6 Things Learned After 6 Months Graduated

If you, like me, are recently graduated and work a 5-day week, you may find yourself spending Friday nights in the corner of the local, hand wrapped around a pint, looking for solace at the end of the glass. That sentiment might sound a tad worrying, maybe even a little problematic, especially if one night lasts a whole weekend. But it’s a ritual some adhere to all the same. Next time you find yourself there, take a sip of your drink and steal a quick glance around you. You may realise you’re not the only one in the real world.

Most likely you’re just the newest.

The reason I’m opening this blog post in the drunk-warm comfort of a pub is because that’s where the idea for it came from. Over the last few weeks, talk at the bar always seems to turn to finishing college, moving on, growing up. Life (the adult mode at least), feels a lot like the big city, that promised land at the end of the highway. It’s a world of car horns and neon lights and ears ringing at 2 a.m. Paradise, sort of.

Yet all we think about are the broken fences and the dry grasses and the dust coughing in our engine as we pull out of that small town called home.

But we’re graduated, and since so many friends asked for it, here are the biggest changes I’ve noticed since I too packed up and left for the big city.

1.You die for the weekdays

I always wondered about this “live for the weekend” hype I saw in Hollywood movies and television and the lives of every other human around me. Newly graduated, youth on my side (ish), I decided this wouldn’t be me. So for the first few weeks I grabbed dinner with friends, stayed up late, went out on a Wednesday night. Then the workiness of work (which is surprisingly high) hit me like a freight train. There really are some nights where you just come home, collapse onto the couch, and wait for hunger to move you. It’s not that work is tiring per se, but there’s just so much of it, and it keeps coming, and it never seems to be done. You cut down one work and six take its place. Makes you feel like Hercules fighting a hydra except you’re not Greek and the only things you lift are pizzas out of the oven. When you were a child, you’d be fully awake by 9, battery life of about twelve hours. Now you’re an IPhone 4 that’s changed hands a couple times. You might be functional by midday. By five o’clock, screen’s gone cold.

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With such little energy, meeting friends becomes difficult, leaving only the dark side of the weekend (the part where you’re not passed out in bed) for some semblance of a social life. Which brings me onto my next point….

2.”Is there anybody alive out there? Can anyone hear me?”

Haha, lol. Yes, that’s a Titanic quote. But come back and laugh a year after graduation when a boat full of friends floats by and you dump your responsibilities in the Atlantic (sorry Jack, should have got on the door) so you can blow a whistle and hope somebody sees you. Ya, that’s pretty much your standard group chat.

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The scariest thing about finishing college is that you realise how most of your friendships lived off convenience. Now, cut off from their supply, those same friendships go cold turkey and you don’t see your xox besto for six months at a time. When you do, they’re as you expect, rabid and living in the gutter  awkward if you strike up a conversation at all. Think of it this way, for the last four or so years your top 50, 100, maybe even 200 friends were all contained daily within a square mile radius. Now, someone puts them in a cannon and fires them all over the world. I have friends in London, the United States, even a few in the Midlands (I mean seriously, is that even on the map??).

Sadly, you quickly realise you don’t have time to keep up with everyone. Even if you do, they’re most likely not free. And so quietly, and without much fuss, you sort of just lose a few people, a bit like your social life dying of old age. By the time you take stock of the situation, you probably have two groups left, one from home and one from college. If possible, merge them. Safety in numbers. It’s dark out there in the real world.

3.Free time is actually v. expensive no joke

Now that you’ve rounded up the survivors of your life before the apocalypse, you realise the world is crawling with zombies. And you have to pay for them to eat you.

Honestly, nothing is as gut-checking as earning more money than you ever have before, yet still coming up empty. It’s as if you work 40 or so hours a week just to enjoy the thrill of handing out as much money as possible in the four hours after you get paid. And everyone is nudging each other out of the way to get to you first. Since when does coffee cost half an hour of work? Why does the car have such expensive taste?

4.If it’s applicable, it matters. If it ain’t? *shrugs*

A lot of graduates are shocked to find out nobody gives a flying fuck about the time they organised a coffee morning for AdoptATiger.com. Why? Because your boss sells insurance to young, mostly not-tiger, Irish people. Unless evidence surfaces that dwindling tiger numbers are related to road traffic accidents (Ahh, I can’t take it. Such a majestic animal *turns wheel sharply*), then you’d best leave your little token charity points at the door. That goes for, well, most extracurriculars really. If you can relate your love of volleyball back to your work in a call centre, then by all means spike Seamus from the Finance Department to your heart’s content. If you can’t, don’t think selling it in your interview is going to wow employers as though the concept of hobbies is simply beyond them.

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I sat on maybe a dozen committees in my undergrad, but unlike a solid half of other students, I did it because I enjoyed it, not as some sort of promo video for my CV. Of course, relevant extracurriculars do look great, but as the old saying goes: “If you’re actually full of shit, you will be found out in the end (probs :P)”.

5.Success just ain’t what it used to be

By age 22 or so, you probably thought you had success all figured out. Maybe thought you had it placed in a nice little box, wrapped with a neat purple bow. But you haven’t. Success, much like a Games of Thrones character, is very grey, and just when you think you’ve grasped it, it’s gonna turn around and stab Robb Stark in the stomach (spoiler?).

In school and in college, we’re all pitted against each other, ranked on some sort of scale, given a tasty treat if we sit when we’re told to. In life, there are no such Pedigree Jumbones. There are way too many variables to ever truly know who made it and who ended up crying in their car outside work because their boss called them “the new girl” again after SIXTEEN YEARS. Ahem, anyway, success in the adult world is something that just can’t be defined. LinkedIn would want you to believe so, but everyone is a freak on LinkedIn (me included). I mean for Christ’s sake, Colm, you work as a network engineer in Meath. Why are you adding me?!?

In the end, only you can truly define your own success, your happiness, your satisfaction with your career and personal life. If you have a passion, you should probably chase it, unless it’s like, illegal, in which case you should just take up scrapbooking or something.

And it’s on such a note I leave you….

6.Hope

Leaving undergrad is a weird experience. It’s not quite “Naww you were in sixth class now you’re a little first year”, more “You used to eat chicken rolls daily now you genuinely laugh when your colleague says ‘Is it Friday yet?'”

But it’s not a bad change. Just a change. And like all transitions, you just have to roll with it, hope things level out and that you’ll be able to afford healthcare.

I leave you with a quote by a talentless hack hopeful writer.

A single, honest, familiar-face choice. That’s all there ever is. That’s all there ever will be, and it’s as easy as who you are.

In Defence of Worldbuilding

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*The following post involves a terrifying amount of burger/restaurant metaphor*

The last book you read involved worldbuilding. There, I said it.

What’s world building? Well, it’s quite simple. It is literally the process of creating a world for an art form to take place in. Every novel has to have a world, whether it’s Earth or not. World building doesn’t just include the actual physical setting e.g. Hogwarts or Panem, but actually goes much deeper than that.

If you think of the physical setting as a burger bun, then the rest of world building is all that juicy meat and salad that sits right in the middle. I mean sure, the bun is necessary to hold it all together, but when was the last time your stomach really growled over two pieces of bread with a couple sesame seeds on top? What you want is the filling, right?

The filling of a world, however, is seen in the little things: why does nobody walk down 2nd street at night? Why is the grass blue by the lake? How do you get elected to government in the country?

Of course, government is a “big thing”,but in the grand scheme of a novel it could only be a minor feature.

Another question readers commonly have is not what’s in the proverbial burger, but why are we cooking it at all in the first place?

World building is something stereotypically associated with fantasy or sci-fi novels, where in many cases authors have a blank canvas in front of them and just have to dive in and start somewhere. It’s thought that fantasy authors waste hours and hours drooling over languages and maps and leave little time for an actual story to develop. This is an understandable assumption, but one that leaves a lot of novels outside these genres suffering from terrible foundations. It’s all-too-easy for an author in general fiction or romance to play into this and forgo basic research or background detail in favour of characterisation or plot.

But while many readers might argue they never pay much attention to the details built into a world, it is usually the case that the best writers blend these features so seamlessly into a story that the reader often doesn’t even notice they’re there. Instead they get a kind of subconscious knowledge of the world. It’s a bit like Inception. A good book kind of makes you feel like you are in the world and that it was your desire to be there, not the writer’s skill, that got you there. It’s like the waiter telling you he brought you the vegetarian option by mistake right after you’ve tossed aside your napkin thinking you just wolfed down a quarter pounder and cheese. Sure, you feel aggrieved you weren’t right, but didn’t you enjoy it all anyway?  Didn’t all those details taste so good, regardless of whether you profess to like them or not?

That’s what good world building does. But why talk about all the good burgers (reference noted) when it’s the blackened ruins you remember more? So instead of trying to defend world building by showing you the best thing on the menu, I’m gonna go right ahead and point out a few ways you might ruin a summer BBQ and piss off a lot of readers as a result.

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1) “I have bacon and cheese and tomato and lettuce and hot sauce and jalapenos and…and….and”

Nothing says bad world building like not knowing where to draw the line. One minute you’re wondering how big your city is, and the next you’re trying to figure out which tattoos the Grim Gang get when one of their members gets killed. Who are the Grim Gang? I don’t know-literally just made them up. My point is it’s very easy for good and bad writers to just forget they were in the middle of a story and fall into the pit of “well I can make FOUR gangs where you only had three. I must be better”. Details aren’t merited by their quantity. Any good reader wants something a) innovative and b) well presented, which leads me onto my next point

2)”Can I get you something to drink? By the way the special is a chicken fillet burger”

Your details are only as good as your delivery, and all that excellent creative ability goes to waste if you just walk around the restaurant that is your novel shouting “THE SPECIAL IS CHICKEN FILLET”. Maybe the reader might catch on you’re forcing the point.

What you want is for them to spy it on the corner of the menu, or catch a glimpse of it on a sign on the way in. Make the reader feel it is almost hidden; almost left in by accident rather than you just screaming it in their face. They’re a lot of ways a writer can dangle out this “oops did I mention that my apologies” hook, like blurring details into dialogue rather than narration, or creating plot strings that might nudge in a couple aspects of your world into the reader’s field of vision. Whatever option you choose, it’s important to remember to mix it up. Even when you use a trick, if it’s consistent throughout a novel it eventually becomes predictable and a little annoying.

3)”Let me take your coat. By the way the dessert is pavlova”

Dear God, your reader has only sat down for their dinner and already you’re telling them about dessert menus and the service charge. Slow it down there. I mean, those details weren’t even in the original burger metaphor so this is clearly world building out of control. This is referred to in world building circles *adjusts glasses* as infodumping. Infodumping is where you have a large amount of detail the reader needs to grasp the story but rather than dole it out piece by piece you just want to bring them the entire four course dinner (burger et al) to their table at once and hope they don’t kick up a fuss about it. Long story short, they usually do. Good writers use the length of their novel to their advantage. I’ve read a lot of novels lately that have been exploiting infodumping to appeal to a select portion of readers who collect facts about a world like gold dust. Most people won’t enjoy the overload though, so best to leave the bill at least until after they’ve finished their soup.

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4)”The bun is bread. Bread is flour. Flour is wheat. Wheat is cereal…”

This kind of ties in with number one, but here the problem isn’t the amount of stuff you’re packing into the burger as much as how much you’re talking about that damn burger. Think of it like a menu listing. A good menu quips a short two-liner on each item, and that seems to be enough to grab the attention of 99% of restaurant goers. What you want to avoid as a writer is writing a page on every single ingredient like people will flip out if they don’t know. You have to give the customer some credit (warning don’t give them real credit you need money). All readers/ customers are coming into your novel with a basic working knowledge, and if you keep spoonfeeding them they’re gonna want to punch you at some point (love how spoonfeeding works for restaurants here too, as an aside).

5)”Ya so that’s the burger. Meat and bun.”

As a converse to number four, don’t skim all the way back either. You still want your burger to be juicy and palatable. So invest your time in innovating. Bacon in a burger? Game changer. Somebody must have come up with it. The same goes for world building. Fan-favourites such as dragons and alternative universes all had to have started somewhere. So as a writer, try be the somewhere. If you want your world to be more than just a burger, then go ahead and start creating. At the end of the day, you’ll always find people who’ll eat it. Don’t try cook your burger like the place down the street just because they seem to have a staple crowd. For whatever reason, in a lot of cases people just won’t buy yours.

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6) “This is red onion not white onion?”

One of the biggest parts of world building is keeping a tab on it. Just go ask G.R.R Martin how his burger is coming along. You best believe he has to use one of those fancy sticks to keep that mess together. Anyway, if you want to keep a reader in that state of “oh I’m in a restaurant this is great I’m not paying through the roof for this” (commonly referred to as a state of disbelief), then you have to be bringing your A-game. No chef likes to see a burger come back in the door of the kitchen in the hands of a startled waiter. If you’re gonna do it, do it right the first time. Keep accurate accounts of place names, maps, customs etc etc. Don’t try keep all the ingredients in your head. Write down anything you need for your novel and if it relates to anything else, then make a note of that too. It’s usually something really stupid you mess up e.g. red onion-white onion (seen in a novel for example as somebody travelling 100 miles far too fast). It’s very rare you actually are so clued out that you forget the actual burger.

So, as you can see, creating a world isn’t as easy as bun, meat, salad, bun. It takes a good bit of prep work and if not done right can literally blow up right in your face. The best way to move forward is have a system and stick to it (but hey, still leave room for a little flair here and there). World building is a wonderful tool to have as a writer, and one that a lot of readers (either consciously or subconsciously) will welcome time and time again. No matter what genre you’re in, consider it a valid part of your work and invest time into making the all important transition from built-world to world-in-story. Remember, those burgers won’t cook themselves.

Order up!

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Tips on how to reduce your procrastination for study

Fairly self explanatory, we all do it. In fact I’m in the library right now doing it in all fairness. Study can be interesting, but even interesting might not be enough to convince you to take on such a task. Exercise is fun too, but its the thought of effort that puts us off more than the actual act. Over the years I’ve put up with enough of my own procrastination to know where everybody stands, and so I’m gonna share a couple things that have worked for me when it really mattered.

1. Stop telling yourself something is unimportant

Maybe it’s a small essay or a presentation, but it still matters. Telling yourself you won’t need to put in effort is a certain predecessor to you actually not putting in any at all. Even for small percentage tests, tell yourself that everything about it is crucial. don’t listen to what anybody else is doing. Find out just how much you need to do and then go do it. 

2. Reward yourself

A common device for avoiding backing out of your studies is treating yourself after. Mostly students use a food item or a night on the town. While that may be good in the short term, try to plan your long term reward system on something healthy and beneficial. If you have a study system, take a day off. If you want to go somewhere or buy something relatively inexpensive, do it. Giving yourself an item to reach is a useful and versatile tool into convincing you to study. What can work better again is having the security that you won’t get what you want unless you put in the work (i.e. have parents/friends assure you they will refuse you that certain present you’ve been planning as your reward).

3. Stop thinking about your procrastination

Procrastination is a ten dollar word every nine year old in the developed world knows. The concept has become so common place that it now is a essential thread of student life and rarely will remain hidden from the guidance books of your place of study. What will guarantee procrastination is thinking about it. Most sufferers tell themselves before the assignment is even started they have no hope. Most will tell all their friends about their procrastination, and try fob off that they are not at all worried. Using the term and the idea of you being stuck in its grasp will only make it worse. Instead, forget about it. Realise that you are fully capable f doing the work and go tackle it.

4. Lose all distractions

A procrastinating student will find distractions with incredible ease. Whether it’s a match, a day out with friends or just a dish that really needs a good scrub, all victims will search out every point of their life to find something to distract from the task. To avoid this, pick a day on which you will work and a time. do not let that time center around anything else but the job at hand. Make sure you can’t be called away or interrupted, as your will will succumb if you even have half a chance at escape. Tell your family or room mates to not disturb you or offer you anything in the form of entertainment. And when you reach your time goal/work load goal, stop. A good first step is to complete just one day’s work level and leave it. You don’t want mad bursts and then the after thought that as a result you won’t need to do anything else.

5. Never take the advice of somebody else doing the work too

We’re all human. As a result although we strive to be honest, helpful and supportive, we mostly end up serving our own desires. How often does a victim of procrastination end up suffering in terms of grades because others dragged them further down. If you have procrastination, do not ask how others are getting on. If you really need help, ask someone who you know will be fully forthcoming about what they have achieved or put in. At all costs avoid people who will only (as is in their human nature) feed you false senses of security about how fine it will all be. You don’t want to be calm as a procrastinating student. You should be worried. These students will most likely fulfill their own work first then find ways to meddle in your own.

6. Find the right balance

A good balance involves knowing at the end of the day that the whole world wasn’t just study. It also involves the knowledge that the work is done. You should be comfortable with your own level of performance. Many procrastinating students will put down their efforts as the process was still daunting. This will not help going forward. Take each small success with renewed expectations, and push to better yourself every time. Procrastination is a long term effect of a short term uncertainty.

 

Reasons your study isn’t increasing your exam marks

I’m going to go and guess that if you’re reading this you already do some level of study for your classes. If you can’t study, or just downright refuse to do so, then this might not be much help. I might write a blog soon for people who struggle with study. This blog is assuming you want to improve though, and in fact have put in some effort to do so in the past. I realise college has just started, and nobody is studying, but the advice works on any scale. Whether it’s a two page assignment, or a 6,000 word project, study skills are equal in nature. If you find yourself struggling to study for smaller tests, it would serve you a lot better to get into good habits for them, so that the larger, more important exams end up being much easier. I’ll write a few of these study guides when I feel like it throughout the year. A lot of the time the disappointing marks you receive don’t boil down to lack of study. In a surprising number of cases, poor percentages stem from inefficient study.

  • You don’t go to class. Class is where you first hear the material. It is free study. It is the information put across to you by an expert in the field. Unless your lecturer is horrible, attend and maximise the hour or so you have there. Take notes and underline to keep up concentration. Listen and watch the display to deduce the important points. Class might also help for detecting exam questions.
  • You don’t think when you study. If you’re just reading the material, you’re gonna be lost. Think about each point and ask yourself do you really get it. Understand first, memorise second. To be honest the more of a subject you understand, the less you actually end up needing to just push into your head the week before the test. Strive to be able to break the material into a form where you could explain it to anybody. This mistake kills about 99.9% of all students. Most never even engage the material when they read over it. For the few who do, a lot still only ask ‘what will come up in the exam?’ Forget the exam (WARNING: do not actually forget exam). Focus on whether or not you actually know what’s in front of you. Look away from the notes and try tell yourself the story of the information there.
  • You aren’t taking breaks. A good time to take breaks is every forty minutes or every hour. Take a fifteen minute break. DO NOT USE IT TO GO ON FACEBOOK. I’m guilty of doing this too, but please try refrain. Get up and walk around. Go get something to eat. Fruits and juices are great sources of sugars that don’t give you the same crash you’ll get from chocolate or sweets.
  • You are picking the wrong time. Study at mid-morning or in the evening. Take a break after classes to allow yourself rest. Tackle study when you are fresh and awake. Late at night is about as useful as when you are sleeping. Yes, that means it is no use at all. A lot of people will vouch for all nighters. I can tel you both as a science enthusiast and someone with ample common sense that you are not functioning anywhere near capacity that late. A good sleep and early study is far far better. Save a late nighter for an emergency if you are unprepared for an exam. Even then, shut everything off and get to bed by midnight.
  • You never heard of extra reading or reading around your topic. Lecture notes are fine. But they’re born and live as concise samples of the material. Only the best get a full understanding out of shortened notes. Most need a slower delivery. That’s where books come in. A book gives it bit by bit. If you do understand the notes, read them anyway. Getting a second view is paramount for top marks and usually gives you a broader source of information to draw from.
  • You are giving in to easy. Will power is paramount with study. I’m not talking about the will to study; I’m referring to the will to give up on your memory. Try to relay lists back to yourself of things you need to know. If you get stuck, don’t look at the screen immediately for the answer. WRONG. Give yourself time, try to remember other things about the precise subject area and you’ll quickly re-jog your memory. If you give in without trying to remember, you’ll put yourself into that mentality for the exam. Remembering rote-learned material is not fun at all. If you’re gonna do it at least challenge yourself.
  • You spend WAY TOO MUCH TIME ORGANISING. This one even kills the smart people. It will slow you down really fast if you let organisation get to you. Should your notes be accessible and in an easy to learn format? YES. Should all the notes have accompanying flash cards, colour co-ordinates, book references and re-written notes? NO!!!!! I can’t emphasise this enough. Do you need flashcards to remember the three roles of x? Maybe. Do you need them to recall the three functions of y? Perhaps. People tend to jump on the bandwagon of flashcards, spider diagrams, pictures and anagrams to avoid what really matters. If you’re just gonna write out the notes again and not even bother thinking about them…GET OUT. I know some very organised people who get high marks because I know that behind it all they do the study. I also know far more people who are very organised who achieve marks that discredit them. Why? Because instead of engaging the material and actively learning, they spend time drawing diagrams for things they don’t understand. Waste of time if you never learn them. SERIOUSLY.
  • You organise too late. There’s no such thing as studying too early. By studying, I mean making all the diagrams and flash cards you want. This is fine. What will ruin your exam is spending the night before an exam re writing your notes. TOO LATE. Unless you have a very high rote-learning potential, you’ve just wasted precious study hours. Your preparation for an exam needs to happen months before you even hear it is scheduled. Whenever you have a chance, take a look at your notes, your book or your handouts and try put them in a form you can understand. Maybe that involves highlighting. Maybe it involves different coloured pens. Whatever it is, do it sooner rather than later and make sure that when you do it; you try your hand at understanding the notes at the same time.
  • You’re cutting things out. A technique that kills any grade is leaving things out of study. If you have a day, cut ,cut,cut!! But we’re talking good study. That involves addressing everything. If I told you to learn about football, you wouldn’t go and leave the goalkeeper out. True I may never ask about the goalkeeeper. But what about the relationship with the defenders? What about the interaction with opposing strikers? The second you start cutting things out; your overall understanding wanes and your grade starts to slide. Try to understand the hard parts. It makes learning the easy parts surprisingly simplistic.
  • You only study when you study. If there’s one thing that makes you get VERY high grades, it’s knowing that the study never really ends. I’m talking a twin method of action. Any time you have something laborious and boring to do; start studying. Have to clean your room? Ask yourself a couple question while you do. Standing around at work bored? Try to remember what you have to do for your organisation. This method is endless. It can extend from thinking about your study when you pass a book in a shop to putting things on your wall and having a quick look before you head out with your friends. It sounds crazy, and in truth it probably is, but I can guarantee the results. It’s basic logic. The longer you commit to a subject; the more you understand it, and the easier it is to study. The easier it is to study; the more you get in before exams and the better your grade is.

That’s enough to get somebody started. I’m gonna post more of these; to be honest all those ones just jumped to mind first. there are far more reasons your study doesn’t work and I’ll try write on it soon.

10 ways you can improve a short story for your english class

What is a short story? Much like judging the pieces themselves, the definition can at times be subjective. In general, we’re talking about something in the range of 1,000-9,000 words, though in cases that word count could shoot up to 20,000. We’re looking at small works of fiction; big enough to be able to stand alone, but short enough so that we really only ever see one or possibly two events. In the teaching of the English language in the modern day, short stories have solidified their position as one of the most viable forms of student essays. Realistically they can provide the greatest creative freedom. Whereas speeches and talks require the laborious task of assuming a formal tone, short stories allow the natural writing style to take control. A young mind is an imaginative mind, and what better way to show that than to bring whole new worlds and characters into being. That being said, even with their growing popularity, the short story is commonly viewed as an easy way out; a short cut to a good grade and an easy option to fall back on in any exam situation. Much of this arises from the vague wording of essay questions. Although a speech questions sets out the immediate issue, a short story may only need to draw on a certain theme or sentence for the chance to evolve. Even in an area of endless possibilities, we as story tellers need to play by the rules of our choice. Playing by some of the rules gets you a good standard. Playing by all of the rules gets you much, much further. As a result I’m gonna try my hand at outlining some key issues, which incidentally are all just falling into my head now.

1. See that dream sequence? It has to go…now.

We’ve all done them. Hopefully the older you get the less it arises. Now, before lovers of a good “I awoke in a sweat” smash their hands onto the keyboard, let me go further on this one. Dream sequences are tools used by some of the best writers around, but it’s where you use them that matters. If you can survey your story, and realise the whole thing works without the dream; cut it out now. Most of these openings only frustrate a reader, who thinks they have been landed in something fantastical and cool, only to find out the author was being very clever and painting a false reality. Also, ‘waking up from a scary dream that may come through later’ screams cliché. Writing a good start to hook the reader is important, but don’t fall back on something just for the sake of that. Basically, a lot of the unnecessary dream sequences run like this;

“I stumbled through the darkness(always dark in these nightmare ones), calling out for help and heaving in big breaths. I started to panic. A menacing laugh (I mean seriously) rang in my ears, and then I saw him (the ‘ole don’t give away the villain’ trick). Suddenly I was falling (they always are). I awoke with a jolt (couldn’t just flick your eyes open?). I was covered in sweat (bit OTT but OK). A light was coming in the window; it was morning (Reader is infuriated at both the trickery of the dream start and how the author must point out the obvious reality that it is morning). I heard my mother call downstairs; I groaned thinking of school (twenty euro says the mother is a single mom and that the male protagonist is unpopular in school). I threw on an old t-shirt and some jeans I found on the floor (why do they always insist on putting on terrible clothes from the floor? Oh yes, as usual, his room is messy).

I’m not going to continue, but the rest of this story always follows like this; ‘grabs toast just after popping because the yellow school bus is outside and he is late and he goes on the bus and averts his gaze from the footballers and sits alone and then his one friend comes on who has something quirky about them or is a nerd’. If your short story is in that format, go kick it across the room right now (DISCLAIMER: piece may be good but at this stage we’ve all seen that a hundred times). At this stage, ye get my point. A dream sequence if not needed wrecks any chance of a good opening, and fixes the idea in the readers mind; “The person who wrote this is a massive Richard” (no nicknames allowed).

2. Character description. Please don’t overload it.

Characters are the most important part of your story. They’re what’s main, what the whole thing revolves around and depends on. If the reader can’t see them, they won’t get very involved in your piece. As a result you need to describe them both physically and mentally (if the protagonist). However this has invariably led to a great deal of over description in many stories. Here’s a simple rule to live by: always think of describing your characters as trying to make a friend recollect someone they vaguely know. You never say to your friend, “Oh you know Peter, the guy with the eyes and the nose?”. Nobody can identify with that. It isn’t discriminating. Think of default on Fifa, and try work around it. What you do say to your friend is, “You know Peter, the guy with the scar by his left eye and the big chin?” granted Peter comes off as a bit of an ugly, violent man, but you see my point. as humans we pick up subtle differentiating characteristics. The only run of the mill things we always need to know are height/build and hair colour. For example, if I tell you I am tall, average build and have dark brown hair, you can surely already get someway towards picturing me. What you never want to do in your English essays is have your character stare into a mirror and go “I saw my hazel hair and my electric blue eyes. I was of average build, but hit the gym when I could. My nose was rather slender and long and my ears stuck out to the same degree as a normal human specimen’s would.” OK, I admit I overdone it near the end, but you see where I’m coming from. Anybody writing first person must NEVER say their hair is hazel or their eyes are electric blue. If someone told me that was their features I’d think, “Wow, what an arrogant Richard (seriously I’m going clean on this one).” Anybody writing 3rd person, keep it simple enough. In a short story we don’t need to picture them as well as you do. Leave some up to the reader. It is unfair to assume the reader can’t fill in some gaps themselves, and thus throw in every fragment of visual imagery you can think of. Hair colour and height are usually a must, unless you state an age and we can assume their build. Eye colour is of variable importance. Just highlight their striking features, and all is fine.

3. Keep the pace consistent

Unless your narrative demands it, don’t go cooling and heating up the pace on those words. We need a heightened pace near the conflict, and especially at the climax. We need a slow pace when we’re aiming towards that. Other than that a consistent pace is expected. Nothing is worse than reading of somebody going into massive detail for the act of pulling on a jumper, only to use three lines to get to school, have classes, and eat lunch. It just doesn’t sit right with the reader. It’s fine to skip the boring parts, but make sure it’s consistent. Don’t tell me “His feet shuffled along the floorboards, making small tapping sounds and coming to a rest in the doorway. The doorway was huge and made of mahogany and slightly worn” only to then say “about four days later”. it should write itself naturally in any case, but sometimes when we get nervous and want to jump to the good part, we take a huge leap and wreck the whole thing. Monitoring the level of detail and keeping an eye on how fast time is passing in-story should sort that out.

4. HAVE CONFLICT

Yes, this is an obvious one, but it would surprise people how many stories an English teacher might laugh at when they realise nothing has happened in the 3,000 words that are there. Conflict is huge in any work of fiction, but in a short story, it may as well be the corner stone. People like small stories because they get a small work load coupled with a nice piece of action. One way this might occur is if you go into too much detail at the start; a common mistake that stems from finding yourself in a new world and wanting to explore it (I admit, everyone does this). Make sure you know what the problem is at the start, and always work towards it. If you’re confident of your ability, you might even throw in subtle hints of what the reader should expect; dropping them into dialogue and making use of literary fancies like pathetic fallacy. OK, so pathetic fallacy might not be SO fancy, but it has pathetic in it, it sounds cool. If you plan ahead, the conflict will always arise, and a good grader will pick up on the fact that you had control of the plot all the way through. Never try squash in your action at the end. What you want there in terms of action may be a twist, but never your main predicament.

5. Little language things that go a long way……to ruining your entire story

Language matters. In some cases, up to half the marks might go to your use of it. I’m not gonna try preach about grammar. I myself struggle with that. But the control of your language is VERY important, especially in short stories where description is abundant. At my age, and so at the age of college students and high school finishers, it may be tempting to throw down all the new words you are learning. Please refrain from this. What will drown your entire piece is too much adjectives, too much adverbs and too much ways of trying to say something. Adjectives are great; they help us see the world we’re writing. Sometimes though, it might be best leaving them out. Read the following sentence: “I ran down to the red door which opened into a wide, cold barn which was dark except for the small, wax candle in the centre.” It’s not TOO bad. At times though, especially when the pace is picking up, that looks cluttered. When you’re getting to action, strip back all those big adjectives. The same goes for adverbs; “I ran swiftly down to the door which hung limply. Opening it, I saw a candle burning brightly and faintly lighting the room.” Putting in too many adverbs is telling the reader: “you’re not smart enough to get what I mean. Therefore, I will spell out every action for you. IS THAT..OK…WITH YOU?” Readers, teachers in particular, don’t need your help. Try use something else to show verbs in action. It boils down to the old saying “show, don’t tell”. If you tell me he “ran hurriedly into class”, I get the point but frown on how babyish you treat me. If you say “Glen ran into the room; his bag crashing off the door and his books flying everywhere”, I know Glen was in a hurry. Either that or Glen is a nutjob. As for trying to say something, simple is fine in most cases. It gets painful reading exclaimed, replied, answered, shouted, muttered, murmured, screamed and announced after a while. Unless the person is actually doing these, ‘said’ is perfectly fine. Similar to above, by using these words you tell rather than shwo. By adding different points, you can empower the reader. Instead of saying ‘Glen announced’, try say ‘said Glen, his voice carrying to the far parts of the room’. At times, the word announced is fine; it’s short and we get it. But if you want your work to look less lazy, strive to cut out those little twists on said and embrace the simple form of talking.

6. Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.

Not my strongest point as far as my own secondary school essays show, but worth a point in this note. As a younger writer, dialogue rarely crops up. This is normal. We are used to taking action over talking, guns over words, and explosions over conversation. But the pen is mightier than the the sword, or the tongue is in this case (that’s why I cut all my meals with my tongue…..OK, sorry, that was being a Richard). By the age of 15-16 though, we begin to appreciate the place of words in our stories. So do correctors and teachers. Why, you may ask? It’s simple really. A short piece of dialogue can explain the details of a situation far more sneakily than your own exposition. For instance, I may tell you “The school was flooded. All the classrooms were out of use and so the students had to crowd into the gymnasium for lessons”. However I could also do the following;

“What’s the rush, school doesn’t start for an hour”, said Richard.

“We need to get there early, our class if flooded, remember?”, said Glen.

“if our class is flooded why are we even going?” (notice here I can leave out the verb, due to the fact that we can tell who is talking)

“Lessons are in the gymnasium, I won’t be late!”

Peter, the boys’ father, broke in, “Will ye two Richards come on? I won’t wait around all day for ye two idiots.”

Sorry about that last part, as well as being ugly and violent; Peter is a terrible alcoholic. As ye can see, I got the same information across in both cases. Either is perfectly fine.However using dialogue we do have the added bonus of character building. Here we see Richard is forgetful and lazy. Glen is studious and on top of things. Peter is….well Peter doesn’t have much going for him does he? Good dialogue helps make your characters real and identifiable to the teacher. They stand out more, and go a long way towards making your grade a better one. Shorter dialogue is all the fashion now. Unless the point is for the speaker to be drawn out and boring, keep it snappy and charged with emotion.

7. Stay in character.

Nothing screams “I was out of ideas” more than betraying your characters. That doesn’t mean killing them off. By all means, kill those imaginary people (a quote from controversial child psychologist Kyle Malone). But as a story progresses we get a sense of what someone is. Even over a page or two we know who we’re dealing with. Don’t have some shy loser suddenly slam dunk a basketball or get the hot girl (I mean seriously if I’m not dunking a basketball there’s no way the other losers get to). Keep your characters..well..your characters. The only time it is excusable for someone to break character is when a)their whole personality was a ruse or b) they experience a traumatic event. I’m sure there’s other ways it can happen, but those stand out. If you have your protagonist wrestle a bear just for some action (and because you also hate grizzlies and all they stand for) then an examiner will know you’re a cheat. It’s be to tailor your action for your characters. Action can be an argument or a small scuffle. Not everybody has to storm Normandy or shoot Hitler (NB Hitler may actually have to shoot Hitler). The more realistic a character’s choices are in the face of adversity, the more likely a teacher will believe them and bump up your marks.

8. Avoid clichés, they’re as old as the bible itself.

Yes, we all do these too. In a short story, keep your vigilance up to make sure none of these slip in. In four-five pages you can make a good impression. In a novel a small cliché goes unnoticed, forgotten behind all the really good stuff. In a short story it stands out; it’s a blemish on your work and your credentials. A cliché doesn;t have to be an overused phrase. If your story is a short story on a boy who attends a magical school with two geeky friends…COME ON. It really needs to be original enough for short story. You only need like one event, so really you have no excuse if you throw in a cliché in the hope a proven track can please your corrector. You need something that wows your reader, something they haven’t seen before or something old in a different light. Original short story ideas always stand well with correctors, and guarantee higher marks.

9. You don’t need a twist

Twists are fine. They end up in a lot of short stories, a final joust to the reader and a lasting memory. It’s a good thing. But don’t throw one in for a two second shock effect if it destroys everything before it. A good story gets a good grade. But if it ends in a twist that shouldn’t be there…no. A wrong twist would be something like having someone being hit by a bus for no reason other than to add sadness to your piece. Or perhaps you will kill off half of a romance just to try make it gripping. Please refrain if it isn’t your original intention. If you get to the end of your work and decide there should be a twist, WARNING LIGHTS SHOULD BE GOING OFF. A twist should be something you decide on initially, and even then should be carefully considered. To sum up, a good twist should add to the piece, not take away from it and leave the corrector feeling sour.

10. Fill your plot holes

These are real deal breakers. If your plot doesn’t make sense, and the whole thing is like four pages, you’re doomed. A short story needs to anchor on a well-thought out plot. Why is Glen running back into that burning building? Why is Richard taking a scary route home from school for the first time? You can’t just throw in a fun plot for the sake of it; the thing has to fit together like a jigsaw. In a small snippet of time, it actually is difficult to make plot holes. That is why they’re so criminal. If peter decides to drive after alcohol, why is that? Is he mad? Is he in a rush? What makes Peter break the law? If the plot is consistent and self explanatory, the whole story writes itself a lot easier. It should flow when you read it. Your teacher or lecturer should never have to ask why this is happening. They should want to ask questions, but about the story itself, never about the design of it.

I might do more of these sometime, but for now, I hope these make your English answers a little easier in the coming academic year.