Conceptions: The Origin of a Story and The Woman Warrior

In Technique in Fiction, the authors deal extensively with the motivations and origins of a story. While the authors are dealing with the origin for a fictional tale, their words can be applied to any legitimate story by a person who is savvy enough to see the connections. One of the specific points made by the authors in this work is that a story can arise from anywhere. While it might be tempting to see a good story as something that a person can only stumble upon with a tremendous amount of luck, this just is not true. Rather, what a person truly needs is to have an open set of eyes in order to recognize the amazing things that are happening all around them. The authors write specifically, “There are no very special staircases, privileged anecdotes, or old volumes fate reserves for a few lucky writers. Astonishments are everywhere” . The authors go on to note that the best stories go to people who are simply able to harness the unbelievable power of keeping their eyes open. They write of a special trait in writers known as “looking hard to the life around one,” and they note that if authors are able to do so, then great stories will arise from seemingly nowhere, appearing to the author as if they were placed there all along to offer the author with the perfect type of story. This, of course, can be true for fiction writers just as it can be true for writers of autobiographies. Writers of those works are forced to look at their own lives, which may begin to seem very ordinary after a while, and they are required to divine from those ordinary lives extraordinary tales of bravery or woe. Necessarily, after a person has lived through a challenge, that challenge can seem less worthy of a story, but autobiographical writers are perhaps charged with the ultimate duty of being able to look at their lives with a fresh perspective and a set of eyes that is completely aware.

Maxine Hong Kingston, in writing her book The Woman Warrior, seems to be taking at least some cues from Technique in Fiction when choosing which parts of her own story to include. Her life is compelling, of course. One would have a very difficult time finding an autobiography penned by a person who did not have something interesting to say. This book is not her entire life, though, and rather, it is a series of memoirs designed to reflect the parts of her life that fit with the theme that she is trying to present. As the authors in Technique in Fiction write, part of the challenge for writers is observing the stories around them that fit into the type of theme that they are trying to convey. The author, in this work, is going for an overall theme that helps to tell the story of Chinese existence in the twentieth century. In the portion of the book titled “White Tigers,” Kingston details her own life and some of the challenges that she faced as a part of the workforce during that time. Part of the book’s overall theme is dedicated to discussing the challenges of women growing up in the shadow of Chinese Revolution after having moved to the United States. As one might guess, that sort of life was far from easy, at least according to the reports of many. She chose to detail her struggle because it fit in with her narrative. What one might find is that her struggle seems to be somewhat usual. She writes about how she is unable to stand up to a racist boss and about how girls during this time were simply not wanted at the same rate as boys. To almost everyone in her new world, she is seen as being expendable, and this is something that she laments. The interesting thing here is that nothing that she writes is necessarily extraordinary. It sounds like something that might happen on an average day to an average person, even today. She was able to determine, though, that this ordinary experience, when tied to the experience of a great Chinese female warrior of old, was something that could tell a compelling story. In this way, she is practicing some of the story selection techniques that the authors of Technique in Fiction seemed to be discussing. Simply put, she sees in her ordinary life the origins of a story that can communicate the themes that she is looking to get across. It is this particular skill that proves important and allows the woman the freedom to communicate major themes about the Chinese experience in the United States during this important time.

In comparing herself to the great warrior, she writes, “The swordswoman and I are not so dissimilar. May my people understand the resemblance soon so that I can return to them. What we have in common are the words at our backs. The idioms for revenge are "report a crime" and "report to five families." The reporting is the vengeance—not the beheading, not the gutting, but the words. And I have so many words—"chink" words and "gook" words too—that they do not fit on my skin” (Kingston). This ability to see the extraordinary in the ordinary is something that paces the woman’s story and allows her to communicate a proud and powerful narrative, pulling it out of her seemingly ordinary life.