I've noticed that a common theme on the Wayfarer's Tavern is job interviews, unemployment, seeking jobs after college graduation, etc. There's even plenty of individual threads devoted to the subject.
I know someone who works for an HR department and her job is literally to sort through resumes all day, and I've also had great personal success for landing jobs myself. As such, here are some resume tips.
- Leave some white space. This one surprises a lot of people, because generally, the mindset is the more credentials, the better. No one has a perfect-sized resume, and least not one that naturally appears that way without lots of tweaks. Most people either have too few credentials and risk looking unqualified, or they have too many and their resume is either in tiny font, or three pages stapled together. But most of us have had job experience that's related to different areas, so not everything will be relevant to the job you're applying for. If your resume is too long, and your experience as a landscaper isn't relevant to your potential job as a layout editor, don't list it on the resume, and vice versa. However, if your resume is too bare, take these experiences and make them relevant to the job you're seeking. Look for common-denominator skills and how they can transfer from the old job to the new one.
When you're an HR manager who seeks 20 hard-to-read resumes, and then one with plenty of white space, only the relevant info, and font size that's easy to read, guess which one stands out in a good way?
- Avoid TMI. If you were a secretary, and one of your duties was inventing a new spreadsheet layout that everyone in the office adopted, list that - it shows that you're 1) computer-savvy, something employers like, and 2) you know how to innovate and improve the workplace setting. But if you were a secretary, don't list "answered phones, sorted files and typed documents' on the resume as a description of the job.
- Make damn sure your adverbs aren't weak. "Created," "Developed," "Executed," "Led," "Inspired," "Invented," "Managed," "Empowered," "Enabled" etc are all good words. "Had," "Got," "Did," "Made," and the god-awful "was" are words you need to run away from as though they were carriers of pus-causing plague.
- Think about what you can do for the company, and put this in your objective. Some companies want innovation, others want unity, others want tradition; some focus on products, while others focus on relationships; etc. You'll need to study 1) their mission statement, and 2) their corporate culture. This knowledge will impact your objective at the top of the resume as well as the way you position your various experiences (The fact that I'm a fiction writer has actually helped in some interviews. Other interviewees won't care. Learn what the company wants, and what to bring up or not bring up in different situations).
- If you write a cover letter, end with a professionally assertive tone. For example, "I will follow up within the next two weeks about my prospective employment, but until then, feel free to reach me at [phone number" is much better than something like "If you want, you can contact me about my job, if you want to, but you don't have to!" Okay, I am exaggerated on the latter example, but you don't want to come across as timid or afraid. Timid, afraid people don't do well in the workforce.
Feel free to add to the list. This is just some of the ones not as heard about. Of course we all know to dress professionally for interviews, research the company etc so I didn't go into those.
I've seen a lot of blog entries and forum posts about writers' block. I've successfully catapulted myself out of Writers' Block Land many times, and I decided to create a blog entry that's hopefully more helpful than just "try to be more confident and let the ideas flow!" Because we all know that's not useful at all. *Bleck.*
Okay. Here is some tangible advice that you can try. We all have our own preferences, and what works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. However, these tips have helped lots of people in NaNoWriMo write-in events; local writers' meetup events; writing workshop classes; etc. So maybe they are of some good, who knows.
1. Pick a modest daily quota and stick to it. Make the quota small. I.e. if you normally write 1,500 words a day, when not stuck, then set your "stuck quota" to something like 200 or 300 words a day. This is really easy to do - I think it's about two paragraphs - and you'll be able to leave your minimum goal in your wake most days, hence feeling awesome about yourself. Gaining this confidence from getting started will often warm you enough to un-stick you, and working in small increments is what leads to 3,000/day word counts (my record is 7,500 in a sitting). But the key is, you need SMALL goals. If you set out with a plan to write 3,000 words, or even 1,000, all at once, it'll seem like a mountain and you'll feel like crap. It's like working out at the gym: for the first 20 minutes or so it sucks, but you stick with it to try and suck it up past 30. Then another 5 mins, then another 10, etc just to push yourself. But after an hour, when you see something like "900" on the "calories burned" screen, staying on the StairMaster is suddenly much more appealing. Or, to be less drastic, going to a salsa club with line dancing might make you feel awkward for the first 10 minutes, but after that, you're fully confident and into the fun. Forcing yourself to write to a minimum bar, even if you don't feel like it, will more often than not get you out of your worry rut and get your juices flowing. Even if not, say if it's an off day, you'll feel good about yourself for the fact that you got some progress in even though you weren't really feeling it. Because on those days when you're really swamped, you won't be able to realistically do 3,000....but there's no excuse for not setting aside 10 minutes to do 300.
2. Write an exaggerated character. This could mean a sufferer of a painful degree of social awkwardness; an annoying, clingy individual who bugs the crap out of your other characters; a mean old git; a sexist/racist/homophobe or someone else of extreme views that you find offensive; a school bully; a bureaucrat drone who is written more as a satire of bureaucracy than anything else; someone who lacks common sense to the point of comedy; etc. Throwing in an encounter with a person who makes your MCs think "How do I handle this?" will push your character development skills by forcing you to examine and explore how your characters will react when tested. Not just how they react to the addition, but also to each other, themselves, their surroundings, etc. Plus, I know that Satire Mode really gets me into that "hehehe, sock it to 'em" groove of leaning forward, pounding nonstop at the keyboard, and cackling inwardly about what I'm writing. It's just....fun. And even if you don't actually use the scene in your book, it'll still get your creativity flowing.
3. Ease tomorrow's workload. If you have a stiflingly busy week, then pave a path for yourself. Let's say it's a Monday - just do your 300 words (unless you are in the right mode to crank out more words - dear God, don't oppress yourself) and your work for that day, but then do some things that you would have done tomorrow, as well. Then tomorrow's to-do list will be shorter and you'll be more freed up to write.
4. Don't worry about the idea that you might write badly if you write with writers' block. You'll end up tweaking most scenes several times anyway, so what's the big deal? Also, this is used as a lazy-ass excuse far too many times, both with writer's block pauses that last too long and with "aspirers" who put off their first writing projects. All writing consists of 1) writing something; 2) looking it over and tweaking it, and maybe making changes and maybe not depending on whether you are happy with it; and 3) finalizing said tweaks, if needed, until you're happy with it. And then your writing will be good! The only way to be a bad writer is to not write.
5. Listen to music *before* you write. I'm not 100 percent against listening to music while writing, but there are plenty of drawbacks. First off, if you are really into the song, your mind will want to focus on listening to it instead of writing, which will slow down your process. Also, make sure that the lyrics/tone of the song doesn't match too closely with what you're writing. You're writing a story of its own, not written material to accompany a soundtrack. Plus, it'll be jarring if a song sets up the perfect mood, but right in the middle of writing the scene, it changes.
6. Talk to real-life writer friends about your plot holes. When your issue isn't just insecurity about pulling off a scene - it's actually a case of a major, gaping plot hole - talking to writer friends about it helps. Don't get me wrong -- your friends shouldn't spoon-feed solutions or tell you how to write your story -- but the mere act of talking out loud about it will cause ideas to pop up in your head on their own. This is one of the biggest advantages of talking about it in-person as opposed to an online setting where you have to type out your problem. That helps, too, but not to the same degree. And, of course, if your friend can help you flesh out some new idea to close the plot hole, that's even better. (Key word being "help flesh out," not "spoon feed." It's YOUR story, YOU call the shots and do the work).
That's all I can think of at the moment. Really, the only reason why writers' block is such a problem for so many people is because they let it beat them. Don't let it beat you. Get at your keyboard and write. It may feel forced at first but that feeling will go away, and the tips above have helped a lot of people, so they might help you.
A lot of people wonder how to create tones via showing not telling. I.e. if a character feels lost, or sad, or calm, how do you express this without a bunch of infodump sentences beginning with "he felt____," "she thought that___," etc?
The answer is rhetorical devices. This refers to elements including punctuation; word choice; sentence structure; paragraph structure; etc. You're allowed to break the rules of grammar sometimes (like using fragments as sentences if you really, really want an extra-chaotic feeling: this should be used sparingly, though, or else it will lose effect and make you look like a bad writer). But in order to break the rules of grammar, you have to know them first. Make sure you know what you're doing when it comes to the S.P.A.G. aspect of writing. A basic English composition or grammar book will help a lot, if you want or need to brush up.
To proceed, here are some types of rhetorical devices and how to use them. If you can think of more, please feel free to add them in the comments. There's no way I can type them all out, but here are some of the basic ones that I use the most. If you'd like more information beyond this blog post, here's a good place to start: http://www.uky.edu/AS/Classics/rhetoric.html
1. Active/passive voice:
- A general rule of distinction is that a sentence with "is," "was" or any other form of "to be" is in the passive voice. For example, "The officer ticketed the speeder" is written in active voice, and "The speeder was ticketed by the officer" is passive.
If you're striving to create a dynamic tone, you want active voice 99 percent of the time. Passive voice has its time and place when you want to create a detached tone, for example, if the character feels isolated from the setting or from the character(s) around him/her. If it's just simpler to use passive voice, that's fine too - for example, it's fine to say "The chicken was plucked when Joe bought it" instead of "The employers of the meat store had plucked the chicken before Joe bought it."
But if you're writing a fight scene, and it's filled with sentences like "The pain was really bad," "His stomach was punched," etc then chances are it's not good.
This refers to the length and flow of your sentences. Asyndeton refers to prose that's short and choppy, and polysyndeton refers to longer sentences with more clauses (There's a little more to it than that, but I'll explain after the examples).
Asyndeton creates a tone that's hectic, chaotic, fast-moving or desperate. Polysyndeton has a calmer, more meandering feel and helps create the impression that whatever's being described is not a jolting situation of any kind.
"It was my first day of high school, and the sea of strange faces blurred together, but I hoped lunch period wouldn't be too bad."
"It was my first day of high school. The sea of strange faces blurred together. I hoped lunch wouldn't be too bad."
The second has a more desperate/chaotic feel to it, just by the structure, doesn't it?
It's not just about length though...you can use commas, semicolons, dashes etc to cause the breaks, but asyndeton's key feature is that the syntax has a broken feel to it to create a broken tone.
I.e. "It was my first day of school, I looked like crap, I didn't know anyone--their faces blurred together--and today would be hell." It's technically not a short sentence, but it's not all smooth and flowy either. Hence, it is asyndeton.
Also, breaking patterns of any kind in writing will create emphasis on whatever breaks the pattern. If you have a series of polysyndetic sentences, with an asyndetic sentence right after, then that asyndetic sentence is going to have a lot of impact.
This refers to the way your words sound phonetically. Cacophony has a lot of harsh sounds, like "ck," "cr," "qua" etc, and euphony is marked by softer, gentler sounds like "sh," "fl," words with lots of vowels etc. The way the words sound have a psychological effect on people. If you have a copy of any of the "Lord of the Rings" books, look at how the Black Speech of Mordor has a lot of cacophony, while the Elvish languages have a lot of euphony.
4. Parallel Construction:
Setting up a few sentences in a row that all have a repeated element of some kind, whether it's sentence structure, a beginning word or phrase that gets repeated, etc.
The effect of parallel construction is that, when done right, it serves as sort of crescendo, like you're building up for emphasis and the emphasis will fall on whatever breaks the parallel construction pattern. (Just like how an asyndetic sentence after a series of polysyndetic sentences has impact.)
"He walked down the hall; he paused at the door; he braced himself and shoved it open. He reeled back.
The stench hit him with full force."
Two repeated elements: the sentence structure (subject --> verb --> object), and the word "he" at the start.
Anaphora is a specific type of parallel construction in which the repeated element is, specifically, repetition of the beginning word or phrase. Like my example above, and also MLK's "I have a dream" repetition.
Antithesis refers to structuring your sentence, and choosing words, in a way that focuses on opposites. Balance is also a crucial element. Think of an antithesis sentence as a teeter-totter with a fulcrum in the middle, and place the opposites on different sides of the fulcrum. The "halves" of the sentence should be equal in terms of length and setup. You also don't want a lot of excess words.
Antithesis is a good one to use if you want to sound memorable, i.e. if you are writing a wedding toast or eulogy. Not to say that all antithesis are moving and eloquent, of course, but if you are consciously trying to sound eloquent, it's a good tool to use.
"Let's agree to disagree" - single antithesis
"We will fight until they surrender" - double antithesis (we/they; fight/surrender)
"During a dark, cold depression, they found bright, warm happiness" - triple antithesis
I can't judge anyone's story unless I've read it myself. Lots of ideas sound awesome, but are written terribly, so the story sucks. Likewise, lots of ideas seem stupid when summarized, but turn into great stories when you sit down to read them.
With that said, though, certain things I hear about make me shrivel up inside a little bit. One of them is when the author's MC is clearly invincible, to the point where no obstacle can actually threaten him/her. After a while, readers realize that, so they learn there's no reason to fear for the MC. Tension buildups, scary moments and ominous subplots lose all their power. The main character always has an easy way out, hence the name of this blog post and phenomenon.
There's no one-size-fits-all blanket labels for what constitutes "Easy Way Out" writing. I've read stories with mind-reading characters that scream E.W.O., and stories with mind-reading characters that have enough balance and stakes to keep the tension there. It's not about what power or advantage the MC may or may not have; it's whether the author takes effort to counteract this power in some way.
Main characters who have a certain power - be it mind-reading, being able to shapeshift, invisibility, etc - AND can use the given supernatural gift whenever they like with no negative consequence or repercussion - really have no reason to worry about anything. Bad guy coming? Just turn invisible for as long as you want, no big deal. Evil plot going on that you have to fight against? No prob, just read the minds of all the bad guys, then thwarting their plans will be easy!
A few ways to avoid the Easy Way Out effect....
1. Give them limitations. Perhaps they can only use the power a certain amount of hours per day/week/month/lifetime. This will force them to choose very carefully, and not always be able to rely on the power when they might like to.
2. Make the power something that's both a blessing and a curse, depending on circumstance. I.e. shapeshifting into a wildcat would be awesome if it happened in a setting 100 percent controlled by you. But what if you turned into a wildcat at 3 p.m. every Sunday? Depending on what you're doing that Sunday, it could be great...or, it could be a complicated disaster that forces you to figure out some way to cover your ass.
3. Make the powers balanced out. Maybe your powers are only strong enough for use if the rest of your "normal" life is in the tubes. If you've got your stuff together and have positive smoothness in your life, the powers will become latent. You can either have a good supernatural life, or a good regular life, but not both at the exact same time. OR, using your power could detract from some opposite power. For example, using your power to see in the dark will weaken your everyday eyesight, or mind-reading too often will allow other people to gain access to YOUR thoughts. This type of scheme puts checks and balances on the powers, so the MC doesn't Have It All when the timing is Too Convenient and seems like a poorly-thought plot device.
I've read many stories where the MCs have powers. Powers are cool. Just don't let them turn your MC into such a perfect and obviously unbeatable being that the story's suspense is gone, to the point where cheering for them or fearing for their fate are pointless because we know they'll win without any losses anyway.
There's a common type of post that I see frequently that really, really bothers me. It's not a type of thread; rather, it's a type of response often given to developing writers who are still fleshing out their plots and looking for ways to add novelty.
It pisses me off so much to see responses along the lines of "No story idea is truly unique anyway," "Every story idea has been told already, just in a different form," "Everything's just a rehash of something else," etc.
If you are the type who gives these responses, before you zap me with the cattle prod, hear me out. I realize that there are certain structural elements that most stories have in common. For example, most stories have the "motivation point" that causes the MC to step up to the plate and take on whatever role makes him/her the protag. Most stories have a battle/dangerous moment/part where someone dies/etc. Most stories have a tense buildup in the latter half, followed by a climactic sequence and resolution.
But not ALL stories have these, and even if they do, it doesn't mean they can't be unique. That's like saying that no painting can really be unique because they all rely on color patterns. Or that no rock song can be unique because they all (most) contain an electrical guitar riff at some point and because most rock songs have a buildup and a bridge (the bridge is the really intense part about 2/3 of the way through a song). Or that no individual person or animal can be unique because we all have the same biological functions.
We have the writers who paved entirely new genres, and whether or not their work happens to be our cup of tea, we still have to respect them for carving out new territory. Before J.R.R. Tolkien, fantasy was considered solely for children, and was only told in terms of simple folklore and fairy tales. Before S.E. Hinton, realistic young adult fiction didn't really exist, and the only books for teenagers were innocent and sugarcoated (Nancy Drew, the Boxcar Children, etc.) At some point, there was the first mystery novel; the first romance novel; the first horror novel; the first chick lit. Were these all merely spin-offs of other stories, made unique only by the descriptions of places and the names of characters? No. I think not.
Even if you don't pave a new genre, you can still be perfectly unique in whichever area you choose to write. Just because one plot element might be similar to something occurring somewhere else -- i.e. a lot of stories have the element of the protag girl with a crush on a guy friend, or the character archetype of the snooty neighbor/mean popular girl -- it doesn't mean that Story 2 is "just a rehash" of Story 1, or that the plot element will play out in a way even remotely similar to that of the other book.
The only people whose stories aren't unique are the ones who make the conscious effort to comply with "norms" - there should be no such thing as a norm in the world of writing, but many people feel the need to turn other writers' story aspects into set-in-stone precedent, as though we were discussing case law instead of fiction writing. And this brings us to our next topic.
I've noticed that a lot of the people who hand out these "Don't strive for too much novelty, it's all just a rehash anyway" cards are also the ones who say that in order to be published, you have to follow the Cookie Cutter Script. I think you know what I mean by this. The people who cut a certain plot element that they really like, or add a plot element that their story doesn't call for, simply because other successful books happen to have or lack said element. The people who just take published works with a lot of spotlight, like "Twilight" or "LOTR," and retell the exact same story without putting much thought into paving new grounds themselves.
Look, if you want to be a lazy conformist who denies the existence of uniqueness in order to make yourself feel better, fine. But don't shove that mindset -- a nihilistic and anti-individual-potential one -- down the throats of new writers. Some of these writers are young kids, and/or people testing the waters of writing for the first time, still gaining a sense of security in this tough, competitive field. Don't drive them away by sending the message that they have no ability to set new ground.
Most of us writers write because we want to defy the conformity script that other people have described. We want to pave a path rather than follow one. We want to create a world of our own rather than swallow the same rules and norms of everyone else. A writer is supposed to be an individual, and a true individual is not afraid to deviate from standards and light previously unseen sparks.
I cringe to see "writers" who deny this is possible.
Separate names with a comma.