A workshop for non-fiction writing and storytelling is currently underway at Xuhui Library.
The annual event, looking to discover the new Tang Xianzu or Lu Xun, draws wannabe writers from all over Shanghai and its neighboring cities, who want to express their life experiences through writing and get their stories published and made available to a larger audience.
“All stories are powerful,” said the lecturer Li Zixin, who founded China30s in 2011, an independent storytelling academy. According to its website, China30s has been dedicated to explore extraordinary out of ordinary.
“When people write their life stories, they put down what they believe is worth recording. Therefore the stories themselves are valuable.”
Xuhui Library has been hosting a “Living Books” event for several years. Visitors to the library have an opportunity to borrow “Living Books” and to engage in conversation with the “books” who would like to share their stories.
“Living Books” is a face-to-face exercise where one person tells his/her story to another person and vice-versa.
“It is a way for people to reach out and connect with those individuals in their community they might not normally engage with,” said Fang Yunfang, curator of Xuhui Library.
“But storytelling is no longer enough, and recently we set off to look for a way to expand the audience as well as to preserve the speakers’ stories. Thus, the writing workshop was born.”
By setting up the workshop, Li and the library are looking to inspire the public with life stories written by people from all walks of life, just like them.
Another reason for establishing the workshop is to stress the importance of writing in the digital era.
“It pains me to see that writing techniques are overlooked in this era,” said Li. “They were once, and are still supposed to be one of the most fundamental techniques in human life.
“They are the techniques that allow people to transform their ideas into words, that is to say, they are similar to communication skills, which are vital in many aspects of modern society.”
In these training sessions, the participants are taught how to structure a story, how to write an introduction and an ending, how to narrate the development and the climax of their stories, along with several other useful narrative and descriptive skills.
The students are sometimes asked to compose an in-class writing piece immediately after the lecture. To gain an understanding of how their stories may look in other people’s eyes, students are asked to share what they have written with other classmates and give advice on the shared work.
These discussions also allow teachers to offer help with specific problems, such as means of expression and narration. Model articles are distributed, in the hope students may benefit from them.
“I think these training sessions can lead us out of undisciplined writing habits and provide us with a systematic understanding of writing,” said Qianjiangyue, who is a deputy chief curator of a library in Jiangsu Province.
“The lecturers from China30s have extracted and organized the key points along with possible obstacles in non-fiction writing. And, for someone like me who wants to maintain a writing habit, an epiphany may be gained with the help of the sessions.”
Apart from non-fiction writing techniques and disciplines, the workshop also helps create a sense of belonging, said a middle-aged man called James, who has successfully published a novel.
“I have made some new friends in the workshop,” James said. “They make me feel that I am not alone on the writing path. I have started to tell others what I once considered as something rather private, because I have seen my classmates doing so.”
Many of the workshop’s budding writers not only want to express their feelings through fiction but also share their life experiences with their peers and get some closure on maybe something more traumatic experienced in their lives.
For example, James is planning to write an article on the suicidal thoughts he once had and how he moved on and embraced his life as it is. In doing so, he hopes that he can arouse empathy in others and let them know they are not alone living in the shadows.
“We decided that it might be better to give this chance to young people,” said Fang. “We wish to attract young people to participate in interesting activities of the library.”
At the end of the workshop, every participant hands in their completed works, which will be later compiled into a book titled “Big Times, Small Stories.”
The books written in 2017 and 2018 by previous participants have been published and are available in Xuhui Library.
The participants, who excel at the workshop, get an opportunity to join the “Living Books” event and further share their stories with the reading public.