Exercise: Crampin’ your style, yo

by jonnahzkennedy

Aside from my poor attempt at slang, we need to talk about writing. Again. As always. So, welcome back to the Kennedy Memorial Gym, this is another routine lead by instructor Kennedy. This time, I’m going to be talking to you about crampin’ your style (yo). Hacking your writing, breaking plates, burning bridges, everything, yo. Last year, I read Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King. I thought the book as absolutely awful, especially from such a respected author such as King, specifically for me, as King is my role model and writing rock star. He’s influenced my writing the most and  has taught me a lot of what I know how to do, especialy in the area of style. So when I read Mr. Mercedes, I had high expectations, but I ended up leaving the theater early and hopped over to something else a little bit more exciting, though I guess it wasn’t that good since I forgotw hat it is that I read after that. Mr. Mercedes was definitely a departure to unknown waters for King, as it came off as a half baked novel by a new writing instead of a writer with over 40 years under his belt, and that’s why I walked out. But in hindsight, I think that I can respect King’s effort in trying to hack his style, trying to break the old routine and bring something new to the table. Now, this of course doesn’t mean that I have to like what he tries to do.

Recently, I became a fan of Chuck Palahniuk. I’ve watched as much content on him as possible as I waited for a shipment of his books to arrive, albiet incredibly slowly due to UPS. I listened to him talk about the craft (and this guy knows his stuff, he really is on par with legends who have been doing it for years and are fumbling to hold the ball as they race towards the touchdown, a.k.a. the finish line) and 3 of his stories prior to actually getting to read one of his books. He was the kind of author who I’d been waiting to arrive at the airport for a very long time. He was tsunami that baptized my imagination and allowed me to be reborn as a follower of his. I wanted a writer who pushed boundaries, used unconventional methods to tell a story, and expand the genre that he was writing in, and after reading Pygmy, I definitely know that Chuck is the One. What Chuck does is what all writers should do: fall in love and stay in love by doing as many different things as possible on as many dates as possible while you can. You have to run after the bullets and try to watch them graze you and laugh as you realize you’ve escaped death again.

So what is is that Chuck does exactly? He does what the truly great authors like Faulkner and Hemingway did: he broke writing and made it something new all together, and redefined the genre and the way that we write. We all want to be as great as Hemingway and Faulkner, but we don’t get there by being like them: we get there by not being like them, doing something totally different with the same piece of marble as everyone else. This means, bending and breaking the rules, climbing trees and chopping them down, and digging where you’re not supposed to, driving faster than you’re allowed, and talking a bit louder too.

Homework: write a story like you don’t usually write a story. Do you usually start with action? Start with dialogue, create a long conversation or sequence of dialogue that would usually be action instead. Start with description? Par down your description, turn everything into a one liner. Establish voice first? Destroy this voice and imagine that someone is speaking to you through a loud thunder storm and you can only hear bits and fragments of what they’re saying,and it’s up to you to fill in the blanks. I want you to break all of your own rules as well as the rules you know, and break windows that people usually only look through: everyone always says it was a clear blue day, the sun was out, and I couldn’t be happier. Yeah, well, you know what? Shatter that shit, break it, and turn it into something startlingly terrifying and beautiful all at the same time: take the same thing that everyone always says, and hack it: beautifully ugly. Change punctuation and word choice: instead of writing periods, only write question marks, instead of writing things in perfect order, choose the alternative way to say it that is not grammatically correct. Break. Those. Plates.

And eat off of them too.