New Craft Essay - 'Consider This: Coping'
When historians look back on our generation's most prolific writers of fiction, names like Stephen King, Elmore Leonard, and Kurt Vonnegut will be at the top. But another name for that list is our own Chuck Palahniuk. Where I believe Chuck has those other names beat, is in the many different formats of writing he dips his toes into. Besides novels, Chuck has also dabbled in journalism, tour guides, and short stories. Though where he reigns supreme is in the craft essay. Many years ago, Chuck took over this site and its existing writers workshop with the posting of a new craft essay every month. The essays were designed to teach writers his craft, while also handing out a homework assignment. Writers in our workshop utilized the tools Chuck taught and applied them to their own stories. And after years of this, the best of these stories were honed down to an anthology (Burnt Tongues: Stories, due out this August).
Now, in 2014, Chuck has returned with a new series of craft essays, the first of which is available today. These essays will have no certain timeline or schedule. We don't know for sure when Chuck will submit them, nor how many there will be. We also don't have any current plans to release another anthology here. But here's what we can tell you: the essays will be hosted at our sister-site LitReactor.com. They will be available there initially for Premium Members only. One month later, they will be "unlocked" and made available to all, for free. So if you want them right when they post, simply join LitReactor's prememium membership. This membership not only grants you full access to all 36 of Chuck's previous craft essays, but also allows you to submit your own writing to their ground-breaking writers workshop.
For now, here's a teaser of Chuck's first new essay "Consider This: Coping." If you want to read the full essay, simply join LitReactor today. If you're already a member there, follow the link at the bottom for the complete essay.
Let’s start with a secret about Suzy Vitello.
In her own mind, she’s really three people. One person is Suzy who exists in the present moment. Another is the Suzy who existed three days earlier. The last person is the Suzy who will exist three days in the future.
In any immediate crisis, she can choose to be either the past or the future Suzy. Three days earlier, the crisis didn’t exist. Three days from now, the crisis will be lessened or resolved. This gives her perspective and prevents her from reacting too brashly in the moment. Stressful events come and go, but Suzy – she reminds herself – is eternal. Being three people gives her stability. Like a three-legged stool. It’s a wonderful coping strategy.
She explained this concept of herself to me decades ago, in the early 1990’s in Tom Spanbauer’s writing workshop. There, she also just so happened to be writing a novel about a young woman who was subject to schizophrenic episodes where two seemingly alter egos offered her advice. Twenty years later, her novel is still forthcoming.
Suzy’s coping strategy has always stayed with me. At this moment I’m at home, trapped by a snowstorm, miles from anyone. I have enough wood to heat the house for two more days, and the prediction is for warmer weather by then. Rather than fret about my solitary confinement – without even a dog – I imagine myself three days in either the past or the future. Three days ago, I was eating lunch with an editor from Dark Horse Comics. Three days from now I will be at UPS mailing 50 bloody severed (fake) hands to a bookstore in Seattle.
Suzy has given me something that a good book/story should always give to a reader: A concept… a strategy… a way to cope.
It’s not difficult to imagine that Suzy’s concept led to me creating the Tyler Durden alter ego in Fight Club. Beyond fractured personalities, let’s consider two other ways in which characters can react to the unbearable crisis of the moment.