Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Great Resource for Editing Your Writing

A friend directed me to an essay by Chuck Palahniuk, Nuts And Bolts: "Thought" Verbs, about showing versus telling. Actually, I’ve come across it before, but today, I thought it would be useful to mention here in this blog.

The point of Palahniuk’s essay is to train the writer to stop using words like thinks, knows, understands, realizes, believes, wants, remembers, imagines or desires, which are intangible, and instead, use words that show the physical action or details.

It’s a lesson we all need, and he even gives homework! So, check out the essay here and let me know your plans. Do you already do this and if so, how? Are you going to try his homework? And if you want, leave a “before” and “after” example in the comments section.

Good luck!


  1. I couldn't get the link to open, but it sounds like a great essay.

    In my local RWA chapter we call those words 'intruders'. They tend to take you out of the POV of the character whose head you're in, and in the process they disrupt the flow of the story.

  2. Seems you have to be a member of the workshop to access the article.
    While I tend to agree with the general premise of avoiding these words, there's also a danger of cluttering up your writing with too many 'actions' in order to avoid them! I've read a manuscript where the author took this advice literally, and all the resulting actions wore me out, as the characters always seemed to be doing something instead of simply 'thinking'!

  3. When I click on "here" it brings me right to the article. You don't have to join anything.

  4. Here's the link: http://litreactor.com/essays/chuck-palahniuk/nuts-and-bolts-“thought”-verbs

  5. Will give this a try.

    Thanks jennifer for sharing this worthy piece of information :)

  6. Ah, didn't realise the word 'here' was the link!
    I read the article, and my first reaction to the 'unpacked' paragraphs (I have to admit!) was 'Ugh - so unnecessarily wordy!' And I totally cringed at the phrase 'Gwen was always leaned again his locker' - eek, and double eek!! Inanimate objects may be leaned against something, a person leans! (unless someone props them up or forcibly sits them down!)
    At the same time, I understood what he was trying to say - but I would still maintain there are times when it's better to get straight to the point and say 'she thought' or 'he knew'!

  7. Yes, Paula, I agree with you. But I do like the exercise and I think it's helpful to try. Of course, it's always wise to be judicious in how many changes we make to our word choices. Just like you want to have exactly the right action word, sometimes you want to have exactly the right "thought' word.

  8. Agree, Jen - and I've just deleted/changed a lot of 'thought' words from my ms (as well as other repeat words and phrases!
    It's occurred to me that some of the examples he uses refer to a character 'thinking' about the past. If you're in the character's POV, you can go straight into the thoughts, without the introductory sentence. Phrasing is everything!
    But thanks for the link. It certainly provided food for 'thought' (ha!), even if I didn't agree with it all.

  9. He has some good points. His challenge seems like advice one should make a habit of. Thanks for this, Jen!!

  10. Must confess a writing 'adviser' who uses the phrase 'she was leaned against' immediately loses all credibility with me! I really cannot stomach phrases like 'she was sat' or 'he was stood' etc. I recall my English teacher (many many years ago!) saying "only a dummy is 'sat' or 'stood' anywhere. A person sits or stands". If this makes me a grammar Nazi, then so be it!