What I Learned From Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk looks like a man from 1960s middle America.  He’s tall, lanky, and clean cut.  His thick glasses make him look like a nerd that plugs away at a boring job for his nice wife, cute kids and white picket fence.

You would never know by looking at him that this is the sick fuck* who wrote Choke, Snuff, Invisible Monsters, and of course Fight Club.

Back in 2012, when he was promoting the redux of Invisible Monsters, he handed out stuffed tigers to anyone who could answer trivia questions about his books, or make a baby out of a balloon.  If he had to swap lives with one of his characters, it would never be Tyler Durden.  He would rather be Denny.  He has infinitely more compassion for sweet, simple people who live normal lives.  There were a few wild stories involving Ambien and sandwich meat, and the Cacophony Society — where a bunch of guys would get together for four hours on a Saturday and the normal rules of interaction wouldn’t apply (known as a liminoid event).

The majority of his talk was not about the strange, the grotesque, or the chaotic.  It was about structure, form, and how to vet ideas for books.

He’s been meeting every Monday with the same group of writers since 1990.  When one of the members was diagnosed with terminal cancer, they even went to the hospice and held workshop there.  I don’t think it’s a cosmic accident that our sister group in Seattle is called “Write Club.”  His ideas resonate and reflect our experience.

His most striking suggestion was to take your idea to a party and see if it resonates with people.  Most people have experienced hazing.  Most people have experienced a horrible boss.  That’s why Fight Club was so successful as an idea.  We all want to escape the normal day-job life.  We’ve all had that roommate who does off-the-wall stuff that makes our lives hellish.

When you’re thinking of an idea for a story.  Tell it to someone else.  If they respond with, “Oh my god, me too!  This one time (blah blah blah)” then you’re definitely on to something.


“Next time you see a narrative, ask, “where’s the clock?”  Our clock is fifty stuffed tigers.  [Or] Peetie the cat can’t die until he eats all this cat food.  When the cat food runs out, you know Peetie is dead.”  – Chuck Palahniuk, 7/16/12 Castro Theater

Comedy is denying the drama of horrific things.”  – Chuck Palahniuk, “Choke” Commentary

If one aspect is good, take that aspect to a party and see if it resonates with people.  Not so people shut down and go “oo!”, but the one that makes everyone tell their own version.  Don’t just work from your own experience.  Exploit everyone around you.” 
– Chuck Palahniuk, 7/16/12 Castro Theater


*so to speak


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