As usual, Carlin was funny and on point about the situation, but what dawned on me was how messed up it would be if you could delete a person on your contact list and cause them to die. I thought, What would that be like? And there it is, a new idea for a short story.
Anyway, generating ideas is easier than we think, but it still takes some mental effort to get there. Good ideas don’t just fall out of the sky, and they certainly don’t grow on trees–but imagine if they did.
Whether I’m writing fiction, a class essay, or an article for publication, I find the first draft to be the most difficult. Not because I’m far from finishing, but because I don’t yet know the story I’m about to tell. Sure, I can add words, construct a narrative, edit a line here and there, but until it’s done, I don’t know the story. But that’s when the fun begins. When I’m done, and have finally heard the story for the first time, I get to revisit it from the beginning and finish molding it into what it needs to be–not what I imagined it to be. These two concepts are not necessarily one in the same, and for good reason. Let me explain.