Monday, November 19, 2007

My voice has been going...

My voice has been going these couple of days. I've been diagnosed with asthmatic bronchitis. I've been coughing really badly these couple of days but the coughing has subsided recently, but my voice is still gone, so, I haven't been able to speak clearly or for a long time without a shortness of breath.listen

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Meme: Writing Strengths

Rats, Joanne tagged me. I haven't done a meme in ages. But here it goes...

The guideline for the meme is as follows: Make a list of five strengths that you possess as a writer/artist. It’s not really bragging, it’s an honest assessment (forced upon you by this darn meme). Please resist the urge to enumerate your weaknesses, or even mention them in contrast to each strong point you list. Tag four other writers or artists whom you’d like to see share their strengths.

Here are mine:

1. Character - I seem to have a knack for making my characters real and true. By real I mean my readers seem to believe that my characters are real people, or are based on people I actually know, instead of simply figments of my imagination. And by true I mean these characters are true to themselves, and not easily manipulated by me, the writer. I may not like these characters (nor may the readers), but they're true to themselves. I think that makes sense because to me, these characters are real; they talk to me. They show me what they do (of course everything happens in my head). They have real conversations and they do what they damn well please. Of course, imagination is nothing if they're not based on reality. The truth is, I observe people. I take mental notes. And I also draw upon my own experiences.

2. The human conditions - human conditions and behaviors fascinate me. I think we humans have great potentials, but we also have many flaws and limitations. We bicker. We fight. We manipulate. We hurt. We also love and cherish and remember. That's what is fascinating about humans: we are so complicated. I love complex, flawed characters, and how they meander through life trying to find themselves and connect with others. And this fascination turns into gold for novelists. Not everything or everyone is pure good or evil; not every character is just an archetype. In fact, one of my strengths seems to be having no stereotypical villains or heroes in my stories. They are all "heroes" in their own stories, and that makes their relationships all the more interesting and revealing of the human conditions. My stories are always about the deeper aspects of the human conditions: emotions, behaviors, relationships, desires, etc. because that's what make them interesting and relatable. After all, my readers are humans.

3. Descriptions - I have a way with words. I can use the simplest words and put them together to draw a perfect picture of what is in my mind. I think visually, but I am also able to translate these images to words in such as way that it's easy to understand, precise and economical. The trick is to find the right word, and usually the first word that comes to my mind is the right one (and everything else can be fixed in rewrites). I also have the ability to conjure just the right images, and just enough for the readers to fill in the blanks using their own experiences and imagination. My words tend to evoke the right emotions and visuals.

4. Visual/Cinematic - As a writer and an artist (I also draw and act and make music and films), I draw upon my strength as a visual person. I have no problem visualizing every scene and movement in my mind before translating them onto the page. I also grew up with the movies and have become quite a movie buff, so there is always a movie running in my head. The trick, of course, is to put that movie into words. But once I do, the cinematic, visual storytelling is vivid and riveting.

5. Truth and points of view - whether it's a universal theme such as death or betrayal or unrequited love, and no matter what kind of fictional characters and situations I put forth, I always try to tell the truth: the truths about my characters, their relationships, their ups and downs, their highs and lows, their faults and virtues, their views and beliefs, and, through them, the world we live in. And the truths are usually tinted by cultures, religions, beliefs, social constructs, education and so on, and I try to bring them all together to reflect the world we live in, even if the story is set in a fantasy or future world. I think that is what makes a piece of fiction relevant and timeless, that we can all get lost and imagine ourselves in these worlds. Because when you tell the truth, there is no limit in what you can do with that truth.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Culture, Humor, Storytelling

Look around and we can see certain cultural differences in terms of storytelling. Facts are facts but when it comes to storytelling, humor, politics or philosophies, it's very interesting to note the differences and also difficulty of communication. For example, many Japanese movies have to be "westernized" and "re-plotted" for the American audiences, or American humor has to be explained to people from other countries. I find this fascinating.

Take the following short story by Izumi Kyoka for example:

I love the narrative, the descriptive language and the vividness of the storytelling, but I can't understand the ending. Or does it even have an ending? What does the story mean?

In western cultures, it seems that stories must have an arc: a beginning, middle, and end. Stories need to "make sense" with certain resolution or revelation. Not so in Asian cultures -- stories are often circular, and sometimes without any ending: they are more about themes, thoughts and experiences. Chinese poetry, for example, is usually about nature, landscapes, with layered meanings/subtexts hidden inside.

What are your take on this? Do you read literature from other cultures? Do you have difficulty understanding or interpreting their meanings and themes? Does it help or hinder your own writing?

A Word Is Just A Word. Or Is it?

MacAllister Stone:
The question is about the nature of privileged language: there's no law against the word, but there IS a great deal of cultural pressure around it, that's both contextual and rather personal. And it's not just language, but the whole context and and cultural relevance.

This reminds me the strange phenomenon I've observed, witnessed and experienced as an Asian-American.

Within the AA community and culture, it is an insult for anyone to call an Asian by anything from "chinks" to "slit-eyes" to "yellow face." And all cultural references that equate Asian with "rice," "dragon," "fortune cookie," "chop suey," etc. are to be frowned upon.

And yet, guess what? Asians are the first to use these lexicons, symbols, references to identify themselves. They even revel in them. I've lost count on the number of bands, artists, writers, musicians who call themselves and their work something "dragon," "rice" or, the latest I've heard, a comic book about Asian superheroes called Y-Men -- a take on X-Men and the Y stands for :Yellow."

I was like: WTF? Are we pushing this "take back the word" thing a bit too far? Why is every Asian band or theater troop called "Dragon" or "Panda" or "Firecracker" or "Rice" something? Why is it cool to call yourself Yellow-Men?

I find this phenomenon both interesting and alarming. How do you fight stereotypes when you yourself perpetuate the same stereotypes?


To me, language has its fundamental meanings and history, and yet it is flexible and breathing with contexts, cultures, and the key here is communication. The who and what and how and why and where. I could comfortably call my friend a name and there is absolutely no disrespect on my part, and yet I don't think I can bring myself using the same word in public, or even behind someone's back, in which case there's no self-referencing here, no context or relevance; and there's no communicated/understood "okayness" in using the word.