If you ask Yew Chung International School’s Michelle Lo what it takes to be a good writer, she’ll tell you crafting a story with layers of meaning and subtext requires creativity. “If your writing style is monotone, people are going to stop reading. It’s boring. Having a tight narrative style helps make any story more interesting,” she says.
Michelle, 13, is Young Post’s 2016 Winter Short Story competition winner, thanks to A Dip in the Gene Pool, her entry on the theme “I hadn’t expected that to work”.
“This is a story of prejudice, oppression and betrayal. About a monster who became a man, and a man who became a monster,” Michelle writes in her opening paragraph. Her story, which takes a critical look at what defines a good and an evil person, won her the grand prize of an iPad Air 2.
“Do the ends justify the means?” Michelle asks. This expression is used when someone believes that a good outcome excuses any wrongs committed to achieve it. “I wanted readers to realise that you can’t separate your actions into good or evil – things aren’t ever just black or white.”
Michelle was inspired to write her story when she was studying the novel Frankenstein, written by English author Mary Shelley, in English class, and learning about bioethics and genetics in science lessons.
Writing the story itself was a piece of cake for Michelle – it was the editing that she had trouble with. “I wrote the first draft in a few days over the holidays, but it took me a few more weeks to edit it,” says Michelle. “I’d gone way over the word limit, and I had to cut my story down and get rid of loads of scenes. It was really hard finding – and sticking – to that balance between having concise, short sentences and descriptive, provocative writing.”
Michelle’s story is full of the latter – her writing is rich and vivid, and conjures up detailed images in your mind. A Dip in the Gene Pool is peppered with evocative lines like “a neat row of sharp syringes line the wall”, and “pinpricks of blood blooming like crimson poppies on my white hospital gown”.
This is in part because Michelle – unlike many students for whom creative writing is a “chore they suffer through” – loves putting pen to paper. “Writing is just another way of expressing myself,” she says. “I love writing – it’s a hobby that forces me to stretch my imagination as far as possible.”
Her hobby has landed Michelle her first-ever top prize in a writing competition – but this wasn’t the first time she had taken part in a writing contest. “Last year I wrote a story for the Young Post’s Summer Short Story contest, and I wrote something for the HK Young Writers Awards competition. I never thought I’d win anything though – when I write, it’s because I love to write. It’s not about the winning, or the prize,” she says.