yours, tiramisu

never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue

It's Monday, the first day of the first full workweek of the year. Since the holidays finally feel over, I've been thinking about how to structure my days. I originally imagined modeling my day after a normal 9 to 5 to establish a healthy work-life balance by only job hunting during work hours, but after falling asleep in my book a few days ago I realized the arrangement wasn't ideal.

Job hunting is by far the most mindless activity I do. It doesn't make sense for me to dedicate my morning to it, when I feel most awake and could do more mentally demanding tasks like reading or writing. I should only job hunt when I'm too sleepy or tired to read or write, which gives me large chunks of the afternoon and evening to upload resumes and click through questionnaires. So I flipped my original schedule. The first thing I do when I wake up is work for a few hours on my tutoring job, responding to emails and lesson planning. I spend the rest of my morning wakefulness on reading and writing, before applying to jobs in the afternoon and evening.

The job hunt is proving slow. I originally set a goal of applying to ten open positions each day, but I'm finding that number rather unrealistic now. It's hard enough for me to find ten positions I'm remotely qualified for and interested in, let alone apply to them. A surprising number of positions ask for cover letters or responses to supplemental questions too, which makes me question how I balance quality and quantity. Should I ignore, breeze through, or fully focus on openings with time-consuming application processes? I can see the case for each option. On one hand, recruiting is very much a numbers game and the key is to get your foot in as many doors as possible, but if I half-ass everything I could be missing out on valuable opportunities. I'm still undecided on where I stand, but I hope I get some clarity soon because I keep running into applications tedious enough to make me seriously consider giving up midway through.

This might be because I've been focusing my job searching efforts on government jobs. One of my mom's friends works for a government agency and speaks highly of the relatively lax work culture and strong benefits. I'm all for coasting and health insurance so I've been scouring their job board diligently, but looking and applying for government jobs is a royal pain in the rear end. For starters, the job descriptions themselves volunteer scant information: I've applied for jobs at the CIA, NOAA, FAA, and USAF without any idea what kinds of candidates the recruiters were looking for. The salary ranges are laughable, too. From what I can tell, government agencies determine compensation based on pay grades with specific education & experience requirements. But because the descriptions of the grades are so long and jargony, I have little idea which grade I fall into, and I can only go off of the listed overall salary range for the position, which often looks something like $26,498-$198,257. Gee, thanks — can you imagine finding a job with a salary outside those boundaries?

This would all be fine if it were easy to apply, but the applications for government jobs are way harder than their corporate counterparts. They force you through pages of questionnaires for each and every position regarding things like your veteran status and potential pay grade. As if that weren't enough, you will on occasion be asked to upload copies of official college transcripts and government documents like passports, attach cover letters, and respond to supplemental questions. Why did you give me 5,000 characters to write about my interest in the position? Do you think anyone really wants to work as a software developer for the IRS?

On a lighter note, I got to read over some writing samples of my first student. She writes well, enough so that I'll need to put in a good bit of time outside of class thinking about how to make her writing better. I did notice that she breaks Rule 3 and 4 of Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing:

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”...

... he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs.”

Leonard's take is extreme. But I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment: the reader shouldn't notice your dialogue tags.

Dialogue tags are words used to indicate who is speaking. They include “he said,” “she asked,” and “they replied.” While dialogue tags are necessary to avoid confusion, they can become repetitive and distracting if overused.

Instead of using dialogue tags for every line of dialogue, try using action beats to indicate who is speaking. Action beats are actions or descriptions that accompany dialogue, such as “he poured himself a drink” or “she looked out the window.” This not only adds variety to the dialogue but also helps create a mental image of the scene.

Writing dialogue is hard. You don't learn how to do it right in school, and you hardly notice when you see great examples of it in literature. That's what makes it great: when dialogue is done well all you hear is the two characters talking to each other in your head.

Apparently my tutoring company's curriculum doesn't cover the art of dialogue. I hate writing it myself, but I'm musing the idea of writing a basic little syllabus for it. I have some strong opinions about it that I think could be useful to other writers.

#english #life #wordvomit #work #writing