Personal Recount Writing #1: Analysis

This article is an analysis of the personal recount writing in my previous post (“A Daring Venture”). You can either view the previous post directly below or you can click here.

It will be great if you are able to read the short story first before reading further in order to have a better understand of how literary devices work in narrative writing.

For this post, I will like to highlight three primary elements that make this story stands out on its own:

Human nature: Non-fiction writing can allow technicalities to take precedence and overrides the need to emphasise human values but a great fictional or personal recount story cannot overlook the important and influential role that human nature plays in a narrative.

Values such as respect, love, betrayal, disappointment, happiness, sadness and the multitude of human emotions are great literary elements that relate and bind people together through stories. Think  Shakespeare.  Narratives are meant to soothe the heart more than stimulate the mind. Leave non-fiction writing for the latter.

Intersection of time: If you have read the story “A Daring Venture“, you would have realised that the story moves among the past, present and future. In addition, the movement is not linear but sporadic. This has the effect of attracting the readers into the core of the story through the movement of time. However, the narrative must move in such a way that the past, present and future merge into one seamless flow.  This cannot be taught literally but can be learnt through consistent and continuous writing exercises.

The trade off is that much effort has to be put in to ensure that the right tenses are used and this usually is challenging to achieve under tight time constraints.    Should students choose to adopt this form of writing, intensive practices and guidance are required prior to mastery of this writing style. However, once this skill is mastered, it will enable students to maintain consistency of tenses for all if not most forms of writing.

Psychological elements: These elements relates closely to human nature but what sets them apart is the fact that while human nature talks about qualities and values, psychological elements may take the form of literary advice (as in the case for this story where snippets of page extracts are used as guiding devices for the author), a motif  (such as the use of a doll whose photos are taken in various countries with it sitting on a bench, signifying change or mobility),  the deep, inner thoughts of the writer, and many more.

Psychological elements are wider in scope and hence easier to use and elaborate than those espoused by human nature, which tends to be more intangible and requires the use of scenarios and scenes to bring out their essence.

As we explore more writings in the near future, I will provide more literary tools for you to explore and use in your writings.

Stay tuned.

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Personal Recount Writing #1

Out of the various writing genres, personal recount writing (that is, writing that uses the first-person perspective using the pronoun “I”) is – more often than not – the more interesting writing style. While the story may be contained or even confined within the psyche and understanding of the main protagonist who is the writer, the personal narrative adds a personal touch to the story seldom seen in other writing styles.

Below is a piece of writing which I will like to share with all of you. I hope that you enjoy this.  In my next article, I will provide some insights on the ways that this writing works in terms of literary writing devices and the style that the writing is structured.

Topic:

A Daring Venture

I am an introvert by nature.

I like solitude and I love staying in my room reading books or listening to Jazz or New Age music. I get to have a world of my own without the intrusion of others. I relish the moments of insights as I agree with the thoughts of an author or meditate under the tune of soft music. Yes, this is my world – and I am loving it.

However, there is a hefty price that I pay.

My social circle is small, as I do not socialise often. My friends do not know me well, as I did not put in the effort to know them well.  I do not get invited to parties often because I almost always turn down every invites that I receive. I do not know how to communicate as I only communicate with myself in my head.

And then, one day, everything changed.

Or rather, you can say that a book that I have read changed everything.

I can still recall the title of the book vividly despite all these years.  The title is “How to have a chance encounter that will change your life”. When I first set my eyes on the title in the library prior to borrowing it, I thought the title was plain, simple and almost self-explanatory. I did not know what attracted me to the book but somehow, I was mesmerised by it.  I did not know what effects the content of the book would have on me but I loved it anyway. Psychology is never my forte but still, the title held my interest.

Perhaps this is preordained. I do not know.

I have a strange feeling about this book. As mentioned, I am not new to books. I have read books of almost every topic available but most merely increase my knowledge.

This title is different. It mesmerised me like never before.

I placed the book on the table and flipped to the first page:

“Observation skills are not only to be learnt but to be practised. You must act on what you have learnt. Then the skills you learn will change your life – forever. “

The sentence stared back at me and I felt a sense of anticipation.

Change my life? How is that possible?

I began to read the first paragraph.

Perception wraps reality. We are trapped by our mental conceptions until we free ourselves from them by observing reality and understanding the formation of perceptions through them. And being observant is the bridge joining the two…..

From that day on, I began to practise my observation skills.  And I began to notice things I have never noted before – the type of clothes that others wear, the colour of the tie that matches a shirt, the different type of greeting gestures that others display, the various types of smiles that either reveal or hide emotions. And through these, I began to map out the various perceptions I have of them, as well as having a good gauge of the perceptions held by them. In other words, I began to understand the worlds of others and how my world relates to theirs. Over time, I began to connect with them psychologically, but not in a interpersonal kind of way, if you know what I mean.

Then one day, it happened.

I was sitting on a seat in a train when I noticed that a lady dressed in a yellow dress was seated across from me. She is in her early twenties. Her yellow dress was prominent but that was not what attracted my attention.  Rather,  it’s the ruby necklace she wore that was interesting. I have seen that necklace before, at a jewellery store. It was from Paris, France. I always have an interest in stones, and ruby is among them.

“Observe aspects of others carefully. What stands out is the obvious. But it’s the similarity that connects.” 

I am beginning to understand this sentence.

The lady suddenly noticed me looking at her and she returned the gaze, smiling while doing so. It was awkward to have somebody looking at me with interest as that has not happened to me for quite a while.

But the distance between us was far. There are many passengers standing and moving along in the train and our eye contact is constantly being cut intermittently by the passing bodies. I noticed that she has the tendency to look away and then back at me again, as if we are caught in a game of hide-and-seek.  It was not long before I did the same. The passing crowd between us becomes our hiding posts and for a while, we indulged in a match of peekaboo.

Instant and continuous connection is fleeting. Intermittent communication with silences and absence in-between is key to sustaining a resilient relationship. We need to give each other space to rejuvenate and to recharge. Observe this in your interactions with others. 

True to its words, our switching attention from the moving crowd to ourselves are – in a strange way – sustaining our continued interest in each other. But still, none of us make a move to go forward and start a conversation.

A connection is not deliberate. A connection just happens. There are people whom we are meant to meet in this life but we have to notice them through our astute observation if we are to really meet them. Placing your eyes on the pages of your book won’t do. Closing your eyes and listening to the music blasting out of your earphones is worse. Open your eyes and look around. See who is attracted to you and why you are sustaining their attention. That is the point.

As the train neared my stop, I stood up sadly and headed for the exit door to her right. How many times have I brushed shoulders with someone whom I have a connection with but never have the opportunity to connect? It’s uncountable. I sighed with disappointment with my eyes glazed over and looking at my own reflection in the glass panel in front of me.  And then the image of the lady appeared behind my left shoulder, looking at me and smiling.

I smiled back.

No matter how great is the possibility of an encounter, there will come a point where you have to initiate contact. Shyness will impede you at this stage. Hesitation will destroy your courage.  Fear will draw you back.  Only confidence and a desire to know someone new will push you forward to take that initiative to start that life-changing conversation.”

“Hi!” I greeted her.

“”Hi!” She greeted back.

“I like that necklace of yours. I know where you have bought it.”

“Is that so? Haha! So, where did I buy it?”

“Well, is there a prize if I got it right?”

Both of us burst out laughing.

And the rest is history.

Humour is the prescription for nervousness. A right dose of it at the right moment can work miracles for any new social interactions. The trick is to know what to say, how to say, how much to say and when to say it.

Today, Jenny is my best friend and we still go out often. I am not sure if I can call these dates but for now, I know that if I had not put in the effort to read the book, I would never have found a soul mate.

When you have known somebody through a chance encounter on your own initiative, you know you have the  power to widen your social circles and create change in your life.

And when you have done it once, you know – deeply in your heart – that you can always do it again.”

Understanding Creative Writing

I was asked about Creative Writing a day ago and that sets me thinking about this subject. Creative writing is not a new subject but there always seems to an aura of mystique surrounding the subject.  And this is not the first time that I have been asked about this.  From my experience, the allure of creative writing doesn’t lie with the various components making up the subject but rather, the teaching methodology behind it.

For this article, I will not be touching on the teaching methodologies though. These techniques are an art and will always remain an art.  For this article, I will like to discuss the more tangible components which is somewhat of a scientific nature. In another words, these concepts can be learnt in a systematic way and grasped. Here goes:

  • Story development: This is the most important component in creative writing. Humans love stories, which is why stories are proliferating through the ages. This is both a good and not-so-good thing. The good news is that literature is everywhere and we can draw both insights and inspirations from them. The flip side of this is that originality is harder to achieve now that it seems that everybody have written all the stories from all possible angles. Here’s the secret: this is so untrue. The secret to writing interesting and insightful stories is through the minute details of our daily lives that we live. Get a journal. Jot down the experiences that we experiences in every details, including the places that we have been to, conversations that we have and interesting characters that we come across on a daily basis. Flip through this book for insights whenever we want to pen a scene or chapter for our story or novel. Doing so will give our stories both a human touch and a realistic feel.
  • Character development: One of the primary driving forces behind any story is the characters in it. I still remember the characters from Terry Brook’s
    “The sword of Shannara” fantasy series and who can forget Aragorn and Frodo from J.R.R. Tokkien’s “Lord of the Rings”? Having interesting characters in our stories is almost a must but how do we find such interesting characters? Do we create it? While some writers do that, my recommendation is to observe interesting characteristics of individuals from our daily lives and create characters based on the hybrid of these individuals. Think about it: don’t most characters that we create in our stories originate somehow from people we have come across or read about? When we watch a TV serial or movie, don’t we find most characters that we like similar to ourselves or the people around us in some ways?
  • Dialogue: Conversations drive narrative forward. Observe the movies and TV serials that we watch. When the dialogue is mundane and dull, don’t we want to leave the show alone and go on to the next film or serial that catch our interest? When we hear an interesting dialogue, don’t we – as viewers or readers – want to keep on listening or reading to find out what is going to happen next? Interesting dialogues evokes emotions, spikes our interest, creates intrigue, pique our curiosity and nourishes our minds. The question is: how do we create that? It’s quite simple, really. Just create conversations that relates to real life and that’s it. But to do this, we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the various characters.  This is empathy and Emotional Quotient (EQ) at work. I will recommend including some degree of Intrapersonal Intelligence as well.
  • Setting/Environment: The environment is very important. Think about it. We usually watch a movie based on the setting that the film is based. Some of us love romantic settings in Paris, some of us simply adore heroic figures set in ancient Rome, some of us love the comedic characters from fictitious countries while the rest of us love the poignancy of lost love wthin an Asian context. There is no way that as writers, we can please everybody. We can either choose to select to write on a niche area that we are strong in or cater to the widest possible readers in an identified setting. But what’s important is that we enjoy writing the story in the process. Passion is everything.