A few library books have been sitting in my living room for months. They’re not overdue. My town’s library system has been closed because of COVID-19. I’m not sure, but I think they’ll open in September. Who knows.
All overdue fees have been swished away.
So, because I figure I have plenty of time to read these books, I ignored them. Until a few days ago. I picked up the one on top of the stack I knew I definitely wanted to read: Consider This by Chuck Palahniuk.
I’m not even finished reading it and I already want to talk about it.
You probably have seen or heard of the movie Fight Club which is based on his most well-know book of the same name. He’s a prolific writer and all of his novels and stories are as bizarre as Fight Club–at least the ones I’ve read. He really knows how to expose the devious, awkward side of the human psyche.
Well, like I said, I’m not even half way through Consider This and I already know I’m going to read it again. So much great advice is packed into the first half of the book.
This is the first time I’ve read his nonfiction. The full title of the book is Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life After Which Everything Was Different. It’s part autobiography, part writing instruction. I love what I’ve read so far because so much of it is writing advice I’ve not heard before. He talks about big voice and little voice. He has a whole chapter of writing “textures”, each one a way to improve fiction writing. He has even included illustrations that are memes of the most memorable slogans for the writer to remember when composing his next novel. For example, one is “Action Carries Its Own Authority.”
By the way, there is a whole section on writing with authority.
So Palahniuk illustrates abstract writing concepts in concrete examples. When he talks about attribution in dialogue, he mentions how most of the time, it’s not the words we use when writing, but also including the actions and tone of voice used by a character. More than any time in any of his crazy novels I’ve read, Palahniuk shocked me when he said dialogue “is your weakest storytelling tool.”
As an example, he talks about the body language in Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. Palahniuk recounts the time when he saw the famous Italian painting:
“. . . I saw how the picture is really a catalog of gesture. The body language transcends Italian or English. Honestly, all the emoticons are there in one painting.”Chuck Palahniuk, Consider This
In a total coincidence, the next day I saw Andy Warhol’s interpretation of The Last Supper. I went to see a Warhol exhibit, and explored the many rooms in the art museum set aside for Warhol’s work. Then I came across it. His Last Supper took up a whole wall and I saw what Palahniuk was talking about. The hand gestures. The worried expressions. The calm knowing of Christ in the center. Even if I hadn’t known the account in the gospels, even if I hadn’t seen this painting many times in my life, I’d still have an idea what’s going on.
As he does many times throughout Consider This, Palahniuk quotes his writing mentor, Tom Spanbauer: “Language is not our first language.”
This is just one of the simpler concepts on writing Palahniuk tackles so far in Consider This. If you are in the mood to learn some good stuff on writing fiction, I highly recommend it. Can’t wait to finish the rest of the book.
The photo above is another one of Warhol’s smaller, more colorful interpretations of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. I snapped the photo as it hung on one of the side walls in the exhibit room dedicated to this painting.
Here’s a link to Palahniuk’s Consider This.