Things I’ve Learned From Books I’ve Read Part 2: Fight Club (Time Travel)

Disclaimer: all books discussed in this weekly column are absolutely wonderful and deserve to be read tens of thousands of times and studied by any and all individuals looking to be a writer.  This, however, doesn’t mean that I own these books or have any right to them at all, besides my owning a copy.  I don’t think I’m in the wrong, reproducing small parts of the books here, as it is for educational purposes.  However, if I’m wrong, or if you have any questions, comments, book suggestions for the column or book/idea recommendations, comment on at the bottom or e-mail me.

In Fight Club, written by Chuck Palahniuk, we follow a no-named protagonist and Tyler Durden as they create Fight Club and later, Project Mayhem, together.

Chapter six of Fight Club was originally written as a short story: an experiment to see if it was possible to cut from scene to scene, to tell a long story out of order and from multiple angles, and still have it make sense to the reader.  Turns out, it was possible.  And it worked brilliantly.

In chapter six of Fight Club, there are four scenes. 

In the first scene, we have our no-named protagonist in a meeting with Microsoft.  This is after Fight Club.  The character is bleeding in his mouth.  He “can wiggle half the teeth in his jaw.”

Second scene, its Tyler and our hero’s first fight.

Third scene, Tyler tells the Fight Club (who meets in the basement of a bar Saturday nights, after its closed) the rules of Fight Club.

Fourth scene, our hero fights.

The best thing about this chapter six, the short story, its told out of order.  If it was in order, it’d go, Tyler and no-name’s first fight.  Then, Tyler telling the Fight Club the rules.  Then, our hero fighting.  Then, our hero reflecting on Fight Club during a presentation with Microsoft.

How boring is that?

What Palahniuk does, he mixes it up.  He takes the chronological deck of cards and shuffles it.

The chapter goes like this: our hero is in a presentation.  The blood in his mouth reminds him of Fight Club.  First and second rule of fight club, you don’t talk about fight club.  Our hero reflects on that.  Our hero talks about his father, what fight club means, and he talks about fighting.  Next, its Tyler and the protagonist’s first fight, before they start fight club.  Then the protagonist is talking like its after a few weeks in fight club.  Then, he’s back in the presentation, and it’s the end of the chapter.

The ability to time travel (this is the term I use, meaning, to tell a story out of chronological order and still have it be effective) when writing is a technique that can be used to liven up almost any set of events.  Also, you can establish something far off in the story chronologically without having to wait for that moment to come.

In chapter six, our protagonist tells us how, in the real world, you see other members of fight club, and you nod to them.  Because you can’t talk about fight club.  It’s the first two rules.  If the starting point of him talking about is during the presentation, this action can be both in the past and in the future.  If the starting point is the earliest part of this chain of events (Tyler and the no-name fighting for the first time), then it will be in the future.

Challenge: try and write a short story out of order.  Or, write a short story chronologically, then go back and shuffle the whole mess up.  Print it out, cut it up, and shuffle up the slips of paper.  Fill in the blank of what it takes to make it work.

The fun part is, well, you’re telling a story without letting the reader know everything about it yet.  Don’t try to the full story till the end, but tell the story like the reader knows what’s going on.  And try to do so without annoying the reader.  Make it fun to read.

If you get it to work, congratulations; you just added another technique to your repertoire of writing skills.  You can never know too many ways to make stories more fun to read than normal

Next week: more Fight Club and incorporating facts.

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