Clara Chow’s tips on how to tell better stories

Published on 13 April 2018

Local writer Clara Chow shares personal experiences from her learning journey as a storyteller.

by Andre Frois


On the 14th of April 2018, catch Singapore’s first-ever screening of Bergman Island, followed by a post-show dialogue, at SWF POP #24 (part of a series of year-long pop-up events by the Singapore Writers Festival). Co-presented with the Embassy of Sweden, this SWF POP delves into the craft and process of a storyteller on film and on paper. Come face to face with a refreshingly candid portrait of the Swedish auteur in Bergman Island, which features a series of interviews with Bergman himself. The post-screening dialogue with Swedish documentarian Marie Nyreröd will also shed light on the life and mind of one of the most influential filmmakers of all time.

Also weighing in on the dialogue is Singapore fiction writer Clara Chow, author of story collections Dream Storeys (2016) and Modern Myths (2018). To Clara, a good storyteller not only actively explores the world, but also bravely looks within him or herself—just as Bergman drew inspiration from his life and personal experiences.


Watch movies and people-watch

“Some people reckon that Persona (1966) is Ingmar Bergman’s best film. When I watched it, I was blown away. It explores female characters in various ways and the two characters, played by Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann, were written with those actresses in mind. Andersson even helped to rewrite a controversial and iconic monologue of the film. In the film, an actress retreats to an island with a nurse, and “studies” the nurse, eventually betraying her confidence. It got me thinking about the way in which I create my characters. The writer is always drawing inspiration from the people around him or her, whether they are aware of it or not. It’s almost like a form of vampirism. There’s always that tension between the guilt of taking from the lives of others, and the need to do so.”


Speak with more people to broaden your horizons

“When I first started writing, all the characters in my stories were just different versions of me. In order for my plots to become more varied, I made it a point to interview people. By listening to them and putting myself in their shoes for temporary periods, I saw the world from different angles. I wouldn’t say it made me a better person though—I’m still flawed and unimproved.”


Drawing inspiration from your past experiences can be invaluable

“Recognise what is worth penning. In the words of Flannery O’Connor: ‘Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.’ Don’t be afraid to tap on childhood memories, even if they are painful or embarrassing. Something that might seem very ordinary to you, might be really extraordinary to others.”


When you tell stories, you also learn more about yourself

“I have a very complex and strained relationship with my younger sister, and things were really coming to a head last year. Around that time, I wrote a story about a song that killed people—you couldn’t resist the urge to Shazam (a music-identifying app) it and people got into car accidents as a result—which ended up being published in US literary journal Prairie Schooner. When I read it again, I realised that under the surface of that story was the relationship between a pair of sisters, and the guilt of the older one for not looking out for the younger. It’s a piece of speculative fiction, but it’s got this depth because of something I wasn’t wholly aware I was tapping into.”


In a conflict, try to find the bright side

“The quality I most admire in writers is optimism: where one’s writing is concerned, it takes great mental strength to hold on to the bright side.”




Catch SWF POP #24 at 4.30 pm, 14th of April 2018 at The Arts House, Screening Room. Tickets at $10.

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