One of the books I love most is Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. I read it when I was 24, on the plane home after eight months working a dull contract in America. This was probably the perfect time to read that book.
It wasn’t just the story of Fight Club that I found inspiring. Palahniuk’s writing was sharper and more vivid than anything I’d encountered before. His uses of rhythm, repetition and set-piece scenes were incredibly well-crafted.
Palahniuk has described his writing style at length in his writer’s biography Consider This, outlining a whole toolbox of techniques. Recently, he’s been running a Substack newsletter where he often builds on the lessons in Consider This, and I’ve found myself working more on including some of them in my work.
One example is the use of clear physical actions for the characters. Palahniuk explains that a well-crafted gesture embeds the reader within the story. Their brains will consider the action, activitating the mirror neurones, and Palahniuk sees characters in motion as performing a sort of hypnosis on the reader. Using gestures in my work has also given me a clearer idea of the scenes that I write. I’ve also become more aware of this in my reading. Novels that seem flimsy are often that way because the characterisation comes from dialogue rather than action. Characters need a physical existence.
The other idea is that any piece of prose should include a clock or a gun. There should either be something dangerous that threatens the characters; or there should be some sort of timer counting down, limited the possible length of the story. Both of these add a tension, as well as making the stakes clear.
I’ve been using both of these techniques in my recent writing. At first, this was consciously, asking myself explicitly where these things were in a piece. Now, I can see them emerging as I plan a story. I think my writing is better for it.If you want to follow what I'm up to, sign up to my mailing list