Writing Workshop – Week 2

I was quite nervous about today’s session, as it was the first time we were going to bring in our own work. The exercise is based on Junot Diaz’ Nilda, and was a pretty tricky one to write in my opinion. We had to write a first-person narrative from the viewpoint of a person who is young and confident, even a bit cocky. The story should be about 1-2 other characters who are representative for the world they live in. The person described however should not be the main focus of the story, and there is something more serious underlying the story.

For those of you interested, you can read the story below. Here are the most important critique points:

  • Good use of Singlish, as it established the setting, as well showing the confidence of the narrator. However, I’m not sure I got the slang down, but since no one in the class are aware of the nuances of Singlish, it didn’t matter too much 🙂
  • Well-written, the descriptions of Terry (the main character) was done quite well, and the others really felt for him.

However, there were some elements which didn’t fit the exercise too well:

  • The narrator is somewhat missing in the story. He is present in the scenes, but is too much in the background.
  • There should be more interaction between the narrator and the main character early on to establish the relationship between them from the start.
  • It’s not clear how the story is going to impact the narrator later on.
  • The story was too much centered on Terry. As mentioned before, the main character should actually not be the main focus of the story.

To summarize, I think I placed too much focus on not centering the story around the narrator, so much so that I completely forgot to relate the story back to the narrator. The writing itself was not too bad, but I agree that I missed out on the crucial question on what makes the story relevant for the narrator. It was a good lesson, sometimes you focus on one element you start to lose sight of the other elements. I am going to blame some of it due to lack of time though, but I have no such excuse this week, so I should be able to do better next time. 🙂

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Writing Exercise 1

Based on Nilda by Junot Diaz

Poor Terry. Terry the comedian, the boy who made other people laugh.

I’d known him for a long time, ever since we were four years old, because our mothers were always playing mahjong together. I had never really talked to him, and I tried to ignore him whenever I saw him at school. I don’t want the others kids to think I was friends with him. He was a fat, stupid boy who was eating all the time. I don’t remember ever seeing him without a bun in his hands during recess. He was already chubby when we were in kindergarten together, but throughout the years he just kept growing and growing until he looked like a big, fat hippopotamus. Sometimes he became too fat before his parents could order new uniforms on time, so he wore uniforms to school which were a size too small. His soft, flubby flesh would start peeking out between the buttons which were straining to contain it. It was a comical sight. Some of the other boys would push him around and take turns poking him at those exposed areas. “Don’t move, lah! We are just helping to put your meat back into your container!” Jokes like these apparently never got tired, and the whole playground would howl with laughter.

Terry was always so blur as well. I mean, not like normal stupid, like most people are, but I mean really, really dumb. Like he doesn’t even know what’s going on around him. “What is the capital of England?” the teacher asked him once, and he just stood there staring straight ahead, not saying anything at all. “Are you deaf or what? I’m asking you a question.” And still Terry stood there dumbly, shifting his feet nervously. The first snickers became audible, and the teacher lost patience, probably afraid he would lose control of the situation if he let it go on. “You retarded boy, go stand in front of the class and don’t talk.”  As Terry shuffled slowly toward the front of the class, the class chanted: “Retarded boy! Retarded boy!” This went on until the teacher banged his fist on the desk and threatened to give out extra homework to everybody who did not shut up immediately.

And that kaypoh mother of his! Always so rude and loud! She had a misplaced pride about herself and her offspring; she thought they were better than other people, just because her husband was a rich businessman. “Wah! Terry-Ah!” she exclaimed every day, as she dropped him off at school, because of course her precious Terry was too good to take the school bus like other children did. Her voice would carry over the entire schoolyard. “You such a handsome boy! Ma-mi so proud of you! But you have to work harder at school. Get better grades. Later you become a famous doctor or lawyer, or a successful businessman like your daddy, and then Ma-mi become even prouder!” Sometimes she would even point at some of the children who had a reputation of always having bad grades, if they happened to be within her line of sight. “Don’t be like them. Wah, they so naughty! Their parents must be so disappointed!” I wonder if she ever noticed the distaste in Terry’s eyes as she was publicly humiliating him. Once she left, all the other children would start making fun of him.

One Saturday afternoon, my mother invited Terry and his mother over to our house without asking me, despite my many protests in the past. “I’m going shopping with Terry’s Ma-mi,” she announced cheerily, ignoring the glares I gave her. “You boys go and play together until we come back.” And so I was stuck all alone with Terry for the remainder of the afternoon. It wasn’t all bad, I guess. They did leave us with a bucket of freshly bought KFC chicken wings, and I’m free to play with the X-Box without anyone nagging about it. Even if I had to share them with Terry.

We played soccer on the X-Box, but I got bored quickly, because it was much too easy playing against Terry. Anyway, half the fun of winning is the gloating afterwards, and it just didn’t feel natural doing that to Terry. I turned it off and reached for the bucket of chicken wings. Terry sprang into action immediately, grabbing a pair of wings almost before I was able to remove the lid. “My Ma-mi warned me not to eat the chicken before you. Or else I cannot have dessert tonight,” he explained with his mouth still full, his teeth chomping down on the pieces of chicken.

We sat in silence for a few minutes. He was concentrating on the food, I suppose, and I was hoping for our mothers to return soon when he suddenly spoke. “When I grow up, I want to be a comedian.”

I said nothing, but he apparently interpreted the silence as encouragement.

“Everyone always have expectations they have to live up to. My Ma-mi expects me to get good grades and become rich for example. But what I really want is to make people forget about the expectations. I want to make people laugh.”

He picked his nose absent-mindedly and reached for another chicken wing. I stopped eating.

Poor Terry. Terry the comedian, the boy who made other people laugh.

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2 Comments

Filed under Writing Workshop

2 responses to “Writing Workshop – Week 2

  1. Ishana

    That sounds like a tough assignment to start off with. I like Terry’s character, though I wonder what would make him want to be a comedian.

    • Yeah, it was a tough one. I never did manage to get a good feel for this particular assignment. I also found it tough to condense it into 2 pages without losing any information. I would have liked to expand it a bit more.

      Good exercise nonetheless. Even if I never write in this particular voice anymore, it still helps me in getting a better feel for writing different characters,

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