Articles Tagged with: Writing
Robert Mapplethorpe | William Burroughs

I like to look at pictures, all kinds. And all those things you absorb come out subconsciously one way or another. You’ll be taking photographs and suddenly know that you have resources from having looked at a lot of them before. There is no way you can avoid this. But this kind of subconscious influence is good, and it certainly can work for one. In fact, the more pictures you see, the better you are as a photographer.

– Robert Mapplethorpe

William Burroughs © Robert Mapplethorpe

William Burroughs © Robert Mapplethorpe

In the U.S. you have to be a deviant or die of boredom.

― William S. Burroughs

Chuck Palahniuk | Thought Verbs
Chuck Palahniuk © Jim Clark

Chuck Palahniuk © Jim Clark

Thought Verbs
by Chuck Palahniuk

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.

For example:

“Brenda knew she’d never make the deadline. Traffic 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.”

For example:

“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.

Henri Cartier-Bresson | Ezra Pound
Ezra Pound, Venice 1971 © Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

VENICE—Ezra Pound, 1971 Henri Cartier-Bresson © Magnum Photos

Martine Franck, Cartier-Bresson’s widow, accompanied her husband to just one — probably atypical — portrait session, that of the poet Ezra Pound in Venice in 1971, a year before his death at 87.

There was a tremendous, heavy silence,’ recalled Ms. Franck, herself a photographer. ‘Pound didn’t say a word. He just seemed to condemn the world with his eyes. We were there for about 20 minutes. I stayed to one side. I huddled in a corner. Henri took seven pictures.’

– From This Decisive Moment On by Alan Riding in The New York Times, January 26, 2006

October™ | Central Park

This past Sunday was that legendary, perfect autumn day, impossibly sublime, crisp air, music in your ears, face full of afternoon light. All of us tried to work our superpowers to slow time, to make the day last but Monday still came, steamrolling that afternoon into memory.

I am back east now after 12 years in Los Angeles. You cannot convey to a creature of Southern California the fleeting magic of a perfect October™ day. The day is a wisp of smoke, soon to be hidden by clouds and rain, eaten by the advancing calendar. You have missed it. You need to wait for the great wheel to keep turning until October™ appears on the horizon again.

Angelenos, it does not matter what day it is, the month, the time of year, if it’s an El Niño season or not. Tomorrow in Southern California is a constant; it will always be in the 70s, no humidity, blazing sun. Put your flip flops on and burrito yourself. No hurry, no rush; it’ll be the same until the end of time.

I will take the cycle of seasons, even with the squalor of February and the thick sweaty terror of August. Only 11½ months until October™.

Central Park, October™ 25, 2009, Nikon D300, 12-24mm Nikon © Doug Kim

Central Park, October™ 25, 2009, Nikon D300, 12-24mm Nikon © Doug Kim


O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if the were all,
Whose elaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost–
For the grapes’ sake along the all.

-Robert Frost

August’s Lament

Yes, it is August in the city. It is time for a million shiny faces on the streets, the Rorschach sweat blots on the backs of those in front of me, the surreality of the hair dryer heat in the Delancey Street station, the strong, sinus clearing smell of stairwell urine. And the noisy glory of sweaty, stinky, surly Chinatown in summer.

Yes, it is August in the city. I clean my desk regularly because my forearms stick to its surface when I type. My pint glasses sweat like afternoon joggers.

At a performance at Summer Stage in the park, the bugs enjoyed our sticky necks and we joined in whack-a-moling the whole night.

At the East River Park’s bandshell, a mid-afternoon dance performance was cut short because the vinyl surface of the stage had melted enough that the performers could not turn en pointe.

The thunderstorms bring a great and awesome distraction with their primal clash and fray and their looming, suspenseful dark build-up. But whatever relief they deliver is small and fleeting.

I have a cluster of trees in the school across my street with just enough cicadas to make a chorus.

Look at your watch. It does not matter what it says, as every moment in August is a good time for a shower.

They have been issuing lengthy heat advisories: drink plenty of fluids, stay out of the sun, wear loose clothing, check on your neighbors. They should just say: Fuck, it is August in the city.

I know now that Best Buy has the greatest air conditioning, based solely on the arctic blasts jetting from its doorways and spilling onto the concrete like wasted champagne.

Yes, it is August in the city. And I love it.

Tonight, I will have dreams of January.


West Village, January 2009; Leica M6 TTL, 35mm summicron, Kodak Tri-x © Doug Kim