The 20th and 21st book club events of Sun Yat-sen University Center for English-language Creative Writing were presented by Tim Tomlinson, co-founder of New York Writers Workshop, writer of different genres, and professor of New York University’s Global Liberal Studies program. Tim gave two lectures, one about the craft and vision in prose fiction and nonfiction through which he showed some models of effective writing, and the other about the representation of water in literature from a writer’s perspective.
In the first session about craft, Tim close-read part of Anton Chekhov’s short story “The Lady with the Dog”, which showcased how the master, with restraint, applied the classical 3-act structure, “selected and focused on very limited set of details to suggest a whole world” at the beginning, he explained, thus provided “clues” for the readers to wonder as they read, and “reversed the plot” at the end. He also made some distinctions about the vocabulary of crafts. For example, there are two kinds of dialogue that writers use in different situations: the dramatic, real life dialogue where characters speak directly on the page; the indirect, reported dialogue, where the narrator maintains more control. Another example is the primary information and secondary information. Primary information is about the action of characters which propels the plot forward, and secondary information relates to the context and background of the action. As writers, we need to strike a balance between them. Readers like primary information but without secondary information, they lose track of the context, while too much secondary information might be boring. The first session ended with the students’ sharing their own writing after a short exercise.
In the evening, Tim’s talk focused on the representation of water in American literature, pop culture, films, paintings and his own poetry. In Walt Whitman’s “Facing West from California’s Shores”, water is represented both as a limitation and a vehicle to the next station. In pop culture, the Beach Boys represented the “dialectic of the sea”, with an “undercurrent of sadness”. In Franscois Truffaut’s 1959 film The 400 Blows, the sea, so much longed for by the hero, “turned out to be another boundary, another cage”.
For Tim himself, the sea is not the boundary, not a cage. Winslow Homer’s painting “The Gulf Stream (1899)” carries symbolic meaning in his eyes. In the painting, a slave is sailing on his own, with great fierce current approaching, sharks circling, and slave owners pursuing. But this wouldn’t stop him from fighting for his freedom. The sea is hazardous and emancipating all at once. As an experienced scuba diver, Tim has experienced a stunningly different world under water. When he pierced through the skin of the sea, he entered the unconscious, the irrational, the shadow/dream world, which would never be encountered on land. As Professor DAI Fan, the director of the Sun Yat-sen University Center for English-language Creative Writing, commented at the end, “You made us feel we are living just half of our life.”
李菱 黄冠文 章静 供稿