Monday, April 22, 2013

Can a Story Change Your Life? - Series Introduction

Is there a kind of story so good - so well executed, so resoundingly right and true - that it makes you a better person for having encountered it?  I think there is.  And I believe that anyone who's ever aspired to become a storyteller - whether as a writer, illustrator, director, or other creator - can attribute that ambition to at least one such story.  A story that bowls you over, that makes you stop and take renewed stock of your life and the world around you.  A story that forces you to reevaluate your goals and outlook.

A story's poignancy isn't determined by its own merits alone.  To work properly, a story has to open up a line of communication between its author and its audience - a kind of one-way dialogue made up entirely of action-and-reaction - the results of which rests most heavily on the audience's reaction.  In order for a story to have the kind of impact that can alter a person's life, it has to resound in the specific ways and areas that resonate with the fixtures of a person's values and beliefs.  That a story crafted by one isolated individual could achieve such a resonance with another person across time and space is itself a minor miracle.  That also means that a story that inspires and impacts one person might not reach another - at least not to the same extent.  A story's effect on an audience member falls on a continuum, and no confluence of author-story-and-audience ever falls on the exact same spot.

This dampens somewhat the usefulness of pointing out specific examples that have made an impact on me.  There's no guarantee that what I've found to be poignant and influential will have the same effect on anyone else.  But I think illustration by example may be the most accessible way to demonstrate how this miraculous conflux of entities - which is, I think, the ultimate goal of any storyteller worth his or her salt - can occur.

Accordingly, this series of posts will introduce the stories that have made this sort of lasting impact on me, and the path that has led me to where I am today.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Link Between Resume Writing and Fiction Writing

Good writing centers on effective communication.  The central paradox of any work of art - whether a book, a painting, a sculpture, or a motion picture - is that it brings together the minds of its creator and the minds of its audience - sometimes so closely or profoundly that the former influences the latter in a life-altering way - even though the two parties may never meet.  More purpose-driven writing such as memoranda, reports, essays, and even resumes and curricula vitae also hinge on the clear conveyance of the writer's expression - his or her core message - but through avenues that, when successful, lead to direct interaction with intended audiences:  in a resume's case, the job interview.

So what message must a resume convey to secure a spot at the interview table?  The answer depends on another question:  who exactly is the interviewer looking for?  Or, more precisely, what qualities does he or she value above all others for the specific role to be filled?

It boils down to knowing the audience and their expectations.  Just as you'd want to read science fiction or fantasy to be familiar enough with the genre's tropes to know how to use them - and when to break them - before writing professionally for science fiction or fantasy markets, you need to gauge what the employer is looking for in their expected hire, and tailor your resume to match those expectations as closely as possible.

The first step is scrutinizing the job posting.  What will the new hire be responsible for?  What do the education or experience requirements say about the qualities or skills that the employer wants to see?  To what extent can your own experiences and abilities match up with what they're looking for?

At this stage in the process, it may also be wise to consider how closely the job description matches what you're looking for yourself.  If the divide between the lines on your resume and the job description is wide, will you be comfortable bridging that gap if the employer chose you for the job? 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Tools of the Trade: Sketchbooks

In my initial drafts, setting and description often take a back seat to character, action, and dialogue.  Milieu details, therefore, often occupy a prominent spot on my redrafting checklist.  Sometimes you can work out the placement of a scene in your head.  But sometimes the arrangement of a scene requires mapping out to get it just right.  That's where today's Tool of the Trade comes in:  the sketchbook.

Three of my favorite sketchbooks:  Two 9" x 12" Cansons and a B5  Deleter sketchbook mini.

The usefulness of a conducive piece of paper - sized according to your specific needs - comes into play especially when you're dealing with fantastic or sf elements that simply don't exist in the real world.  Case in point:  a short story I've been working on that takes place on an O'Neill-cylinder-style space station.  The climax, which once took place in a deserted industrial district - just like any you'd find on a planet - has moved to a observation "ring" that overlooks the cylinder's interior:

A bare-bones line sketch viewpoint shot of the observation "ring" - which  might eventually be fleshed out into concept art.

I found I couldn't wrap my head around the arrangement and logistics of the climax without drawing out some references first.  In more terrestrial situations, even an overhead two-dimensional map could go a long way to sorting out venues.  In Characters and Viewpoint, Orson Scott Card revealed that the entire premise of Hart's Hope came from a gate-dominated city map he doodled one day.

The more I've worked on my writing and drawing techniques, the more I've found that each sphere of creation resonates with one another; that lessons of technique from one strangely reinforce and point toward lessons in the other.  If nothing else, the deeper you delve into either craft, the more you realize you have left to learn.