It’s the first week of my Summer 2022, the term with VY223, which is also my first full online term. Fully online gives more challenging with some advantages. For example, I could read more times in the chat box rather than just listen to others’ works one time.
There are many reasons why I take this class as an engineering student.
First, I think there are no conflicts between engineering and creative writing. Let me provide some conditions that it helps. This week, the Student Science and Technology Innovation Association of JI, cooperating with other institutes, organized a competition in computer programming. Instead of just giving definitions directly, we need to use a story to make them up to help to understand.
Also, I need HU course credits. So I chose many classes in the first and the second round of course selection because there were much more people who want to have HU classes than the maximum limits, so I selected many classes to increase the chance that I could get one HU class. Luckily, I caught VY223 from other candidates.
During the third round, I received many emails, telling me that some courses had empty seats to select. However, I didn’t drop VY223 for its first experience, in which I followed the instruction to finish a short story. The process, that writing sentences to build a grotesque universe without thinking of detailed logic relations at first and then adding details to fill the story, lured me in immediately.
For me, a person who prefer science fiction and detective novels, a good idea is the soul of a story. For example, Around the World in Eighty Days written by Jules Verne is a story about a debt that whether one can travel around the world in eighty days. The best point I think is that after failing to come back to London on time, they surprisingly got one more day thanks to the time zone. Points like that make a story good because it will never let you down at the end of the story with many hints through the story.
For a short story, like the one we make in the first class, a clear aim should be given to the main character which could lead to the development of the story and keep the readers’ will to explore what will happen or why something happened. What’s more, not like stories that have more space to introduce the background at the beginning of the story, short stories can give hints about the world during the actions of the main character that leave enough space for the readers to have their own understanding.
This is the second week of Summer 2022, in which we practised on characters and read some material to think about what the writers do to make a good character.
Some characters are so impressive that after decades I can still tell their story out. A character has many features and may change following the development of the story.
When I write characters, I find that it is quite hard to describe a person by a list of abjective words. I can not concreate this character into an imagable person from these abjective words. So I use a situation to introduce a character so that readers, who have enough background information and knowledge can quickly get involved in the place in the story and hence they can add features to the character based on their experience.
For example, I want to have a refugee character. However, after several tries of using words to describe his appearance, I found I could not have a vivid figure of him just by my words of appearance. So I change the policy. So I spend words on the description of the scene instead. Due to the news, literature works and multimedia works, people have seen many refugees before, so more can be generated besides words.
A good character often has something that changes and can let readers involved in and have special emotion on the character. The character’s peculiarity gives the initial intention of the motion and decides how the character will react to other people. Part of these peculiarities helps to solve problems and some of them cause problems. In this progress, readers can have thinking how the readers would do if he or she were in this kind of situation and could evaluate why the character does this rather than that. With this kind of enhancement of the relationship between the character and the reader, a character could be more vivid to the reader and the reader could understand the motion of the character.
A good character like that can give readers a chance to reflect on themselves and others in different peculiarities and think more. When the readers meet something later, he or she can recall the character and think about how the character do before his or her doing. That is the time that a good character appears.
This week we turned to the setting part of a story. In Chinese literature, settings could appear everywhere in a work to give readers different hints about the development of the story.
When it appears at the very beginning of the story, it is usually used to build a base tone of the story, telling readers the background of the story, which could help them to get involved in the story. Also, it sometimes gives hints on the result of this story like what characters will face at the end of it. For example, The Story of the Stone uses its first chapters to lead its main plots.
With the development of a story, settings will arise many times, which would repeat the settings before or give them changes. Using settings, the author could not only give readers signs of how the story is going but also imply the feelings of the characters by details of the settings like blue for blue.
Some settings are also placed at the end of the story, by which the author could give readers enough space to think back. This kind of settings usually comprises the author’s idea and the author uses the settings to imply this idea.
There is also a special kind of literature which is almost full of setting from the beginning to the end, which gives the author a chance to express himself or herself indirectly. In this kind of literature, different settings are usually pre-mapped to various certain feelings. That assembling different settings is the way to show the psychological activity of the author.
While many literary works are marked as good by the majority, there are almost no works that could get full confirmation from everyone on the location. Every piece of literature has its according crowd that does not like it. Everyone has different tastes in literature, which means when people talk about “like”, it is the whole work be liked or disliked. Instead, it is some parts of the works that get “like” or “dislike”.
Besides, as a famous work, we will have a higher expectation of it based on the works we have read before and different students have different reading experiences and thus they will have different expectations of it, which contributes to the result that some students who have read much better literature will not like new literature as much as those who did not read these pieces of literature or have read some famous literature that they don’t like.
Taking these two factors into account, I think to enjoy literature more, we need to read more pieces of literature and try to enjoy more aspects of literature.
This is the fourth week, in which conflict is covered in detail. There are always a lot of conflicts in a good work among different kinds of the body(character, environment or anything else that appears in the work), which presents the full potential of how the story will develop since every conflict express two or more kinds of power which are fighting and the result gives the body of a story, attracting readers to think about what they will do in each conflict.
A story without conflict is ordinary that could not deliver readers’ emotional feelings while a good story could usually give enough emotive senses, allowing the readers to attempt to make decisions and analogise their choices with what the characters do in the story later, making the story interactive. There are many forms of conflicts and each can be the best if they collaborate with the story in style, genre, length and theme well. So instead of there being one best form for all works, I think there are only best forms for each kind of work based on how conflict could contribute to the theme.
There is some kind of combination that I think is bad. Some works, to add a gimmick or to cater to reader preferences, make conflicts too deliberately that they are only for having certain conflicts rather than being natural to appear in a story. In such works, characters are just puppets without having any inner logic in their motion. Relatively, all characters are in a world that has its inner logic of running, controlled by itself, that should not be controlled by the author once it is generated.
A good conflict not only happens in the story world but also happens in the real world in some shape, which gives the link between the work and the readers. By combining conflicts in the story, the theme of the story is exposed and those that could not help express the theme are not quite effective because they disrupted the rhythm and main line of the story.
Even though the conflicts are designed and written by the author, conflicts in a perfect story are not controlled by the author or anyone else because they happen from other parts as the conflicts in the story are the concrete manifestation of the internal behavioural logic of each character in the story. The author chooses one possibility from all potential development by preparing conflicts to introduce the theme, which makes these conflicts effective.
The fifth week, which included scenes and revision, finished. I’ve been on the planet for almost two decades and have witnessed a great deal. But there is one scene in particular that I treasure: my English exam for Gaokao’s spring section. It’s the quietest and most raucous scene I’ve ever encountered. I was becoming more and more raucous as all I could hear was quietness with nib friction.
Because the scene provides the environment for stories, its description ought to contribute to the plot development. Instead of an over-the-top description that disconnects the scene from the tale and loses the work’s feeling of continuity, the scene should be described with restraint and specificity. As we discussed on Thursday, word choices are important because a scene needs to pass the basic settings of a part of the story as fast as possible, so increasing the accuracy of words so that they can give more information in just a few phrases is a good way.
As a result, a good scene is one that readers can visualize just by reading the scene’s portion, and the length of the scene’s part is kept to a minimum. For example, in Five Weeks in a Balloon, although the balloon is one of the primary scenes, the author did not use a lot of words to describe all of the features of the balloon. Instead, he only introduced the elements that were crucial to each plot.
It is vital to revise to improve the work. Thanks to the development of people’s understanding of language, many tools could analyze words by words and sentences by sentences that evaluate the words from multiple dimensions and provide guidance for revision to make them more powerful. Yet, we couldn’t rely on them alone to edit our work because they use big data to compare words to other template texts, following restricted rules rather than knowing the ideal expression of these words. Repeating the words is a good approach to sweetening them. Repeated reading gives opportunities to identify problems and improve words.
During reading, one can view the words not only from the perspective of the author but also from the perspective of the readers. Sometimes an author has a concept in their head but fails to put it down in a readable way, leaving the readers with no notion of what the sentences imply. By changing the angle of reading, one can enhance sentences that could deliver what the author wants to write better.
Half of the term passed and we reached the ending part. The ending is quite important but many works make readers depressed when they finish their reading because of the ending. The ending works as the solution to a puzzle. The more interesting and attractive the development is, the more readers will expect to continue, waiting for the ending. That gives the ending unbelievable power to influence the whole work. If it failed to satisfy the reader’s expectations, all of the readers’ feelings will be poured into the ending as well as the whole work as they will feel they were fooled even though the work may have some good plots. All previous positive emotions will be taken by the hopelessness due to the recency effect.
Surprising and inevitable are good endings sharing. To achieve it, the ending should not be considered independent of other parts. Otherwise, the ending would to too abrupt as if it is just a surprise without any reason or a strategy to finish writing.
For example, in Ellery Queen’s works, there is a page telling the readers all the evidence used in the ending is given to them. That may not work outside detective fiction, but enough hints are still necessary to make the surprise ending inevitable.
There is another way to set the ending. Instead of just giving the ending directly, use some ink to describe how the ending is impossible, leading the readers’ thinking in the wrong direction, which can shape and increase the surprise of the ending.
The second may be easier because it needs less organizing of the story, which is quite hard for beginners to write down a rigorous closed-loop that fully explains all the indications that have been provided throughout the whole story.
There are many tricks in detective fiction to give the reader hints without their notice and give them wrong hints while they can still be explained. For example, “unreliable narrator” is a way of an ending, which gives readers full of information needed in the ending but provides a wrong structure to link all of them, which leads to a surprising and inevitable ending. However, since it is easy to set an ending with an unreliable narrator (the writer can prepare the story and give the wrong angle randomly), many works are using an unreliable narrator just for the ending rather than giving a reason why the narrator is unreliable.
But, in Keigo Higashino’s Akui (悪意 in Japanese, which means evil), rather than focusing on the operation of killing, it pays most pages on why it happens and solves it as well as why the narrator is unreliable (The murderer needs it to hide the true motive) together will enough hints. Besides, the discovery travel of it is giving the thinking about what the evil is. That’s why it is my favorite ending.
I am keen on science fiction and detective stories and I think that is why the ideas of my writing are almost about them. The topic of my works though comes from what I read before and am interested in, the content is mixed from serval sources. News is a critical part that I spend a lot of time on the Internet and hence gain a lot of facts and discoveries over the world. Then I would imagine why that happens, how the people in it will do and what I will do if I meet similar events. That is the core of my work.
A story is not a list of ordinary events that happened at the same time. It needs some luck to let things work, give the initial power that pushes the stone down the cliff. So another part of my core comes from something nearly impossible in reality, which makes the story unique. What if an event, with low possibility, occurs. For example, what will happen if a DNA test on the parent-child relationship is wrong because the child’s gene has been mutated. Then I would ask myself why this DNA test happened. Is it because the police want to detect the identity of a dead body?
Besides, good works will also come from many other good works. During writing, I will compare what I wrote and what I read, considering the rationality of the plots and finding how other works handle the problem I met. How could they assign words into different parts that need describing?
However, there are also some types that I only have a few cognition like the poem. It seems too difficult for me to extract what those great poets did in their poems to make their pieces. Instead, I gained a lot from my peers from what they sent.
Liu Cixin has one work in which a computer is built that can generate the whole space from serval parameters. One finds the parameters to generate the space he lives in and could know everything that happened. The writer is the one that set those parameters. Once I find the development of the story far from the initial idea, I will either change the parameter I set or have a look at what will happen in that setting although it is not what I expected.
So the starting is what I think is the most unsure time on what I am writing. There are many times that I wrote a lot, having the plots, read from the top, and found that they are wrong. I overturned my previous ideas and rewrite them to fit my new ideas. Every story has its own logic and even the writer should not break it. They can only set the rules and write down what will happen. Or from the ending, write down why the ending happens and why the reason for the ending exists…
Chinese cultural works had great changes in the 20th century with the changes in the words people write that make them have different features. In ancient China, the written language had a large difference from spoken language, which is featured by its length and shape and its uniqueness called Lian Zi. The word’s choice is quite important in it and using allusion becomes even a trend among people that do not show talent in writing that they use the number of allusions in their works to mark how they are good at writing. While among the top authors, most of which served in the government, writing stories become mainly an alternative to expressing the self political idea.
In modern Chinese works, the features on length are reduced but the special on words type continues that there are plenty of words on describing details in a short story.
In the poem, there is another scene. The rules of Chinese poems vary at different times. At the very beginning, there are almost no rules. With the establishment of rhythm, more and more rules are applied to the poem and many styles appear but share the same skills. Chinese poems do not follow the grammar of regular words. Words are listed directly and it is the reader that connects their meaning of them to enjoy the works, which differs from many English poems. Also, in the 20th century, due to the introduction of the poem in another language, whether these rules are good for a poem or bad for the poem is largely discussed and caused huge discussion on the difference between a poem and other works if the poem need not follow such a lot rules.
Different words usually provide different feelings but only for those who are filled with the world with the language. In a second language, the meaning of many words is vague, which could not give the same feeling as a native language user that could detect minor difference words thanks to the training of the previous usage of that words. So word choices are important in choosing to give more accurate emotion though, I find it is hard to decide which words (from a dictionary or other sources that could even give an accurate explanation) would be better than another one because they are just some letters for me.
In this aspect, I would rather use something common over the world to replace something that would lead to meaninglessness for some people. Concrete words are my choice for they refer to a certain object that any part of the world could have the same understanding on it.
Writing a genre fiction does have restrictions, but they can also be viewed as tips that there are many existing models or frames that could help you to have an abstract of the work. For example, one would be in the dark if he is told to write fiction but would write something down if he gets some more details like there must be a male character who is keen on adventure and a female character that he will meet in his travel. She must have trouble and he must save her.
However, every work has these tips so just having these elements will just make it an acceptable work but far from good work. You need to dance with shackles. There are many wonderful works proving that it is possible to bring readers a new world while saving the previous old world. In these works, the word itself is the most careful element that could benefit the work or attract readers.
Instead, it is the special experience it offers that makes a work stand out. Different genres have different kinds of experiences readers want to get. Let me use science fiction, which I am most familiar with, as an example. While there are serval elements that many works use like robots and AI. Masters could still discover potential from them liking digging one concreate point inside it which could make conflicts, giving readers a unique feeling on the elements that they are familiar with.
There are many kinds of works other than writing like the movie. While there are many original scripts, there are a lot of works that transfer from other works and most of them are genre fiction in that words do not influence a lot on the story so it will still give surprise in another form. I personally prefer genre writing as I can first have a draft of the story and then I could optimize it by degrees, making it better.
As a beginner, these rules are more like a guide than a barrier since I do not have many ideas on writing yet that could find that these regulations block me from writing. Besides, these established moves are sometimes allowed to be broken. While detective fictions have a history of many centuries that shares some rules, there are still new sub-genre that appears. Importing a new setting is one of them like bringing zombies into the story which gives the fiction full of possibility.
In brief, genre fiction means a topic for me, that I could get more comfortable with and have more will to write despite its strong limits.
The end of this term is close and I have a special full online experience. The greatest change I found in contrast to my offline VY200 is the decrease in interaction. There is far less communication among the class on Feishu due to various factors.
The invalid environment that four people in the same room, taking different courses makes it hard to say something out as it will disturb others’ normal class listening. Besides, since the outgoing time is restricted, there are some times that one must be going out during class time, which heavily decreases the effect of class. What’s more, although SJTU dorm has a good internet connection, there are still some times that I lose connection with others or have an un-continuing sound and video stream. The exchange left could also not go well. Unlike what we have in classrooms, we could only type or directly say something but could not use tools like a blackboard to store and organize our ideas.
Advantages also exist. For example, typing through the keyboard could have a higher speed than hand-writing which also makes revising possible. That gives more practice in writing.
For the next year, I think maybe it would be better to reduce group talk time if it is online because usually, it can not keep for half an hour to discuss in almost every group discussion as we may not have such a lot of words to exchange. Instead, maybe it would be better to reduce the time and increase the frequency as some topics attracted me a lot but I do not have space to discuss with group members.
I love detective stories and there are many other artworks like movies that use the stories in writing works. I am not sure whether it is suitable but if it is, maybe something around them could be covered more in the next VY223.
Feishu has powerful online doc editing functions that the student union used to hold a writing contest, which I think could help us to share and revise our works to make them better. If it is still online next VY223, it may benefit more than the discussion board of canvas.
When I choose VY223 I did not know what will this class cover. After the 10 more weeks, I gained I lot about writing as well as many wonderful works in various areas. Many members I met in the class also benefit me a lot for I got many suggestions on my works and have the chance to read others’ work which enlarge my cognition.
This VY223 gave me a brand new experience in writing and I wish I would have another chance to get into another writing world in the future.