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.
Originally posted in The Anchor
Joe King–Mediocre Investigative Journalist
If you’re looking to pass this semester, you may need to hold it. In accordance with the new Classroom Requirements of Accepted Protocol policy, Rhode Island College students are now forbidden to use the restroom during class periods.
The CRAP policy went into effect last Wednesday, and was met with immediate student outrage.
What’s more, the CRAP policy doesn’t just mean students aren’t allowed to leave the classroom for a much-needed bathroom break; the restrooms on campus will now be monitored via card swipe. If students would like to visit the restrooms in Craig Lee, for instance, they must swipe their student ID cards; if they’re supposed to be in class at the time of the swipe, the door will not open.
According to CRAP policy co-writer and professor of English, Katerina Knickyknack, the new policy addresses her need for firm control.
“When a student leaves during class to use the restroom, it is disruptive and extremely rude to both the class and myself,” said Knickyknack. “They can either go before class or hold it. And on a note of personal preference, I no longer allow water bottles in any of my classrooms; I like to avoid disruption at all costs.”
After the first day of hosting this new CRAP policy, the college community witnessed the onset of an angry student mob during Wednesday night’s Comrades-in-Arms meeting. Student Committee of the Communist Party commissar, Jim Brady, met the mob head on with sympathetic righteousness.
“Students—my people—I understand your plight,” started Brady. “The SCCP shall flush this excrement through the foul sewers of your fair college. No more shall you wallow in this CRAP policy.”
The steamed mob cheered, but the mood swung when a random student shouted.
“This new policy is shit!”
The commissar was quick to address the potty-mouthed student.
“Sir, I shan’t have such filth spoken in my chambers,” said Brady. “We go out of our way to speak without expletives—I appreciate if you would do the same.”
After the room took in Brady’s brilliance, a dictate was offered by the commissar himself to abolish the CRAP policy. The SCCP exploded with cheers for their wise leader and sang songs of praise to his eminence.
When policies such as CRAP are enforced, it is up to the students to take matters into their own hands. And when that fails, they find guidance in a strong student leader—the voice of the people. So, if you’re finding it hard to pass this semester, don’t force the issue. Instead, just relax—unclench those butt cheeks—and administer a much needed enema.
the friendly old slosh
of working on the wash
long past baby bibs
reader’s digest tips
and red stains from lips
of OshKosh b’Gosh
and grape juice stains
riding in Kenmore cavalcades
hopes and dreams
teenage tears and screams
and that spilled ice cream
a Swiss watch
wet in the wash
tick tock no more
a slam of the door
the mystery pair of muddied drawers
a prom dress no-no
pajama bottom hobo
bleach the whites thorough
that friendly old slosh
ever eager to watch
years gone by
always fill to the line
now an early bird before five
and so it’s grandkids
who come on weekend visits
o, what a life to be lived
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.
Killer whales aren’t whales.
They’re actually dolphins.
All dolphins are whales.
Wiki teaches this.
Google will tell you this, too.
And it’s true, I swear.
How can I be sure?
Paris Hilton’s Vagina.
Just ask Chicago.
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.