In six seconds, you’ll hate me.
But in six months, you’ll be a better writer.
From this point forward—at least for the next half year—you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use.
The list should also include: Loves and Hates.
And it should include: Is and Has, but we’ll get to those later.
Until some time around Christmas, you can’t write: Kenny wondered if Monica didn’t like him going out at night…”
Instead, you’ll have to Un-pack that to something like: “The
mornings after Kenny had stayed out, beyond the last bus, until he’d had to bum a ride or pay for a cab and got home to find Monica faking sleep, faking because she never slept that quiet, those mornings, she’d only put her own cup of coffee in the microwave. Never his.”
Instead of characters knowing anything, you must now present the details that allow the reader to know them. Instead of a character wanting something, you must now describe the thing so that the reader wants it.
Instead of saying: “Adam knew Gwen liked him.” You’ll have to say: “Between classes, Gwen had always leaned on his locker when he’d go to open it. She’s roll her eyes and shove off with one foot, leaving a black-heel mark on the painted metal, but she also left the smell of her perfume. The combination lock would still be warm from her butt. And the next break, Gwen would be leaned there, again.”
In short, no more short-cuts. Only specific sensory detail: action, smell, taste, sound, and feeling.
Typically, writers use these “thought” verbs at the beginning of a paragraph (In this form, you can call them “Thesis Statements” and I’ll rail against those, later). In a way, they state the intention of the paragraph. And what follows, illustrates them.
“Brenda knew she’d never make the deadline. was backed up from the bridge, past the first eight or nine exits. Her cell phone battery was dead. At home, the dogs would need to go out, or there would be a mess to clean up. Plus, she’d promised to water the plants for her neighbor…”
Do you see how the opening “thesis statement” steals the thunder of what follows? Don’t do it.
If nothing else, cut the opening sentence and place it after all the others. Better yet, transplant it and change it to: Brenda would never make the deadline.
Thinking is abstract. Knowing and believing are intangible. Your story will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and details of your characters and allow your reader to do the thinking and knowing. And loving and hating.
Don’t tell your reader: “Lisa hated Tom.”
Instead, make your case like a lawyer in court, detail by detail.
Present each piece of evidence. For example: “During roll call, in the breath after the teacher said Tom’s name, in that moment before he could answer, right then, Lisa would whisper-shout ‘Butt Wipe,’ just as Tom was saying, ‘Here’.”
One of the most-common mistakes that beginning writers make is leaving their characters alone. Writing, you may be alone. Reading, your audience may be alone. But your character should spend very, very little time alone. Because a solitary character starts thinking or worrying or wondering.
For example: Waiting for the bus, Mark started to worry about how long the trip would take…”
A better break-down might be: “The schedule said the bus would come by at noon, but Mark’s watch said it was already 11:57. You could see all the way down the road, as far as the Mall, and not see a bus. No doubt, the driver was parked at the turn-around, the far end of the line, taking a nap. The driver was kicked back, asleep, and Mark was going to be late. Or worse, the driver was drinking, and he’d pull up drunk and charge Mark seventy-five cents for death in a fiery traffic accident…”
A character alone must lapse into fantasy or memory, but even then you can’t use “thought” verbs or any of their abstract relatives.
Oh, and you can just forget about using the verbs forget and remember.
No more transitions such as: “Wanda remembered how Nelson used to brush her hair.”
Instead: “Back in their sophomore year, Nelson used to brush her hair with smooth, long strokes of his hand.”
Again, Un-pack. Don’t take short-cuts.
Better yet, get your character with another character, fast.
Get them together and get the action started. Let their actions and words show their thoughts. You—stay out of their heads.
And while you’re avoiding “thought” verbs, be very wary about using the bland verbs “is” and “have.”
“Ann’s eyes are blue.”
“Ann has blue eyes.”
“Ann coughed and waved one hand past her face, clearing the cigarette smoke from her eyes, blue eyes, before she smiled…”
Instead of bland “is” and “has” statements, try burying your details of what a character has or is, in actions or gestures. At its most basic, this is showing your story instead of telling it.
And forever after, once you’ve learned to Un-pack your characters, you’ll hate the lazy writer who settles for: “Jim sat beside the telephone, wondering why Amanda didn’t call.”
Please. For now, hate me all you want, but don’t use thought verbs. After Christmas, go crazy, but I’d bet money you won’t.
For this month’s homework, pick through your writing and circle every “thought” verb. Then, find some way to eliminate it. Kill it by Un-packing it.
Then, pick through some published fiction and do the same thing. Be ruthless.
“Marty imagined fish, jumping in the moonlight…”
“Nancy recalled the way the wine tasted…”
“Larry knew he was a dead man…”
Find them. After that, find a way to re-write them. Make them stronger.
1. Do not kill yourself. Killing yourself is very messy and your mother will cry over you. It is not beautiful or brave, and even if it was, you will not be around to see that.
2. Washing your hair is going to be a chore. But you should do it anyway. Because you will feel better about yourself.
3. Get up late. Have a lay in. Sleep past your alarm. You have a very long life ahead of you and for now you should appreciate the cold side of your pillow.
4. He is going to break your heart but he’s just another male human who finds it hard to deal with Mondays, too. So in a month you’ll wake up and you won’t even remember that little scar on his knuckle you kissed.
5. Don’t spend hours looking up what your name means on google. Your name is your name and you should go out there and do heroic and good deeds and give your name your own meaning.
6. Don’t fight your demons. Your demons are here to teach you lessons. Sit down with your demons and have a drink and a chat and learn their names and talk about the burns on their fingers and scratches on their ankles. Some of them are very nice.
7. Music is good for your soul. Rap music will energise you and boost your ego and pop music will cheer you up. Indie music will make you think and emotional songs will make you cry and think about that boy again. It’s healthy.
8. Victim complexes are not attractive. Boys and girls will not date you because you are sad. They are not going to date you and kiss your aching bones and cure you of your dragging depression. Wake up. Take a bath. Do your hair. Be attractive.
9. Sadness is not poetic. Depression is not beautiful. Laying in bed all day and eating too much is lazy and disgusting and it is not tragic or pretty. Get up. Go outside. Let the sun warm your bones. Live.
10. If it makes you happy, buy twenty of it. Dedicate your life to it. Print it on tv shirts and collect things and draw art of it. Do not care what people think. They are the unhappy people you need to avoid. The abuse they will hurl at you is painless compared to how sad they are. Pity them. Remain happy.
11. You are allowed to be angry. But the world is not working against you. The flowers do not bloom for you and when your mother shouts ask her if she is okay instead of thinking she hates you. She never will. The world walks beside you and is silent. It does not trip you up or carry you.
12. Day and night cycles are natural. Humans only sleep at night because we used to avoid predators in the dark because of our poor eyesight. Stay awake until 5am watching bad reality shows. Wake up at 7pm and have breakfast.
13. Eat when you are hungry. Being bored does not constitute a chocolate bar. Sleep with you are tired. Do not mindlessly obey the sleep at night rule. If you are not tired, do not sleep.
|—||Lapfoxs (via alljsonargent)|
|—||Stephanie LaCava, from Extraordinary Theory of Objects: A Memoir of An Outsider In Paris (via violentwavesofemotion)|
Tell me I’m perfect
If I’m not good enough
To make you want to stay.
|—||M.S. (via coffee-crinkled-pages)|
My hand held tight.
With tears falling,
I walked and walked with no end in sight.
Nothing good has come from this goodbye.
I watched as they cried.
Holding on to what was left.
Tried to move on, but I kept looking back.
Something new would come.
Places, faces, memories and fear.
But I’m hung up on a time that has no more room for me.
We are taught to walk scared late at night. We cradle our keys between our perfectly manicured fingers, walking gracefully like a baby antelope in a herd of lions. That our virginity defines our character. That I am a frigid bitch if I do not fuck him, and a dirty slut if I do.