Go with a smile!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Home Affairs Ministry / Autobiography

I don’t really know if I have the ability to write something that’s not semi-autobiographical. I have written 4 plays in my life. 2 of them won prizes – small prizes, but still… the other two didn’t. I’m proud of them to some extent – except the last one, which was a total mess. I’m still wondering if I have what it takes to write fiction.

The 2 that were successful, I’ve come to realize, had something in common. They were rooted in real life experience.

In one of them, a bunch of kids try to stage a protest against their kampong being torn down. For some reason, they become media superheroes, and they even end up donning capes and costumes. They were indulged for many outrageous antics until one day, their leader makes a very big mistake that kills another one of their members. Everything falls apart after that.

So yes, it was about a lot of things. It was about modernity, it was about revolution, it was about the manipulation of the media, it was about a person carried away and believing that he was a messiah. But more than that, there was one thing tying everything together: in hindsight, it was really about my anxiety about the end of childhood, and growing up. It was about building a fantasy world that couldn’t stand the light of day. It was about broken dreams. I was 16 when I wrote that play: a lot of it had something to do with my hopes and fears.

In the other one that I liked, a guy sees his younger self making a decision between being a photographer and being a smuggler. He sees his younger self being corrupted, but he refuses to intervene, thinking that the younger person must see the folly of his mistakes instead of somebody telling it to him. In a twist of fate, the police mistake the older version of the person for the criminal and arrests him instead. The best part of this play? I came up with it in 24 hours.

This is quite obvious: the smuggling operation was a thinly veiled analogy for a job that I had signed away my 20s for. I wasn’t 100% sure that I was in the right place, and it was about the – there’s that word again – anxiety.

I don't consider those plays to be autobiographies because the events they describe have never happened in my life. They are not even semi-autobiographical. But they allude to things that are going on in my life, and clearly are related to my situation.

There was another play that I wrote, that I considered a noble failure. In that play, you had 1 person in a jail cell. One of them was a political prisoner, and he tried to pass a message to another person he believed was a comrade. That person turned out to be a jail warden, who had to do the unfortunate task of trying to befriend the person and torture him for information at the same time.
Now this play, in spite of my best efforts, did not work because I simply did not have the life experience to understand how people would have behaved in that situation. I didn’t know how to make it interesting.

I’m suddenly thinking about my old plays because of 2 reasons. First is that my sister recently asked me about how I knew how to write a play. I told her that I had a philosophy when writing the plays: the story is the most important thing. Not the characters, not the brilliant stage props. Focus on the story, and you can’t go wrong. That is not true in general – many movies don’t really have a story. But if you have a good story to tell, it is very hard to go wrong. Writing then becomes very simple.

The second reason is that I finally had some inspiration about a story to write. And yes, it was the recent corruption case in Singapore. Many people think that it’s a crazy thing for the guy to do, to get involved in a love affair with a chiobu when you have a high flying career – I was going to position it differently – the guy is sick of his daily existence, and was looking for escape. He was a straight A student at school, kept his nose clean throughout his career, always said the correct thing in front of his bosses, and this was his one act of rebellion. He’s 50 years old, managed to climb his way to – if not the top, then a relatively senior position. He had a family who he has been dutiful to, but he doesn’t love them. His kids are brats.

He fell in love, and – well corruption is corruption, there’s nothing great about it. But doing something spectacularly wrong and destructive – well that’s the stuff that drama is made out of. I think the twist here is that he doesn’t care if it’s wrong – he’s almost 50, he’s earned enough to retire, completely satisfied with what he’s achieved in his career. He doesn’t care about the people around him, or that he’s letting them down. He’ll have a comfortable life ahead of him no matter what.
But then again, judging by my lack of past experience, I might have trouble making a good story out of it.


Post a Comment