Thursday, October 20, 2011

Chuck Palahniuk - Establishing Authority


*This,thefirstessayinthisseries,isabout"EstablishingAuthority."Onceyouestablishyourauthority,youcantakethereaderanywhere.Thereaderwill trust you, believe you, and you can go anything with the plot.This authority is arguably the most important part of starting your story.ThetwomosteffectivewaysthatIusetoestablishauthorityare:Honestyand frankness.Ordemonstratingknowledge.HeartversusHead.Inthefirstmethod(asdemonstratedintheprecedingessay)youriskrevealingsomethingthatmakesyoulookbad.Youallowyourselftobecomethefoolinsteadofthehero.Andbydoingso,youallowyourreadertoriskbecominginvolved,emotionallyinvolved,inyourstory.Inaway,yourhonestyprovestothereaderthatthestorywillnotbeaboutprovingyourglory.Youadmityourfailuresandweakness,anddoingsoletsyourreaderadmitandac-cepttheirown.Youproveastoryandlife—doesn'thavetobeaboutlooking good.
 4

Thesecondmethodforestablishingauthorityisthroughknow-ledge:Provetoyourreaderthatyou'vedoneyourresearch.Thatyournarratoristhebest,most-qualifiedpersontotellthisstory.Thismethodwon'tengagethereaderemotionally,notliketheHonestymethod,butitcan be impressiveand compelling.To illustrate, the story above is the Heart Method.This essay that follows is more the Head Method.Emotion versus Intellect.InmybookSurvivor,Chapter46istheHeartMethod.Itshowshowthenarratorisrunningafakesuicidehotlineinordertomeetpeopleasdam-agedashimself.ButChapter44withitschorusofobscurehouseholdhints is the Head Method.Again,theHeartMethodimpressesthereaderwithhonestyandvulner-ability.The Head Method impresses the reader with its knowledge.YoucouldarguethatStephenKingusestheHeartMethodmainly.Thewayeachcharacterisintroduced,slowlyandcarefully,topromptthereaderintobondingandfeelingsympathy.It'snotoftenyourunacrossdensethicketsofstatisticsandfacts,insiderknowledgeanddatainaStephen Kingnovel.Amongmyfavoritebooks,Jesus'SonbyDenisJohnsonhasmomentsof-suchbrutal,unflatteringhonesty,thatIwillreaditagainandagain.Andfeel shocked and touched each time.YoucouldalsoarguethatTomClancyusestheHeadMethod.Thewaymilitaryandgovernmentproceduresandtechnologyareusedtoassureareaderthattheprotagonistissmartandtrainedandthereforeworthspending time with. This includes wonderful insider, jargon-y language.Another form of impressing the reader with knowledge.Amongmyfavoritebooks,IIINaturebyJoyWilliamsisfilledwithsuchaburdenofhorribledataaboutthedestructionofthenaturalworldthatreading it is addictive.CraigClevenger'sbook,TheContortionist'sHandbook,alsousesawealthofinformationtoestablishthenarrator'sauthorityasaforgeracriminalsoadeptathisjobthatwecanforgivehiscrimesbecausewe'reso impressed by his obsessive, methodical work habits and skill.Still—HeartorHead—bothmethodsestablishthewriterornarrator'sauthority.Theyengagethereader,andhelpprovetheauthenticityofthestory.Withauthorityinmind,thisseriesofessaysisnottheperfectwaytowritefiction.Thisisonlywhatworksforme.So,please,takeorleave
5

anythingyoureadhere.Ifithelps,useit.Ifnot,thankyouforconsider-ing my view.Thisisn'taboutyou,theauthor,lookinggood.Ormelookinggood.Thisisaboutservingthereaderwithyourmosteffectivestorytelling.Overthenextyear,thisseriesofessayswillcoverafewbasicrulesthatIwishsomeonehadtaughtmeinmyfirstwritingworkshop.Afewrulesthatif appliedwillmakeyourwritingtighter,moreimmediateandmoreeffect-ive.Thereareotherpossiblewaystoestablishyourauthority.Themostpop-ularisbeingClever.Butafterafewminutes,youcantellclevernessis-someonehiding.Someonescaredanddishonestandtryingtodistractyoufromthetruthofanythingthatmatters.Weallknowglib,sillypeoplelikethatandit'samazinghowfasttheirbantercanbecometedi-ousandcruel.Maybeforshortstretches,cleverisentertaining,butitwon'tconvincethereadertosuspendtheirdisbeliefandfollowyouany-where.Anothermethodtoestablishauthorityistojustbullythereader.Tocon-stantlytellthereaderhowtofeel,howtoreact.Tospoonfeedthereadereverythoughtandinsight.Ifyouprovidethereaderwitheverythought,soontheywon'tbeabletothinkandmighttrustyoucompletely.Thisisthatbland,third-person,voice-of-Godwritingyouseesomuch.But, God, thatkind of story can get boring.Anothermethodistocharm,butagain—eventheloveliest,mostlyrical-languagegetsboringafterafewparagraphs.Itstillbecomesaherostory,becauseitshowcasesthewritingandthewriter.Beforethatpoint,youneedtomakesomethinginterestinghappen.Conveyconcretein-formation.So,fornow,let'sconcentrateonestablishingauthoritywitheitherHear-tor Head methods.*Forhomework,pullafewbooksdownofftheshelfandlookforex-amplesoftheHeadorHeartsceneswheretheauthorisestablishingau-thority.Theytendtobeearlyinabook,wheretheauthorityismostneeded. And whereestablishing it won't slow down the escalating plot.Forhomework,writeananecdotethatestablishesyourauthoritywithhonestyandvulnerability.Forthis,risktellingapainful,embarrassingstory.Thestoryofascarorahumiliation.Thegloryofthisriskishowitpromptsotherpeopletorisktellingtheirownstories,andgivespeople
6


an instantfeeling of freedom and relief.Then,writeananecdotethatestablishesauthorityusingknowledgean-ddata.Youmighthavetodosomeresearchtoestablisha"bodyofknow-ledge."Onegoodmethodistomeetandcasuallyinterviewsomeone-aboutwhattheyknowbesttypically,whattheydoforaliving.You'IInoticethatpeoplealwayslookwonderful—openandanimatedwhenthey speakwith the authority of their profession.


No comments:

Post a Comment