Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

River Water

Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

River Water

Article excerpt

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When I was writing The Fairy Tale of North Pole Village (Beiji cun tonghua ... ). I knew nothing of novellas. It was the spring of 1984, when the snow of the Greater Khingan Range was melting and the roads were flooded with mud and spring sun. At the age of twenty, I was not yet equipped with much knowledge or life experience, but I was full of wonder and vigor. I never gave the length of the books I was writing much thought; I just let my childhood memories take the reins. Many people and stories just came to my mind spontaneously. When I wrote about my grandmother, I was reminded of rainy summer sunsets. When I came to think back on a hornet's nest, I thought of an old soviet granny; after writing something about my uncle, I had a flashback of his big yellow dog; and when describing a particularly heavy snow, my memory landed upon an old river. Thus, my novella came to its particular length without me even taking notice.

How does a novella come into being? As far as I am concerned, there should, first of all, be sufficient material to write about in the same way that large clothes need to be filled by a large body. In this way, novellas are the same as novels. Stretching a short story will only make it monotonous and tedious. Compressing a novella will constrain its full passion and will be boring and depressing. The material best suited to a novella should be expressed without restrictions so that it fulfills the reader's artistic enjoyment.

Apart from being an appropriate length, a novella should always have a vivid spirit. If a short story can be compared to a stream and a novel an ocean, then a novella should be a river. A novella's spirit moves like the mist over the river-the river, lake, and ocean are always there, but the mist comes and goes. The spirit of a novella owes much to a writer's sense of beauty. A novella's spirit lies between its lines. Any novella without such a spirit will be boring.

Generally speaking, streams flow through deep valleys, and the ocean extends beyond the horizon. However, wide rivers flow all around us. We can see how, in much the same way, novellas relate more closely to our daily lives-we can see our houses with smoke rising from the chimneys reflected in the water, and we hear our oars dipping in the river, and we also hear singing.

This metaphor for the length of one's writing is mostly suited for normal weather, but sometimes it can turn extreme-thunder and lightning can make a stream roar like a river. …

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