36 Writing Essays by Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk
Author photo by John Gress, used with permission.

In 2005 Chuck Palahniuk began submitting original writing essays on craft to his official fan site ChuckPalahniuk.net.  36 essays later and Chuck had amassed a wealth of knowledge on his readers; tools and writing tenants that could fill a book!  Only as of now, they don't.  Instead, they reside here, on LitReactor and nowhere else.  Prepare to be blown away.

1: Establishing Your Authority

In: Voice
Chuck teaches two principal methods for building a narrative voice your readers will believe in. Discover the Heart Method and the Head Method and how to employ each to greatest effect.

2: Developing a Theme

In: Theme
At the core of Minimalism is focusing any piece of writing to support one or two major themes. Learn harvesting, listing, and other methods, after a fun excursion into the spooky side of Chuck's childhood.

3: Using “On-The-Body” Physical Sensation

In: Voice
Great writing must reach both the mind and the heart of your reader, but to effectively suspend reality in favor of the fictional world, you must communicate on a physical level, as well. Learn to unpack the details of physical sensation.

4: Submerging the “I”

In: Guts, Narrator
First-person narration, for all its immediacy and power, becomes a liability if your reader can't identify with your narrator. Discover Chuck's secret method for making a first-person narrator less obtrusive. Bonus: This essay includes the story 'Guts.'

5: Nuts and Bolts: Hiding a Gun

In: Objects
Sometimes called "plants and payoffs" in the language of screenwriters, Hiding a Gun is an essential skill to the writer's arsenal that university writing courses almost never touch upon. Learn to identify and use multiple forms, including the Big Question, the Physical Process, and the Clock.

6: Nuts and Bolts: “Thought” Verbs

You've always heard the maxim, "Show, don't tell..." but almost no writing teacher ever explains... How. Discover how to strengthen your prose by unpacking abstract and static verbs into descriptive action.

7: Nuts and Bolts: “Big Voice” Versus “Little Voice”

In: Voice
An interesting character has strong opinions, and voicing them can lend mood and texture to the work, but you can't allow these "Big Voice" rants to eclipse the "Little Voice" needs for descriptive physical action. In this essay, you'll learn to strike that balance.

8: Nuts and Bolts: Using Choruses

In: Phrases
This verbal repetition can create a beat of bland time that lets your story breathe, or it can refresh previous plot points and trigger strong emotions. Steal this natural aspect of spoken rhetoric to enliven your prose.

9: Nuts and Bolts: Saying It Wrong

Great writers like Mark Richard and Amy Hempel re-invent the world, partly by re-inventing the language. In this essay, Chuck introduces you to the mysteries of "Burnt Tongue," and its three principal uses.

10: Beware the ‘Thesis Statement’

In: Abstracts
Abstract and summarizing lead statements feel natural to journalism and academic writing, but will suck the life from your fiction. Learn to unpack and rearrange these abstractions for greater effect.

11: Reading Out Loud – Part One

Lots of things that look smart on the page fall apart in the auditorium. Discover the numerous reasons Chuck writes for the ear as well as the eye, along with how to make the most of live reading opportunities.

12: Reading Out Loud – Part Two

All humans are storytellers and every fiction is veiled autobiography. Learn to explore and exhaust your personal issues by creating something bigger than yourself, and don't miss Chuck's ingenious assignment for personalizing your character's perception of time.

13: Nuts and Bolts -- Punctuating with Gesture and Attribution

In: Dialogue
Smart actors use the stage business of peeling an apple or lighting a cigarette to create a layer of interest that dialogue alone can never convey. Learn to punctuate your dialogue with gesture and attribution to propel interest and achieve better pacing.

14: Nuts and Bolts -- The Horizontal Versus the Vertical

Every story possesses the "horizontal" movement from plot point to plot point and finally to resolution, as well as the "vertical" development of character, theme, and emotional resonance. Discover Chuck's approach to building a story in layers.

15: When You Can’t Find a Writing Workshop…

In: Workshop
When you can't find a writing workshop, you can still find a setting where you're almost forced to daydream. Chuck paints some funny options for this while recommending that you daydream with a pen in your hand.

16: Learning from Clichés… then Leaving them Behind

In: Cliche
To achieve excellence, a writer must learn to identify and eliminate clichés. Chuck demonstrates the use of placeholders where more inventive language is needed, while counter-intuitively recommending style mimicry as a positive stage of learning.

17: Talking Shapes: The ‘Quilt’ Versus the Big ‘O’

In: Plot
What does Fight Club have in common with The Great Gatsby? In this first "talking shapes" essay, Chuck reveals two of the more encompassing plot shapes that you can begin to recognize as you create from the same basic patterns.

18: Textures of Information

In: Research
Lists, recipes, documentaries--almost everything verbal or textual is storytelling in some form. Chuck makes the case for lifting from various non-fiction forms and quick-cutting between them to enrich the textures of your fiction.

19: Effective Similes

In: Similies
Every time you compare something inside of a scene to something that's not present, you distract your reader. Learn to limit the use of "like" or "as" and to unpack static verbs, along with other methods for forging stronger comparisons.

20: Talking Shapes: The ‘Thumbnail’

In: Plot
In this second "talking shapes" essay, Chuck explores a basic paradox of storytelling, while revealing what you can do about it. The Thumbnail opening foreshadows major plot points in advance and creates authority, without giving too much away.

21: Talking Shapes: The ‘Cycle’

In: Plot
An excellent plot for horror and dark fantasy, the Cycle enlists and seduces the reader even as it enlists and seduces the protagonist. Learn what to look for from a few of Chuck's favorites, while putting this plot shape to work for yourself.

22: Talking Shapes: The Rebel, the Follower, and the Witness

Take a look at your work. Are you writing a classic rebel-follower-witness story? If not, what kind of myth are you creating? This essay takes up the mythic patterns prominent in our culture and provides great examples.

23: Nuts and Bolts: Using Your Objects

In: Objects
An object, in fiction, can serve multiple purposes--from Memory Cue, to Gesture Prop, to Buried Gun, to simple Through-Line Image. Learn to make the most of physical objects.

24: Stocking Stuffers: 13 Writing Tips From Chuck Palahniuk

Christmas comes early today! In this essay Chuck provides a grab-bag of incredibly useful ideas that don't require too much individual elaboration. From delineating the three types of speech, to simple maxims for the writing life.

25: Killing Time: Part One

In: Structure
Several methods exist in fiction for showing the passage of time--from subtle to not-so-subtle. Here, Chuck glosses various approaches while highlighting his preferred method.

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