Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Art of Creative Writing

By Chris Smith, Dean of College of Arts & Humanities

Creative writing is sometimes neglected in the heady atmosphere of Cambodia’s universities. The student is apt to forget the relevance of the art in the feverish hurry to get a collection of management, accounting, computing and business communication subjects under the belt.

Here at the University of Cambodia, the College of Arts and Humanities takes the act of creating a piece of writing that has artistic merit seriously. The enthusiastic and professionally-minded undergraduate is actively encouraged to examine some interesting and near perfect examples of the creative writer’s art. The carefully crafted introduction to Chapter 23 of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is an example. This presents the reader with a tiny literary jewel that illustrates the qualities of perfect spatial ordering and organization.

How many veterans of a thousand hours of Business English classes can claim to hold these considerations in mind when writing that all-important report for the boss?

At UC, such considerations are food and drink to the students of Creative Writing. Let’s take a look at Bronte’s writing.

It was now the sweetest hour of the twenty four: "Day its fervid fires had wasted," and dew fell cool on panting plain and scorched summit. Where the sun had gone down in simple state – pure of the pomp of clouds – spread a solemn purple, burning with the light of red jewel and furnace flame at one point, on one hill-peak, and extending high and wide, soft and still softer, over half heaven. The east had its own charm or fi ne deep blue, and its own modest gem, a casino and solitary star: soon it would boast the moon; but she was yet beneath the horizon.

Note how the mind’s eye is directed to take in the entire arc of heaven. With deft use of color, Bronte first asks the reader to consider the heat and grandeur of the setting midsummer sun. Note how colors bleed into each other, reds to purples to the blackest blues, starting from the West, then taking in the sights directly over head and culminating in an examination of the gathering English summer night.

Ms. Kong Chetra achieved a similar effect in her piece describing sunset over the Royal Palace.

Unconscious of the passing of time, I saw the clouds floating overhead changing their hues. The sky was changing from a blue of the fi nest purity to golden yellow. The dazzling sun was setting and his radiant light gradually faded into a softened glow. There was only a circle of golden light like a garland around His head. The gold light reflected in the river and melted into a golden rolling wave.

In addition, having paid careful attention to explanations about personifi cation, Ms. Chetra has given the sun the human characteristics of a god or king, an emperor-like figure with a “garland around His head” of sunbeams. This is an inspired touch of brilliance, given the royal setting of her writing. Balance, or perhaps a pleasing sense of imbalance, is achieved by Bronte’s inclusion of the sun at one extreme and the twinkle of a rising star at the other.

Mr. Chrin Samvisal, another UC scholar and Creative Writing enthusiast, achieved spatial integrity in his response to the project. Picture the Royal Palace in your mind as you read his work.

The bright light of the setting sun shone on the Royal Palace, and it became a golden temple to peace, reflecting tranquility back to the Heavens above from whence it came. To one side, the National Museum boasted of its many treasures, its red walls taking fi re from the light of the declining fiery orb, as if blushing in pride. Strolling along the grassy aprons of the palace, I felt the fresh breeze blowing through the darkling park while the trees and grass displayed diamond dew-drops, ach an inverted microcosmic reflection of the glories without. They contrasted well with the luscious greens of the humble blades beneath my feet.

Bronte’s work has been considered in isolation. Thus removed from the context of the novel, it still retains its brilliance and artistic value. Yet within the text, this gem does more than provide a bit of artistic padding to extend the author’s word count. It illustrates the importance of sympathetic background – a plausible setting against which two lovers might speak of their affections for the first time; and to borrow a phrase from Shakespearean scholars, this passage also illustrates the concept of “Symphonic Imagery.”

Ever since the invention of the moving picture with sound, the imaginations of those in search of entertainment have had little to do. Their emotions are guided by sweeping soundtracks, wracked by explosions and the screams of a thousand actors delivering theatrical representations of violent death. If you haven’t considered the impact of sound and the latest computer-generated imagery techniques, just try watching your favorite action movie with the volume turned off. Not so full of sound and fury now, is it? And it signifies even less, if such a thing were possible.

Play-goers of the past did not have the dubious benefit of sound track and special effects. They only had the word, be it spoken or printed, and an imagination ready to be stimulated by such verbal visions as these.

Mr. Sok Lak’s work, could form the foundation of a very fetching love story, as his use of symbolism demonstrates.

I was walking alone on a clear road, along the Mekong River side as the sun shone over the western sky of Phnom Penh near Royal Palace at sunset. The cold breeze felt as if a beautiful girl’s soft hand went through my hair and on my face as a pleasant feeling came over me. I felt relaxed and then all my worries left my mind like someone took them away.

Repetition of images such as that of the hand is the stuff of artistic excellence in the world of literature. With each iteration, the image underlines the view that the world of emotions is mirrored in external conditions.

These students have clearly understood the qualities of writing that create an emotional response in the reader.

The selections used in this piece came from thirdyear English Literature students in Madam Ruchira Goswami’s Creative Writing class.

Source: UC Bulletin March 2009, Page 7

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