May 24, 2014

Writing about painful incidents from life

Dear M,

There was an incident that happened about twelve years ago. I was not among the ones that were directly hit by it, but I was in an inner circle. It was not easy to get over it, especially the questions it raised. The Why? Why? of it.

I never found out the answers. Probably that's why I never found a closure with it. I could probably have dug deeper into it, but it would have reopened the wounds of the people who were trying to get past it.

I met them again last month. It was not something you grow out of or you can move away from. It was something that would hang over their heads for ever. They had worked their lives around it. Things are looking good for them now, there have been happier incidents in the past few years and it did fill our hearts to see them getting along.

The questions were not answered, though. I could not bring myself to ask those and risk seeing their pain.

Why did I bring this up now? Because in one of my recent stories, I wrote about it. The similarity is too thin to notice - except for the people who know and haven't forgotten. I don't know how it would be received if they read it. Would they think I have commercialised a personal tragedy?

For writers, sometimes the only way to let out pent-up emotions is to write about it. Others may easily claim that we're trying to make money out of it. But in truth, it is our own way of finding answers, of finding some peace. Twelve years hence, I still haven't found any peace with that incident, except a slight satisfaction when I met the people concerned. It is our own way of creating the same situation and explaining it the way we think it happened. It is our own way of trying to believe that it wasn't worse than we had imagined, that the real explanation isn't more terrible than we are trying to convince ourselves. Yes, the answers of the Why could indeed be anything.

Though it does not always help, it is our attempt to find some consolation. For a reader, it might seem like the author has quickly weaved it into the story for want of a better scene. Or that the writer is just another person who uses stories for their own purpose, like the media highlighting tragedies to lure viewers. It isn't.


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May 7, 2014

The Wikipedia approach to writing

Dear M,

I am a huge fan of Wikipedia. Apart from the fact that it gives me a lot of info about things (I am not interested in going into the right-or-wrong discussion regarding Wikipedia), it also serves another purpose, in my eyes. The way Wikipedia presents topics, classifies them and highlights the important facts - to me that appears to be a good method to use when we are preparing to work on a novel.

It is always a good idea to identify chapters prior to writing. I know several writers who just write in a flow and break the chapters down afterwards, but some people prefer to prepare a chapter-wise summary for the entire novel before actually plunging into the writing.

And if you look at Wiki you get an idea. An intro, a summary, a cast of characters, list of casualties, (okay - maybe not) in short, a quick highlight of each chapter might be a good idea as a part of the homework.

Once we do that, we can weave scenes in, to each relevant chapter, we don't have to collate them into an incomprehensible mass.

Because, however much we think we know the story, trust me, writing a novel is a long journey, and somewhere, some times, we lose track of threads, some fine, important threads, and we need notes to bring us back into the game. The more organized, the better. As I tell myself every day, to no avail.


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May 5, 2014

Character Development - 5: Dialogs

Dear M,

I have always thought that watching movies is a great way to learn about writing scenes, because movies is mostly about 'showing, not telling' (except when there is a lot of voice-over).

Recently I watched one, where the protagonist's attitude and behaviour were presented to us through dialogs by others. In a few sentences we were told that she was obsessive when it comes to a certain matter, and that the speaker and she had had an affair. There was no need for a detailed flashback or digging into the specifics of the relationship. Again, a second scene in which the protagonist herself speaks to someone gave away some other factors of her character, without our even noticing what the scriptwriters were doing. (Okay, a writer would notice, but the dialogs seemed effortless and regular, just the kind of things we would say, and not as though they were talking just to convey something to the viewers.)

It is not easy. They must have spent many, many hours and days to introduce that conversation (which was essential in itself, and not brought in just to give away the protagonist's character) and compact it into the most necessary bits. (A novel writer is bound by no such strict rules the way the movie's scriptwriter is, but it would make a very good read if only the necessary words are used.)


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May 3, 2014


Dear M,

Everything in writing sounds easier than it actually is. You can talk about a topic and say, this is how it is done. Then you pick up the paper and look at it for hours, writing something, trying to implement what you had just spoken about, strike it out (or type something, delete it out), and this could go on for hours.

I have been obsessed with writing sub-plots. I had a chance to explore the sub-plots in some books I was reading. I haven't been very good with sub-plots though.

Here are some things that I observed.

Sub-plots have many purposes

We know the theme and plot of the novel. So when the protagonist strays too far from the path, we know we're headed out for a sub-plot. Sub-plots either serve to push the main plot forward, or to develop the characters along the way.

Sub-plots could be distracting

Recently I read reviews where a reader complained that the deviation from the path was very distracting and irritating. Many readers (if not most), I have noticed, are impatient to get to the end of it. Taking the longer route isn't for them.

Some sub-plots are very promising

We would just want to go into them and breathe deeply; some sub-plots are exciting and we are sad when they're over.

Will the story work without them?

I think the defining factor will be, will the story remain the same if the sub-plot is removed? Cut out an entire chapter and see if anything is different. If not, it probably is best edited out.


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