13 March 2014

ZZ Packer

A great first line can be wonderfully galvanizing thing. Sometimes they don't entirely pan out; other times they are fair harbingers of pleasures to come. Such is the case in the first line of the ZZ Packer story, "Brownies," assigned for tomorrow:

“By our second day at Camp Crescendo, the girls in my Brownie troop had decided to kick the asses of each and every girl in Brownie troop 909.”

I've found a video of Packer reading the story, in case any of you want to hear it from the horse's mouth. Check it out if you like. In any case, do get through this excellent tale of youth and groups and race and many other matters--we'll be discussing first thing.

06 March 2014

Writing about Thinking

One of the first things I heard in grad school was from Rosellen Brown, who tried valiantly to warn me away from the "sitting and thinking" story.

I didn't take the warning completely to heart, though I knew it was serious and applied to me. Hence, no doubt, my own fiction output.

Now I find that I have the same basic discussion all the time with my college students. Through one of them this semester, I came across this exercise from the beloved Chuck Palahniuk. In the essay, Nuts and Bolts: Thought Verbs, Palahniuk offers up an incredible discipline in examining these problematic thoughts--these insights so crucial to us as writers and so deadly boring to our readers. The essentials are below:

...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.

 Check the whole thing out here and give his exercise a shot--if you dare.