The Snag of Beginning a Story | Sophie Xi

In this blog post, I am going to illustrate my thinking process when I formulated the opening of my short story. Over the past week and half, I had a difficult time in finding the optimum way of storytelling. I want to give the readers a unique perspective in looking at the history while feeling connected with the messages. Therefore, it has to be somewhat personal as well as informative. In addition, I faced a dilemma in which I needed to balance the portion of reality in a fictional writing – I want to bring those hidden family stories under public exposure, but at the same time, I want to protect the feelings of those who are involved. I have drafted three different versions of telling the story, and they are listed as below.

open book

The first one comes from the past interview I had with my grandma. She reminded me of the rusted metal block that I found at my great-grandparents’ house. One day after their death, I was helping my grandmother clean the room, and this rectangular-shaped, steel block was discovered under my great-grandparents’ bed. As I was going to throw it away, my grandma stopped me and said this block actually contained gold inside. In an attempt to avoid the Red Guards’ pillage, my great-grandparents asked a close friend to cover pieces of gold with metal, plucked the wooden planks out of the floor, and hid the gold underneath. After the Cultural Revolution, my great-grandmother pulled out some of the metal blocks in exchange for money; however, due to some unknown reason, there was one block left behind. I think the metal block could be used as a metaphor in this story – it represents the value of those hidden stories, seemingly unnoticeable yet dipped in gold. Therefore, I can write about my discovery first and then tie in some family stories when my grandmother was explaining my great-grandparents’ motives in historical and cultural contexts. My only concern is that this version of storytelling might be too personal. There is some key information that my grandmother asked me not to share with the public. She said, “Even though you will publish them in English, people can translate. I am afraid that some of the details will embarrass our family members.”

With this thought in mind, I shifted my focus and sought a more fictional approach to tell the story. I thought about writing an account through a madman’s perspective, an homage to Lu Xun’s A Madman’s Diary and Nikolai Gogol’s Diary of a Madman.The idea is to show that a madman can see the reality more clearly than a reasonable man. Through this literary structure, I want to demonstrate the chaos and confusion created by the Cultural Revolution. The educated were castigated and the value of conformity was uplifted. Under extensive pressure, many turned to insanity. In my neighborhood, there were two lunatics who passed away a few years ago – one was a former symphony conductor, and the other often played anti-government radio on his balcony. People saw them as crazy, but I think they had a story to tell. After consulting with Teacher Pat about my idea, however, I realized that through a madman’s account, the story’s credibility might be questionable for people who are not familiar with Chinese history.


Consequently, in order to provide accountability for the readers and obscurity for the family members who are involved, I came up with the third version of storytelling. My neighborhood used to coordinate a series of activities as a kickoff for the Lunar New Year. At the age of seven, I was assigned to give presents and send warmth to the elderly. Inspired by this past experience, I designed a new opening for my short story. Written in the first person perspective, it shows a little kid’s reaction when she visits the house of a well known “lunatic” on the eve of Lunar New Year and listens to stories passed down from the old generation. The stories I have collected will be incorporated into the writing when the “lunatic” is telling his story to the little kid. I really like this version of storytelling and decided to write my story in such format.

Although it took me a long time to find the most appropriate way of storytelling, I consider the process worthwhile. If we compare the story’s outline as the skeleton of a human body, then my family stories would be the flesh and blood that pump the heartbeat and make the writing lively. I will continue working on my short story in the next few weeks and ask for more family stories to enrich the content.


1 thought on “The Snag of Beginning a Story | Sophie Xi

  1. Max D.

    I definitely loved the idea of using a madman’s perspective to tell a story. I do see your concern about the accountability piece, but I think that the perspective and the feeling experienced through the perspective are more important.
    Just some random thoughts, maybe you could imagine if you were the insane radio-playing guy, and tell a story as if you were him. Some form of voice under oppression would be nice.


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