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New Forum Hosts Creative Writing Workshop Featuring UCI Lecturer Inez Tan

The New Forum held a creative writing workshop hosted by New Forum Editors-in-Chief Amanda Hall and Sierra Myer on Nov. 12. The workshop featured Inez Tan, an English and creative writing lecturer at UCI and an esteemed author who has been featured in multiple publications. 

According to her website, Tan wrote the short story, “This Is Where I Won’t Be Alone: Stories,” which quickly became a bestseller in Singapore. Her poem, “Sanctuary,” has won the Academy of American Poets Prize. 

Tan gave a presentation on how to develop characters in a story and make them seem more realistic. Using the example of Frodo from Lord of the Rings, she said that despite writers being inclined to create characters that have a need or a want, it is not always a necessity.  

“I think about it as a story that is not really about a character that wants something in certain ways, if you think about Frodo, he’s a character who really doesn’t want what happens to him to happen to him. He wants to stay home, smoke his pipe and like[s] to eat mushrooms …  instead he is the one that has to go on this epic journey,” Tan said.

Instead, Tan believes that tension is an important factor of what makes her characters interesting to her audience. However, Tan draws a distinction between tension and conflict as the latter brings the idea of clashing with another; tension can be internal and provides more of an idea of who a character is. Tan suggests trying to boil down the internal tension a character feels in a six-word memoir. 

“When thinking of characters I ask myself, ‘What if I wrote a six-word memoir for this character …  one that illustrated the tension that was going on in their life or situation?’” she said.  

Using the Frodo example, Tan wrote a six-word memoir titled “Unlikely homebody must destroy corrupting influence.”

After the presentation, the floor was opened up to questions from the participants. 

“How do you go about writing a character when, by the end of the story, the synopsis is completely different?” one participant asked Tan.

In response, Tan said, “If you have a six-word synopsis, there has got to be a clue in the beginning that lets you know where they are going to end up … I had a professor in college talk about sort of reverse-engineering stuff so if you have a character, you know where they end up at the end, you might be able to work backwards and figure out what needs to happen in the story to get them there.” 

The participants were then given 20 minutes to write their own creative response using a pre-selected prompt: “Given the current state of the pandemic and the rise of streaming mediums, everyone is either binge-watching a series, having movie marathons, streaming music or reading books/poetry. Choose a character that you love (or hate) and write an original piece inspired by them, their life, circumstance, etc.” 

The New Forum will be hosting a release party for the Fall 2020 Journal with an informal open mic on Dec. 3 at 7 p.m.

Magaly Bravo is a Campus News Intern for the Fall 2020-2021 Quarter. She can be reached at bravomt@uci.edu