Tension from Anal Beads

“Choke” by Chuck Palahniuk has one of the most artful examples of tension I’ve encountered.

For background, the main character is a sex addict, and is going through a sort of mid life crisis, wherein he craves attention and gets it by pretending to choke on food at restaurants. This and other behavior has him stumbling through the novel trying to find himself, or at least find some purpose other than the occasional orgasm he can coax from other addicts.

In the final fourth of the novel, he is banging a nutjob named Tanya, his “Friday” for the week, “and Tanya means anal.”

While she blows him and pushes a long string of anal beads into his butt, the main character goes into a sort of psychiatric visit state of mind, talking about how he doesn’t care about anything. After getting ten beads in him, Tanya yanks them out and makes him cum so hard he “for serious” feels it. Then, the disaster:

Leaning forward with both my hands spread against the wall, my knees folding a little, I say “easy does it.” I tell Tanya, “You’re not starting a lawn mower.”

And Tanya kneeling under me, still looking at the greasy, stinking balls on the floor, says “Oh boy.” She lifts the string of red rubber balls for me to see, and she says, “There are supposed to be ten.”

There’s only eight and what looks like a lot of empty string.

For context, the main character has talked about hypochondria, impacted colons, bowel blockages, and the like for the entire novel.

And then the novel just moves on. The main character calls a cab and heads off to his next task. The beads are entirely forgotten. He visits his friend who is building a castle in a local neighborhood rock by rock. He visits his mom. And the whole time, the reader can’t help but ask, every page, “But what about the anal beads?!”

Finally, two chapters later,

With the load already building up behind whatever in my guts…

As he talks with a maybe-pregnant girl. And then, again, forgotten, for a page, until

A belch rumbles up from my blockage, and the taste in my mouth is acid.

And the chapter ends. Going forward, the main character reflexively touches, thinks about, pokes, and considers the blockage in his colon, but refused to just go to the hospital and get it taken care of. He goes into detail about medical procedures, and does nothing. He begins treatment for his nymphomania, goes to work, and so on, always with the colon blockage worsening, never treating it. “You don’t look so hot,” his friends say to him. A camera records him and everyone notes how bloated his belly is. He doesn’t eat, he “doesn’t dare” to. He gets arrested. Driven to desperation, he tries to kill himself by choking himself with a ketchup cap. The scene is drawn out. He blacks out, and we get an entire chapter of flashback.

The anal beads are lost inside him about 75% of the way through the book. There are only a few pages left when this happens:

In another minute, the arms come around me from behind. Some police detective is hugging me tight, doublefisting me under the rib cage, breathing into my ear, “breath! Breath, damn it!”

Breathing into my ear, “You’re ok.”

Two arms hug me, lift me off my feet, and a stranger whispers, “You’re going to be fine.”

Periabdominal pressure.

Somebody pounds me on the back the way a doctor pounds a newborn baby, and I let fly with the bottle cap. My bowels burst loose down my pant leg with the two rubber balls and all the shit piled up behind them.

The author leaves us wondering about the anal beads, leaves them on the back of our mind, for 1/4 of his novel. How’s that for a literary device?


Comparing Real Life Dystopias to Fictional Ones

io9 just posted a pretty interesting article on lessons that writers can take from real revolutions and dystopias. For anybody writing dystopic sci-fi, check this out:


Case Study: Dialogue – “The Rosie Project”

“The Rosie Project” by Graeme Simsion is novel about a guy with Asperger’s that doesn’t seem to know he has aspergers,  discovering himself while trying to acquire a wife. Very entertaining and at times hilarious read.

I’m posting about it for the brilliant example of dialogue in the second chapter, but the novel is also a case study in character development and plot progression.

The dialogue is found in a section in which the main character, a professor of genetics, is giving a lecture on Asperger’s disorder, filling in for a friend who was supposed to give the lecture. The audience is Asperger’s afflicted children ages 8-13 and their parents, and a great deal of comedy is derived from the difference in intelligence within these two groups. One parent had asked if Asperger’s caused emotional detachment, which the main character affirmed, but argued that this is not a disadvantage, then provided an example where emotions can cause problems.

Below is the dialogue in question:

“Imagine,” I said, “you’re hiding in a basement. The enemy is searching for you and your friends. Everyone has to keep totally quiet, but your baby is crying.” I did an impression, as Gene would, to make the story more convincing: “Waaaaaa.” I paused dramatically. “You have a gun.”

Hands went up everywhere.

Julie jumped to her feet as I continued. “With a silencer. They’re coming closer. They’re going to kill you all. What do you do? The baby’s screaming–”

The kids couldn’t wait to share their answer. One called out, “Shoot the baby,” and soon they were all shouting, “Shoot the baby, shoot the baby.”

The boy who had asked the genetics question called out, “Shoot the enemy,” and then another said, “Ambush them.”

The suggestions were coming rapidly.

“Use the baby as bait.”

“How many guns do we have?”

“Cover its mouth.”

“How long can it live without air?”

As I had expected, all the ideas came form the Asperger’s “sufferers.” The parents made no constructive suggestions; some even tried to suppress their children’s creativity.

I raised my hands. “Time’s up. Excellent work. All the rational solutions came from the aspies. Everyone else was incapacitated by emotion.”

I like this dialogue block for its rhythm, for starters. Notice the long block of first person dialogue and narrative text, followed by sharp suggestions by the children, capped on the end by another long block of narration. The increase in speed is started with “You have a gun.” The situation escalates visually – “Hands went up everywhere,” “Julie jumped to her feet.”

The dialogue flows well. The reader is taken along with the flow of chants by the kids, “shoot the baby, shoot the baby,” and the absurdity of the situation ensures we are carried straight into the next turn in the flow – “shoot the enemy,” with a bonus italicization for increased sharpness.

The dialogue is hilarious. Comic understatement: “I did an impression as Gene would, to make the story more convincing: “Waaaaa.”” The period at the end, rather than exclamation point, helps us visualize a socially awkward professor going through the motions of social interaction and demonstration without really “getting it.”  Insulting compliments: “All the rational solutions came from the aspies. Everyone else was incapacitated by emotion.” The use of “aspies” would seem insulting, except the kids with Asperger’s don’t care – they are clearly better at solving problems than their parents.

I recommend reading the whole book. It was originally published in ebook format only, which is interesting enough, especially because the author describes the process in short at the end of the novel.

Name Generator

I found this fantastic name generator. It allows you to generate a name based on region, language, culture, and gender. I’ve found some cool ones, and will probably use it to find names for my characters from now on. If you’re stuck with “John, Jane, Charlie,” and “Amadeus” for names, this is for you. The best part is that it can show you name examples from other cultures, great for writing sci-fi.