A Practice for Unpacking

Fame author Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club and Rant) recently wrote an inspiring piece for Lit Reactor, Nuts and Bolts: Thoughts Verbs. In the article he argued that the so-called “thought verbs” such as Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, Love and hate, etc., could limit a story’s character development or fritter away the potential for plot expansion. He would like us to “unpack” when it comes to description: do the legwork and take no shortcuts. Instead of saying “Lisa hated Tom” like a statement for thesis, we should try to present each piece of evidence, detail by detail, like a lawyer in court.

At the end of the article, he listed some homework for practice, and I want to take on the challenge. He also encouraged: “Be ruthless”.

Here they are—

  • “Marty imagined fish, jumping in the moonlight…”
  • “Nancy recalled the way the wine tasted…”
  • “Larry knew he was a dead man…”


Marty was on the way to fishing when the accident happened: He was preoccupied with some radio program discussing the pros and cons of divorce, while his car brushed against a moving moped on the side, prodding the rider away from her seat. She was flying briefly in the air, and her metal helmet gleamed in the sun. The reflective glitter made his eyes squint, his breath pause for a split second, before it pulled his consciousness back to what was happening in front his eyes.


The 2003 Château Ramage underscored fruity flavors, low in tannins, and concentrated on a medium note of fullness. It was mellow, ripe, profound with cedar wood, cassis, and liquorice complexity. Nancy poured some, took a sip and closed her eyes. The image of her childhood vineyard appeared, filled with rows of dark merlot grapes. The gun in her other hand slowly waltzed away to the ground.


The siren blare got louder minute by minute, jabbing Larry to find the right window for observation and counter attack. He knelt down to replenish his Daewoo K3 and gave a quick span across every shivering body in the embassy. They all lay prostrate on the floor so he didn’t need to see the faces. He already accomplished the mission of disposing that pigsty ambassador. He was waiting for the best time to detonate the bombs taped in front of his front torso. The approaching sirens would be his signal.

What will you do to unpack these three thought verbs’ sentences? Let’s practice together!


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