Sunday, May 27, 2007

How To Write a Novel - Part 2

Make Inspiration and Opportunity Coincide

The frequency of my writing this blog tells you of the biggest problem I faced while writing my novel. It is all about making inspiration and opportunity coincide.

People have different styles of writing. Some people make outlines of the novel first. The main characters are fleshed out along with key twists in the plot. I have tried many different approaches. I have tried the whole approach of spontaneous free flowing writing. I would just sit down and write a few sheets - yeah in that red colored notebook that I had mentioned. After writing for some 30 odd pages I decided to read the manuscript. Nothing made sense. I needed to edit it. I went back and forth and edited the pages by putting notations and punctuations. I used a different color pen to do the edits. Eventually it got too complicated. I abandoned the notebook. It was a bit unfair to the notebook that had actually made the whole novel happen. It is funny but for a while I carried a sense of guilt about using a laptop to write. Maybe some of that showed up while I wrote about Priya getting abandoned even though she was responsible for getting Abbey into MIJ in the first place.

Lessons learnt: Use a word processing software. It makes editing so much easier. A random emotion could be the springboard from which a character may take shape.

I faced another major problem. I painstakingly tried to transcribe everything and put it on my laptop. As soon as that happened I faced the dreaded thing called writer's block. I would just sit and stare at the screen and nothing would emerge. Some friend told me that Hemingway had advised writers to sit down at a fixed time and write something everyday. That kept the writers' block away. Great suggestion I thought. Then realized that if I could write something everyday, why would I be complaining of a block? Maybe great authors like Hemingway just had no clue of people like me.

That sterile phase continued for almost eleven months. During this time I had not made much progress beyond adding the odd chapter to the 30 pages I had typed out from my red notebook. In February 1998, I got transferred to a new role in Colgate and had to be based out of Kuala Lumpur.

The new job demanded one hell of lot of travel. All my plans of writing on the plane or in the evenings when I would be back to my hotel fell by the wayside. There would be a million little plot lines I would have thought of during the day. By the time I would be back to my hotel room, I would be so tired and sleepy that all I could do was to say like Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind, "I will think about it tomorrow."

Saturday, May 12, 2007

How To Write a Novel - Part 1

Today happens to be an anniversary of sorts. I noticed that more people especially from Business Schools tend to ask me to address the student groups on Creative Writing. It is a great opportunity to share ideas not just on writing but on some things that I have learnt are very important to be able to write.

I started writing this novel on 13 May 1997 in Mumbai. It began in a very strange way. I had just quit working for an ad agency MUDRA to join Colgate Palmolive in Mumbai, India. That was Jan 1997. I got a few farewell gifts from my colleagues in advertising and one of them was a red colored bound note book. "Write some poems or short stories in it. "

I had on a few occasions thought of writing some short stories. Most of these were incidents or anecdotes about college and my friends that I had written to friends. Some of my friends told me that a few were funny. So I tried to reconstruct them in my mind. But not one of them sounded convincing. A few months went by. It was on 13th May 1997 that I wrote the opening lines of my novel in that red colored note book. It went like this:

"I do not know why I landed in this corporate jungle. Why I chose to do Human Resources Development. Why I did not decide to stop playing a game which I neither understood nor had any desire to learn. In fact, I did not even start off being in Human Resources.
When I joined MIJ (Management Institute of Jamshedpur, Bihar) in the summer of 1982, the course I had enrolled for was actually called Industrial Relations and Social Welfare. At that time, there were only Welfare Officers. But that term really sucked. So some smart cookie who thought like Rascal Rusty, must have decided to “Tweak the formula, change the packaging and make a new commercial with a cute babe in a skimpier bikini,” as the Marketing guys did with all their soaps and toothpaste brands every year, and called it a relaunch."

The germ of the idea was there. I did not even know whether it would be another anecdote or a short story and certainly never thought I would take that forward and turn it into a novel. Notice the reference to soaps and toothpaste brands doing relaunch. That must have crept in based on what I might have seen around me as I interacted with my colleagues and friends in other FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) companies.

Having written the first para I sat back and tried to put together the plotline. I felt I should write a story that would be set in a college campus and then fine tuned it to be in a Business School setting that would give me two campus settings to develop my characters. In choosing to do a Business School campus I had the advantage of showing the transition of characters from being undergraduate college students to being in a B-School where one has to worry about getting jobs and the relationships start to get a tinge of seriousness. By writing that first para I had crossed the first major speedbreaker - what would I write about?

No plotline seemed unique enough. Would I write a love story? A murder mystery? I thought I would write something that would be fairly generic. Everyone seemed to have great memories of being in college. Yet when you look at Bollywood's depiction of college, it seemed to be such a far cry from what you and I would have experienced. So I wanted to write about an experience that would be real. Something that a college student in a small town university would be able to relate to as well as the experience of someone who went to a University in a metro setting. The story had to be a generic experience of growing up in India in the eighties. Instinctively that seemed to be real. I could write about that authentically. It was something I had experienced. A life that I had lived many times - vicariously through friends. There was something common to us all. Each unique life had common threads. The angst of not knowing what to do in life. Of trying to choose between college courses one had no clue about. The generic experience of falling in love in college. Of crushes. Of crazy friends. Over the years I had met college students especially during Youth Festivals and while travelling. From Bangalore to Allahabad, the experiences had a lowest common denominator that was common. that was the genesis of my story. It would be a story that would be a collage of moments that each reader could relate to.

So the first big lesson in how to write a novel:
Make a Beginning: Write about a moment or an event that you have soaked in. One need not have experienced everything to be able to write about it. It just needs to be something that is very close to your heart. If not, it is difficult to get under the skin of your characters.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Hindu's List of Bestsellers

Sometimes one stumbles across an old review or list while surfing. Here's what I saw from The Hindu newspaper. This is really 27th August 2005. So pretty much just after the launch of the book.


The Lunatic from Multan: Rajeev Jacob: Rs. 295

Set in the early nineteen eighties, this is the story of one man's battle against extreme odds.

Sadak Chhaap: Meher Pestonji: Rs. 250

Horrific and heart breaking, the book evokes the brutal existence of street children.

Mediocre But Arrogant: Abhijit Bhaduri: Rs. 195

A story that tells a tale of love and life in a business school.

Home and the World: Rabindranath Tagore: Rs. 200

Set against the backdrop of the partition of Bengal, this is a translation of Tagore's great novel .

Hacks and Headlines: A Novel: Rashme Sehgal: Rs. 295

Set in the late 1990's, the novel weaves several strands of different stories.


The Other Side of Belief: Interpreting U.G. Krishnamurti: Rs. 350

This book is a candid and refreshing chronicle of UG's life and evolution of his radical outlook and ideas.

Iraq War and the Future World Order: (Ed.) G. Gopa Kumar: Rs. 695

The essays in this volume address ground-realities of the war in Iraq and its global effect.

Kerala Economy: Trajectories Challenges and Implications: (Ed.) D. Rajasenan & Genrad de Groot: Rs. 485

An exhaustive analysis of the Kerala economy, consisting of articles by eminent economists.

Source: Modern Book Centre, DC Books

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