The Dreams of a New Land by T.C. Christopher

As a collection of short stories, the Dreams of a New Land tells the tales of a multi-racial and multi-cultural South Africa, a land plagued with a dark and violent history. However, it also shows an African people searching for a new narrative beyond that of a post-Apartheid country – one to guide them through the trials of crime and corruption plaguing the once Rainbow Nation.

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If you were born in a country, in a town, on a road, and in a home, then you will have everything you need to be a fiction writer. The stories are there in your head, hiding and brewing in your childhood and adolescence; the stories that become limitless in our adulthood.

The very real events we encounter every day inform our stories. We find them in the heroes and the villains who walk our streets. We meet them in those who serve in public office. And we may even discover them in those who eat and sleep beside us in our homes.

But sometimes, having a story to tell is not enough.

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In those times, you need to know what style is, and how characterisation informs plot and, how plot defines and refines characterisation. Having a good working knowledge of your writing voice is to acknowledge its strengths and weaknesses. Being able to define what narrative structure (or lack thereof) fits your particular story will improve your telling of it. These are all aspects of fiction writing that can make or break your story, no matter how hot you think that story is.

But you need not pay thousands for a course or a degree in creative writing to be a fiction writer. While that route works for a number of established writers, you can discover the art of crafting prose on your own. Many of the bestselling and literary icons of the written word were self-taught masters of putting a pen to paper, and of pounding away at a typewriter and a keyboard.

And perhaps, what may be the most surprising thing about learning how to write, is that the best advice and crafting methods come from the books themselves. No other art form has the ability to educate of its own conception as entertainingly as the book. But even the books on storytelling are not the only and definitive references on learning how to write. The journey is long and each writer has their own path to make and take. And most of it is lonely.

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To write is to be alone with yourself, tapping into the deepest recesses of your memories and consciousness. Writing a story is to visit and stay a while with old friends and terrifying enemies; running through the entire worlds born of fantasy and science fiction; seeking out and capture the culprit of a suspense-filled mystery; and finally, attempting to answer the quiet questions of identity and the human soul; questions that reside in the extraordinary characters of literary fiction.

Let’s explore the books and the lessons I have found to be crucial in my self-education as a fiction writer.

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John Steinbeck, the great but often maligned American writer, wrote more about people than stories or ideas. His stories live with his great empathy for the average man, reflecting his great admiration for working class people. He dedicated his life to discovering and documenting these people in his stories; stories which later brought him great acclaim.

But he was attacked for his views on poverty. He was famously criticised for restoring dignity and sympathy to the working class of America with the Grapes of Wrath.

Those criticisms defined his anxieties as a writer, leaving deep scars on his psyche that he battled to push away. His stances pushed him into exiles away from the cosmopolitan lifestyles of his peer’s literary circles that exalted his contemporaries. But it is ultimately in his writings we find one a great artist; an honest man who came to define the American Identity.

Can it be found on the great American roads?

Over time, he won the hearts of the multitudes of readers. And his critics were silenced by the time his sweeping voice completed the East of Eden. The Nobel committee awarded him “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception.

My journey with Steinbeck began as a young boy reading The Pearl as a school set-piece. It was the book that was my Eureka moment as a writer; the book that made me realise that I wanted to write. Every writer has that moment when they read a book and say to themselves, “I can do better than that!”

As I turned The Pearl’s last page, in the silence that followed, I whispered, “Now I must write.”

What makes John Steinbeck a literary genius? Is it in The Pearl, The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, or Of Mice and Men? Or is it in all things John Steinbeck, a man I wish I had known?

A man, I imagine, who would have the best answers for a young writer in these strange and dark times.

Let’s find out.

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Copyright by 0307 Films.

 

Storytelling has the privilege of entertaining those who embrace it. But good storytelling also has the ability to educate and enliven the passions of life within the audience, especially ones now lost in the quietly apathetic South African landscape. Even though it has been presented as an advert for VW, this is really a short film. And this short film is my favourite South African story. In the space of a minute and a quarter, an entire story has been expressed using truly South African themes that span across this country’s recent history. It inspired me to write a novel, and it has had a profound impact on my writing style. It is one of the stories that moved me profoundly as a kid, fumbling around with my misplaced words and confused ideas, trying to make sense of it all. And it is only after many years that I have been able to reflect back on it, and understand just why it captured me.

Let’s find out how it shows great and artful South African storytelling.

Continue Reading "The Art of South African Storytelling"