On October 5th, I attended Y. Li’s lecture regarding her novel 1000 Paper Cranes. Unfortunately, I have not read her book; however, the lecture was more about Li as a writer. Li stated that she defines herself by what she reads. Therefore the writings of Europeans, like Irishmen Trevor and McGalan and Russians Checkov and Tolstoy, inspire her more than Chinese novelists due to their subject matter. Before reading her nonfiction piece, Li quoted from a European village writer, saying, “Time moves onward, never stopping for an individual’s tragedy.” As Li delved into the description of her life in China, she discussed how her father gave up his position as a scientist out of love for his family, inadvertently causing the family to scavenge for money. Li and her sister worked as scribes, getting paid two Yuan for every 1,000 words they had written. Her grandfather analyzed Li’s penmanship and predicted that she would be lazy and happy-go-lucky in her future endeavors. In response to this torment, Li was more inclined to read the articles she was assigned to scribe rather than write them.
Li noticed that as she read, her world became bigger and more expansive. Reading, for her, offered a new lens and perspective through which to view the world. Li, by an excerpt from another novel, likened herself to a chick refusing to return to the egg shell, reiterating the idea that life is always progressing and moving forward and that one must move with time. At the end of her lecture, Li gave advice to writers saying that characters have their own minds and ideas, it is the writers duty to simply let them live. Sometimes Li runs into characters that she doesn’t know or understand; however, she doesn’t need to be well acquainted with the characters since she is writing collectively about the human condition, not individual biographies.
Though I do not aspire to be a writer, I felt Li’s writing advice to be helpful. I was always perplexed as to how writers developed these diverse, round characters. But according to Li, it is important to just let the characters live. They are already composed inside of us; we just need to write their story.