October 5, 2013


Dear M,

We are all in a hurry to become authors (preferably best-sellers) that we forget we have to write something before we do. And not just anything.

We don't plan prior to writing and plunge right into the story, flowing with the flow. We think our stories are exceptional and never-written-before (or perhaps even a stroke of genius), which is why we keep at them. Somehow we fail to realise that just having a good grasp of the story and a smooth flow in mind do not always mean the story is great, or even good. It could be, but it need not be. Even a spectacular story can be ruined by bad execution.

We need to do a lot of groundwork before we write. If nothing else, it helps to reduce the re-work later. And I speak from experience, so trust me.

I threw myself headlong into my story, not pausing to look up, my only reference being a couple of sheets of paper where I had written down the plot. Even those sheets are preparation, but not enough. I didn't know my characters right, I did not identify or resolve conflicts beforehand, I did not see potential issues (we cannot predict all of them, but we could plan for most), I did not see that the story wasn't convincing enough, I did not see that the parts I stitched together were standing out like unpleasant bulges, I did not realise that readers are more intelligent than me and that they can see through the writing as though there was only a glass partition between us. The result? A lot of rework after the first draft was done.

The truth is that, even with a lot of preparation, those kind of issues can arise, especially when you are new to writing. But with a good amount of homework, you could minimise the post-first-draft rewriting. And over time, when we get better skilled at the art of writing, the first draft itself would be as close to perfection as possible and reworks would be minimal! (A dream to work towards, don't you think?)

Why are we reluctant to do elaborate preparation before beginning the actual writing? Because we are in a hurry to finish our masterpiece novel and these kinds of preparations take up a lot of time - ideally, they could take months. The better the groundwork, the smoother the writing process. So what are involved in the groundwork? Plenty of notes. Paragraphs upon paragraphs on each character's past, present and future. On what kind of people they are. Of where they come from. Etc. Then the flow of the plot. Sub-plots, wherever required. How they wind in and out of each other, and how they unwind (or get more tangled, as the case may be).

This activity helps carve the story in our mind (of course, when it washes off, we have the notes to remind us), so that in each situation that we introduce our characters to, we will know how they are going to behave. Is she going to turn around and scamper at the sight of the ghost, or is she going to faint, or is she going to stand rooted to the spot, or is she going to say, "Oh, get lost, ghost!", or is she going to ask the ghost for directions to the treasure she is seeking? We know how Indiana Jones will behave in each crisis, don't we? Just so. The better we know our protagonist, the more realistic their reactions would be, and the more convincing the story will appear to the reader.

With proper groundwork, we can make the story look casual, as though we aren't trying so hard to make the reader happy. (I've read books that made me feel so.) The story flows at its own pace, introducing characters casually and easily, with no sense of urgency, without the plot tumbling over each other as though they have to catch a flight in an hour. With proper groundwork, we can have different sub-plots that add richness to the story and keep the story from being too linear. In fact, everything becomes better if groundwork is proper.

We don't have to feel that the effort spent on groundwork (the elaborate notes made) will be wasted completely. We could do a lot of copying and pasting from these notes into the story too!


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