Think you know world literature? How many of these classics have you read?

7 novels from Ming period China

You have likely heard of The Divine Comedy, of Don Quixote, of Shakespeare – but have you heard of the Three Kingdoms? Of Sun Wukong? Of Cao Xueqin?

We asked ourselves, how are stories that had no contact with the western way of composing narratives different? Are the principles of storytelling really universal across cultures? Our idea was to find out by taking a look at classical Chinese literature. We discovered a number of interesting aspects to the Chinese way of telling stories, and have summarised them here.

In this post, we’ll tell you about the novels we read. Each was a revelation in its own way. The long-form novel came along quite suddenly in China just over 500 years ago. Generally recognised as the first great Chinese novel is Three Kingdoms, which appeared around 1494 CE. The most modern of the novels we’re considering here was published around 1760. That means we’re looking at Ming and Qing dynasty literature.

So which classical Chinese novels should you read? Here’s our list of favourites.

Our Top 7 Classical Chinese Novels

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Setting

“Where’s the story set?”

The answer provides many clues about the story in question. While we ask “where”, the setting actually encompasses somewhat more than location.

In Film, the term location is generally used to refer to scenes that are shot outdoors rather than on a sound stage or in the studio. In that specific context, the word “setting” is often used in scripts is a hyper-ordinate term to refer to both types of shooting, indoors in a controlled environment and out “on location”.

But for stories in general, the concept of setting refers to rather more. Let’s find out how setting relates to

  • time
  • genre
  • story world
  • premise

Time

Each Star Wars story reminds us of the setting before it even starts: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”. In being reminiscent of “once upon a time”, the famous opening establishes that this is essentially a fairy tale with spaceships.

“Middle-earth” is a valid answer to the question above for The Lord of the Rings. One might be tempted to explain that this is a fictitious realm, maybe say something about how its technology relates to the actual Earth’s history, and possibly mention the connection to the Midgard of Norse mythology.

So in addition to describing physical space, both these examples contain hints and associations about the time when the events of the story take place. (more…)

Why Is Crime Fiction So Popular?

Detectives and other investigators abound on our TV and cinema screens.

In the western world, crime fiction – mystery, thrillers, suspense, whodunnits, etc. – makes up somewhere between 25 and 40 percent of all fiction book sales. Why is the crime genre so popular?

Crime is fascinating, to be sure, because most of us don’t commit it. But the popularity of the genre has little to do with crime per se. It has far more to do with the very essence of how storytelling works.

In this article we will be looking at:

  • Cause and Effect
  • Agency
  • The Whydunnit
  • The Narrative Principle
  • Why Some People Don’t Like Crime Stories
  • The Search For Truth, or Gaining Awareness
  • How Crime Is Like Comedy

Cause and Effect

Crime fiction exhibits most clearly one of the fundamental rules of storytelling: cause and effect. In crime fiction,(more…)

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