STORIES nowadays seem to possess the same ordinary elements that would make readers roll their eyes and say: “I’ve read that before.”

The panelists of the sixth Varsitarian Fiction Workshop held last September 12 and 19 called the attention of budding fictionists to write something the generation has not yet read, challenging them to do away with what readers are already accustomed to.

“Go against the grain of common thought,” said Rosario Lucero, acclaimed writer and a professor at the University of the Philippines (UP). “It’s like putting your feelings into imagination.”

Accompanying Lucero were Gary Devilles, professor at the Ateneo de Manila University and UP professor Francesca Kwe, former president of the Thomasian Writers Guild, who panelled six of this year’s participants.

Meanwhile, Philippine literature icons Efren Abueg and Jun Cruz Reyes, and UST teacher Eros Atalia were the panelists for the Katha category.

The Fiction panelists emphasized that it is not enough that the story makes a point. Readers would want to see the characters fail or succeed, they said. It is only when a story offers a promise of change does it become interesting.

Reyes, a professor at UP, cited Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo as examples of stories with funny and lovable characters with rich and poignant backgrounds.

“Tawa ka nang tawa, pero sa huli, masasampal ka,” he said.

He added that a good writer would be associated with the story characters he or she has created.

“Make a character you and your readers won’t forget,” he added.

The Katha panelists reminded the participants that writers are expected to have a better expression of humanism because they have a keener concern for the interest, needs, and well-being of people.

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Also, Reyes urged young writers to challenge themselves.

“Do not rest on your glory,” he said.

Lucero, meanwhile, said that a writer must not forget about the readers he or she is writing for.

She said writers should capitalize on making their stories relatable.

“Don’t [just] describe the place, empathise with people.” Lucero added. “One of the reasons why people read literature is to know its human significance. This is what readers struggle for.”

“Always keep in mind: what if?” Kwe said, adding that almost all stories are commonplace. It is the writer’s job to write it differently.

“It is the character’s psyche that works against each other,” she added.

Lucero pointed out that it is very essential to keep the story as gripping and lovable as possible by means of choosing the right words.

“If the characters are repressing their emotions, you just want to hug them,” she said.

The participants were also reminded about how important it is to write from experience.

“Humanap ng paksa na malapit sa karanasan mo,” said Atalia, who teaches at the Faculty of Arts and Letters.

At the same time, it also pays to write while experiencing a life not of your own.

“Damhin niyo ang buhay na hindi niyo buhay,” Reyes said.

Regardless of merciless scrutiny by the panelists of their manuscripts had to go through, the participants all agreed that it was constructive criticism at its best.

“I was muddled with what to do with (my story). Now, I know what to do,” said Zendy Victoria Sue Valencia, a third-year Literature student and a fellow of the workshop. “They were brutally honest, but it was fun!”

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The other fellows who participated were Miguel Luis Galang (College of Science), Jerowin Santillan (Faculty of Engineering), Precious Anne Carait, Edmark Tan, Pocholo Anton Torres, and Justine Marie Mendoza (Faculty of Arts and Letters), Jaiza Marian Anuat (College of Tourism and Hospitality Management), Jesmon Laya Nañadiego (College of Science), Samantha Melyssa Perez (AMV-College of Accountancy), and Varsitarian writers Patricia Isabela Evangelista and Jonas Eleazar Trinidad (Faculty of Arts and Letters).

The workshop aims to hone the participants’ stories in time for the 26th Gawad Ustetika, also organized by the Varsitarian.

Reyes, meanwhile, said that writers should do their best if they want to be widely-read.

“Hindi responsibilidad ng mambabasa na basahin ka,” he said.

Panelists ended the workshop by telling the young fictionists to read more. It is only through reading that a writer would know what has not yet been written, the panelists said. Azer N. Parrocha

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