Here’s a fiction exercise: write a job interview scene. There are two parts. The first scene should be written from the point of view of the applicant, and then the same scene from the interviewer’s point of view. The job itself can be anything from part-time work at the garden centre to a permanent position at a bank.
Try to avoid the obvious stuff here. The words ‘job interview’ trigger an almost automatic response: pity for the person being interviewed, who will be a nervous wreck, and dislike of the interviewer, who will be cold and uncaring. The applicant’s hands will be sweaty; the interviewer will have beady eyes and a tendency to bark. What kills writing is cliché.
The best responses I’ve had to this exercise move the reader away from these types. What if the applicant was extremely confident and the interviewer poorly prepared? What if the garden centre boss, instead of dirt under his fingernails, had immaculate hands? What if the bank manager wore a pony-tail and his office smelled of incense instead of aftershave?
Play with expectations.
This is basically a dialogue exercise, and potentially a deathly one. Q: ‘How long did you have your last job?’ A: ‘Six months.’ Q: ‘Why did you leave?’ A: ‘Er . . . the business closed down.’ Again, the work of the writer is to reanimate the tired formulae of the everyday. What if the scene didn’t start at the beginning but halfway in, when all the ‘boring’ bits had been gone through? (If you find yourself writing boring bits, it’s a good sign to stop.) Some boring bits, however, turn out to be rather wonderful. One student wrote about ‘the white fish-like flash’ of the interviewer’s ‘bald, spotted shin’ as he crossed his legs. I remember that shin but I’ve forgotten everything else.
Extract from The Exercise Book forthcoming from VUP, due in all good book stores from December 9th.