Sad it was indeed that so few people turned up for the MPH Writer's Circle* meet on Saturday even though so many people SAY that they want to write the great Malaysian novel!
We were talking fundamantals really - how do you craft great characters and make them live on the page? We had three very good speakers, one academic, two published authors and the dialogue flowed between them.
Professor Lim Chee Seng of Universiti Malaya (below) spoke more broadly about how writers bring their characters to life through names, dress, physical features and drew on the writing of Balzac, Shakespeare, Lawrence Sterne, Tolstoy ... and even the bible for his examples!
Nizam Zakaria (below) has now turned full-time writer. He reckons that characters will die if they are not close to what readers can relate to. He writes for TV and is often asked if his script is plot driven or character driven: but he finds it impossible to separate the two things out - they really go hand in hand. Some of his characters, he says, are based on aspects of himself. He also said that he describes his characters minimally, but likes to reveal his characters through what other characters say about them.
Kam Raslan (below), author of Confessions of an Old Boy, not to be out done by Professor Lim's literary references very nicely drew on examples from Jackie Collins and the film Titanic to show:
the ancient tussle between character and plot ...Good characters create the plot and must relate to events in:
predictably unpredictable waysand must be able to justify what they are doing. No character can ever be simply a foil for the main character.
The conversation was opened up even more when the audience joined in. It was really great too to have yet another very successful Malaysian novelist come along to the session, Beth Yahp, who talked about how her characters emerge from scraps of conversation recorded in her notebooks.
A couple of issues came up in conversation which interest me greatly:
Why don't Malaysian authors don't reflect the racial diversity of the country in their fiction, seldom creating characters from other racial backgrounds in their writing?
Should Malaysian authors use of Malaysian English in dialogue. (Prof Lim believes there is:
no need to mangle our English and make it laughable ...while I'm pretty undecided on the issue.)
These are questions are v. much on my mind and the desire to write a thesis to explore them (and other fascinations) in an academic context grows ever stronger.
*Didn't know about it? Perhaps you should contact MPH to be put on the mailing list. (Call up the Marketing Dept @ (603) 7781 1800 or the Customer Service Hotline @ (603) 2938 3818 for more information.)