6th March, 2011: I am Jack’s grinding envy

This is what I was supposed to be doing – updating the blog in the AM over coffee (or tea). For some reason it slipped my mind.

So, yesterday was a 2k day on The Suicide Tree. This project – which is just the first few sample chapters – is getting a little larger than I anticipated, but my characters have been misbehaving a little and not following the outline. Actually, that’s not true, they’re doing what they are supposed to do, but they’re talking too much and thinking too much.

What does this mean? Well, two things: that I’ve got strong characters – they’re starting to act and think on their own, which means something is working. Secondly, these sample chapters will need a bit of chopping when it comes to the redraft. This is generally always the case – it’s easier to write too much and carve out something really solid than write not enough and have to patch it up. The old clay on the wheel analogy again. I do need to get this finished, however, and soon. I’ve got about 65,000 words on Hang Wire to write by the end of the month. Also, by the looks of things, I’ve got a couple more things coming in around then that will be new to my schedule, resulting in a few other things being pushed back. This is fine though as it will allow some extra time to get the plot and outline of Night Pictures, the next book, worked out before I start on it. Note to self: find the real title of that book!

Project: The Suicide Tree (post-apocalyptic horror in storm-battered Louisiana)
Words today: 2,034
Words total: 9,113 (sample chapters only, no specific word limit)
Total words for 2011: 75,089

The other day I finished Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. I’m a big fan of the film – it’s in my top five films, easily – and have always meant to read the book. At a hair over 200 pages it’s was a nice, short read while I took a break from Firestarter by Stephen King.

Now, Fight Club is an amazing book. Amazing. In his introduction to King’s Night Shift collection, mystery writer grandmaster John D. MacDonald said “you read everything with grinding envy or a weary contempt”. He’s right, and Fight Club is one of those books that make other writers – like myself – despair. What’s the point in even trying when writers like Palahniuk have a natural talent for words which is part-genetic, part-occult science? Fight Club left me blinking at the page in surprise nearly every time I turned a leaf.

But here’s the thing. The film is better. It’s unusual, I know that. Usually adaptations, whether for TV or the cinema, are very much watered-down versions of the original. Most novels are far too long to adapt fully, resulting in something which is nothing more than an echo or afterimage of the source material. Sometimes adaptations share nothing but the name, diverging a long, long way from the source.

Short stories work better – The Mist, by King again, was made into a fine horror film in 2007. The film does differ from the original, but in this case works better – King himself even said that he liked the ending of the film more than his short story.

And so with Fight Club. Fight Club, the film, is more cohesive and satisfying, and Chuck Palahniuk agrees. As brilliant as the book is – and it is – there are parts where it doesn’t quite flow properly. Palahniuk wrote the book on 10-minute breaks at his day job, sometimes only managing a single sentence a day. While this is a terrific lesson for all writers that anyone and everyone can find the time to write (lack of time being the number one excuse for most people who say they want to write but…), this process sometimes shows up.

The film fixes this. Things which didn’t sit properly in the book were reworked for the film, and improved. Palahniuk himself is on the DVD/Blu-ray commentary along with director David Fincher and stars Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, and he agrees. The film is better than the book. This is particularly evident in the story’s major plot twist (which I won’t reveal here). Although I had seen the film and knew it was coming, in the book it feels very much like an anticlimax. On screen, no matter how many time I watch the film, the twist always makes my head spin. It’s all in the set-up and pacing of the reveal. In the book this is mostly absent.

Of course what you don’t get from the film is some of the breathtaking prose – some of the best bits are in the film, as part of Norton’s narration, but not all of them. This alone makes Fight Club a worthwhile read for anyone, but particularly writers.

Try it. You’ll learn something.