Saying that Nicholas Yong wears many hats is definitely an understatement.
During the day, he is a journalist with yahoo Singapore and at night, he manages his website (movie fandom) geek crusade.com. In between these 2 commitments, he finds the time to write novels such as the zombie novel 'Land of the Meat Munchers. One may view novel writing and news journalism to be on disparate ends of the continuum due to the different linguistic styles and expressions required. However, to Nicholas, he views it as an asset because journalism provides a platform for him to gain inspiration for his stories. During his session, he gave us tips on how to write a zombie novel, from the technicalities of how to structure a story, to tips on how to get the physical book published.
The first tip that he gave us was that we must be prepared to read widely about the genre. Doing so would allow us to gain more insights on how to structure the novel, even allowing us to gain inspiration and adapt it to our own novel. As Steve jobs once said ‘'Good artists copy; great artists steal’. Great works come from the adaption of cumulative ideas from multiple artists and not necessarily through individual ingenuity alone.
He mentioned, rather comically , that we should ‘bash it(our ideas)all out’. We shouldn’t be afraid of throwing out our ideas, no matter how frivolous or bizarre they seem. Placing limitations on our imagination will result in ideas that are safe, yet predictable. It is only through unfettered generation of ideas, where we can truly experience our ‘eureka’ moment.
He also strongly emphasized on the need for a coherent plot. This is so as not to befuddle the readers and result in them giving up halfway through the book. There is also a need for consistent /believable characterizations. As much as we would like to see melodrama and hyperbole, too much of such can be counter-productive because it results in the story appearing detached and unrealistic. Thus, readers may feel disconnected to the story and give up halfway as well. He also reiterated on the need for polished dialogue, ensuring that there are no repetitions, no inconsistencies, no illogical plot points and no grammatical errors. Though these may seem minor, they are quite impactful collectively, as they will give the publishers a bad impression of the work, thus reducing their incentive to publish it.
He mentioned about the importance of using literary devices like allegory. For example, he uses zombies as a plot device for the manifestation of humanity's terrible deeds. Allegory adds depth to the story and makes it a meaningful and memorable read. It allows readers to take away valuable lessons and gain new insights. Another interesting component to integrate is the presence of a moral dilemma. For example, in the case of a zombie apocalypse, this can come in the form where, when the protagonist is chased by zombies, will the protagonist escape even if this means leaving his / her friend behind? The moral dilemma serves to create an internal conflict within the persona and add more layers to the character’s profile, creating a dynamic character out of what was initially a flat character.
One point that he emphasized very clearly on was the need to get feedback from others .At first, this may seem like a daunting prospect because criticism from others (though constructive), may be quite intimidating to receive. It may heart wrenching to hear harsh criticisms of what you thought was novel but it is through this process that we can truly improve on our stories. We will not be isolated in our own silos, writings stories that interests us but not others.
He also touched on a subject close to our heart: How do we ensure creativity without compromising on the censorship rules in Singapore? Is it possible to do so? His answer was, yes, creative compromise exists. Singapore has one of the most draconian censorship laws in the world, and it may be convenient to pin the blame of mediocrity on this factor. However, it is possible to work out a compromise that ensures the meeting of Singapore's guidelines without compromising on its essence. A good story need not be laced with expletives or contention to stoke engagement in the readers. The crux of good storytelling is in how the author crafts his story through the technicalities of literary devices like characterization.
Overall, it was quite an eye opening session that gave insight on the aspects of successful novel writing, which we may not be very familiar with. The most important lesson that I have learnt from this is that, we must write with our heart through our own unique personal voices. Writing is a process that comes naturally. We need to enjoy this process, and if so, we would be able to connect with the target readers, compelling them to read the story and gain our insights on the global phenomena rippling through this world.