September 12, 2013

Plot-based and character-based

Dear M,

Some years ago, I lent a book to a girl. I figure I must have been talking long and loud about the books I've been reading, because one day this girl comes up to me and asks with her sweet smile if she could borrow one of them interesting books I was reading. I was taken aback. I was not the kind who lent books. I was the kind who once lent and learnt the hard way that books lent were lost forever. Then I shook my head free and remembered this recent book at the top of my book-rack. She said something about not reading any books and wanting to start that habit and such. I thought this book would do just splendid for her. It was light, simple to read, not too profound or boring, fast-moving, intriguing, all of that in the right amount. Not a kind of book I would recommend to an avid reader except as an airplane read, perhaps. She wasn't going anywhere for a while, so my book was safe. And I said, Sure.

So after a couple of days I gave it to her. During the course of the next few weeks she told me she was enjoying it immensely and she was very grateful etc. etc. Then I heard nothing more. We met each other every day for the next several years but this book quickly slipped out of our memories. Then one day I remembered it and looked all around my book shelf and could not find it. I brushed and dusted my memory and remembered giving it to her. I asked her about it and she said "I think I had returned it to you."

That was that, and my book was lost forever. So much for magnanimity! There are two morals from this story. The first is, obviously, don't donate your books to anyone unless you want to get rid of them (either the books or the people).

The second is that first time readers and those who have no patience to read, would prefer a plot-based story. A plot-based story is generally quick-moving, action packed, and does not linger on the flowers of the season or their fragrance. It tells us who the people are but we do not bother about their character development more than is crucial for the story. We don't want to know of their coming of age unless it is relevant.

I like to read both kinds of stories. Sometimes a plot-based book feels good, just because there are so many things happening that you are gripped by its sheer pace. Or so many intriguing puzzles and mysteries and so much tension that your heart is pounding as though you are the protagonist. Or sometimes you want to read something where it does not matter what each line is, you just want to push through and get to the end. A character-based story generally goes slow, but it too can set our hearts racing. As long as it is not too slow as to become boring and yawn-invoking, and delving too much into the unhappening mind of the protagonist! In a character-based story, there is a significance in every line. You cannot skim through without spending some thought on each. Sometimes you read a sentence twice and you will find a different meaning in it each time.

As far as writing is concerned, I would like to write character based novels. I like to think my characters have power, a solid structure, three-dimensional existence, and that they can connect with people around me. I like to think that the effort I spent on each line brings out some amount of emotion in the reader; that it tugs at his heart.

It is easier said than done, but having a clear goal sure helps.


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