Writer Profile: 10 works which inspired me as a storyteller

  1. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

As a child I fell in love with the story of Peter Pan and for a long period of time I would look out the window expecting a flying boy to come visit. Like most other children I eventually grew up and moved on from fairy tales. Peter Pan is my one exception. As an adult, I still feel a strong connection to its characters, setting and language.

While I didn’t care much for the plot or the sequence of events, I was drawn to the details and nuances in each character’s behaviour. I felt that the main characters Peter Pan, Tinkerbell and Wendy were already so colourful that I only wished to learn more and more about them.

Another important element which drew me to the story was its setting. Set in the imaginary world of “Neverland”, the physical details of Neverland were of less significance than its location. With it being far away from home and only reachable by flight, I was fascinated by the sense of escapism and adventure.

Additionally, I was intrigued by the way the characters spoke to each other. While using simplistic and direct language, the conversations were concise and symbolic, often alluding to and contrasting the social conventions of the time. With this language, I found myself spending more time thinking and drawing parallels to the real world. Thus, I was given more space to imagine and participate in the story.

  1. Tales of Ise Translated by Peter Macmillan

Similar to Peter Pan, Tales of Ise has a very loose plot structure and uses simple language. Its characters, however, are from a very different time and place. Set in the Heian era of Japan, the tales depict a romantic matriarchal society and the lives of various unnamed noble characters.

Changes in nature and the human heart are major themes of the book. While the characters themselves are not very defined, their purpose is to illustrate the mood or tone of the setting. With the lack of plot and individual characters, this piece builds a whole world with an agglomeration of scenarios, feelings and atmospheres common to all ethnicities. Every time I read Tales of Ise, I am transported to a world where we are at one with nature, relaxed and filled with love.

  1. Susan Sontag: The Rolling Stone Interview

While I enjoy reading most of Susan Sontag’s essays for her acute critique and precise language, I particularly enjoyed her interview with the Rolling Stone for its spontaneity and breadth. Solely focusing on Susan Sontag’s language, she expressed herself with great passion, insight and intellect. It is quite rare to see anyone speak with such precision and intent, while maintaining a flow of smooth narrative and strong rhetoric. For these reasons, I admire her not only in what she says but also in how she puts it.

  1. The Stranger by Albert Camus

Similar to the above works, The Stranger uses very straight-forward and simple language. What sets it apart from the others, are its themes of tragedy and indifference. The world depicted in the protagonist’s head is one that scares me. I find myself often wanting to suppress such feelings of hopelessness and indifference. Yet, it is exhilarating to open the Pandora ’s Box once in a while. As the events progress, I have an overwhelming feeling of suffocation as I empathize with the protagonist. It is not until the end of the story, as the protagonist breaks down in tears for the first time, and we, as the reader audience, are confronted with our very own sense of righteousness and morals, that I feel a weird sense of alleviation.

I am weighted down by these tremendous emotions and shocked that the author could illustrate this state of the human condition so well.

  1. People on a Bridge: Poems by Wislawa Szymborska (Author), Adam Czerniawski (Translator)

Wislawa Szymborska’s poems are my best antidote to the constant bombardment of information overload in the modern world. Her carefully constructed poems are usually quite void of intense emotions, yet her insight alone brings my focus to the minuscule details of everyday life. Seemingly meaningless, her artful usage of inanimate objects as characters opens doors to rich imagery and imagination. The feelings she evoke are usually lingering senses of nostalgia and poignancy.

  1. Anomalisa by Charlie Kaufman

Anomalisa is one of a kind in the way that it switches between absolute nonsensical dialogue and plot or character development. In fact, I find myself constantly focusing on each dialogue, to be drawn in by the rhythm of it, only to find out that the dialogue was used as background “noise” and it is of no importance for plot advancement. Yet, the fully loaded dialogue sequences fills the film up with a weird but enchanting cacophony. In stark contrast with the works mentioned above, Anomalisa leaves you with so little breathing or thinking space that I became confused and bewildered, much like the mental condition of the protagonist, Michael. While plot in this piece, again, is of little significance, the dialogue itself is an excellent example of “show, not tell”, thus creating an immersive experience for the audience, such as myself, to enter into the psychedelic world of the protagonist.

  1. Starting Point: 1979-1996 by Hayao Miyazaki

This book consists of a comprehensive selection of written articles and talks by renowned animator Hayao Miyazaki. What I find fascinating about this book is that it reveals Miyazaki’s thought process and views on life. Explained in a very straight-forward manner, he touches on a wide variety of subjects including morals, art and existentialism. While his works are often tied to fantasy and magic, after reading these articles, I realize the reason for Miyazaki’s  universal appeal is his belief in potential, or the constant “what if”s. While most of us operate according to or in contrast to our physical and temporal reality, Miyazaki attempts to extend reality, not to mimic or address it. Thus, while reading his works, it’s easy to believe that the worlds depicted exist independently from ours.

  1. From a Cottager’s Sketchbook Volume 1 by Liang Shiqiu Translated by Ta-tsun Chen

A relatively obscure book written by Chinese intellectual Liang Shiqiu during his time spent in an old cottage in the rural area of Bei Bei, SiChuan Province in 1939. Contrary to the proper and structured Chinese classics, Sketches of a Cottager depict the mundane and ordinary life of Liang Shiqiu himself, a well-read man with a sharp tongue. Such a combination of setting and character has brought forth a dynamic mix of interesting thoughts and observations. Also, a sense of melancholy is felt as I realized how much China has changed in her politics and economy that such circumstances no longer exist today.

  1. The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang

This book has sparked my interest in social commentary and stories forgotten by history. Iris Chang delivered a striking recount of the Nanking Massacre through presenting us with images and witness accounts of period of Japanese occupation in Nanking during the Second World War.  What struck me most about the story is how little we know about it today. In the age of social justice, it begs the question of who is being heard, and who has a voice? These questions hit very close to home as I, a member of a visible minority, often wonder who will speak for me, represent me in media or in history. What is the significance of remembering painful events? Is the answer as simple as to eradicate evil from this point on? While the subject matter at hand is complicated, I appreciated how Iris Chang bring out more subtle but impactful messages, as exemplified by her quote, “almost all people have this potential for evil, which would be unleashed only under certain dangerous social circumstances.”

  1. Paradise Lost by John Milton

Paradise Lost stands out in this list for its language and plot structure. As an epic poem, it has grand scenes and strong characters. It utilizes plot, characters, settings and themes to their full extents as well as illustrating each character with beautifully crafted and impassionate language. Each event creates a dramatic impact which furthers the story and its character development. The stark visual contrast between heaven and hell creates a clear dichotomy between God and Satan, the almighty and good and the lowly and evil. I often find myself mesmerized with each character as he or she experience different stages of suffering and temptation, for the emotions and imagery are so strong that the reader, such as myself, feel miniscule in comparison to the grand schemes of the supernatural.

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