Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Write Time for a Vacation

It is tough to hold a day job and finish writing a sequel. So I decided on impulse to just go somewhere inspiring and speed up my sequel (tentatively called Married But Available)

The places were all spread out over the state of Himachal Pradesh in the northern parts of India.

I started with थानेदार Thanedhar - the place where Mr Stokes planted Himachal's first apple। It was Shatabdi Express from Delhi to Chandigarh and then drove from there. The route was breathtakingly beautiful. I loved the sight of the Sutlej River (see photo) as it cleared the mountains away to continue its journey. Samuel Stokes (1882-1946) came to India (specifically Simla) on a trip from Philadelphia and settled down in Kotgarh which is a stone's - maybe a Stokes throw away - for those of you who like cheap puns.

I drove from Simla शिमला to Thanedhar (1830m). And the place lives upto its reputation. I was very excited initially and photographed the first few sightings of green apples (actually the variety is called Red Delicious) but soon realized that there were millions of those trees. Himachal must be the "Fruit Bowl of India". Right through the journey I saw apples, pears and the occasional cherry orchards. The place I stayed in was bang in the middle of an apple orchard. If I had known that I would saved myself the trouble of clicking every apple tree that saw along the way.

A vacation really recharges the soul and this place was just the right place. I am not the trekking kind. I know I will offend those of you who go to a place like Thanedhar and get up at the crack of dawn (whats that?) and wear your sneakers and put on your backpacks. To you I say, thats just the right thing to do... but no thank you I won't join you. I will just sit on the balcony and sip the nth cup of tea (from the Kangra Valley) and stare at the beautiful sight ahead. Please note the apple trees in the foreground and the mountain ranges in various shades of blue fading away into the horizon.

I just parked myself on the balcony of my room and stared at the valley and pecked away on my laptop. It was such a liberating feeling to not be bothered by phones and emails and to just stay with the characters of my novel... getting to know them better!

And now for a collage of the beautiful flowers of Thanedhar including the Blue Iris.
And if you thought this was pretty... then wait for the next post about Sojha, or is it Shoja?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

How to Write a Novel – Part 3

It Is All About (the) Character

The characters and their mannerisms and dialog together determine the flavor of the novel. I use to often sit back and reflect on the characteristics of the key players in my novel. I did short sketches of each person who would feature in my story. Yeah, I would very often draw the character as it existed in my mind and try to imagine what they would wear, what they would look like, what their dreams and aspirations were. I would also try and see who they would interact with and then look at the nature of their relationships while staring at the sketches. This is what I imagined Arunesh Nanda - the character in the novel who plays Dylan songs, to look like when I first introduced him in the story. This picture is from the sketchbook.

I wanted to build a protagonist and an anti-hero in the narration. So Abbey, was described as a directionless, fairly unambitious student of Delhi University who is insecure, is good in drawing and debates and all that. He is not very confident in himself and therefore wants to be a "somebody" by being seen with a pretty girl. Yet, he is unable to develop depth in a relationship.

So for a protagonist like Abbey, it was necessary to build a person who is exactly the polar opposite. That's what would make an interesting contrast in a novel. That's where Rascal Rusty came into the story. He had a solution to every problem and who had a precocious presence.

In plays and especially in the folk theater of Bengal (Jatras), there is a character - Vivek
विवेक , who is quite literally the conscience of the main characters. This character is also a sutradhar who does a major part of the narration. I liked that idea and built it into the story format. Between the hero and the anti-hero was the "conscience" or Vivek of the story. That was Father Hathaway or Haathi. So the letter that he wrote for Abbey reminds the reader that there is a larger purpose of education that we need to keep in mind.

Many fictional characters have traces of their origins in the real world. I too have met interesting people with fascinating life stories and quirky personalities that would make great reading. Yet to blend the person into a story, the character may retain only 10% of the individual.

So to summarize:
1. Drawing and sketching the character as a starting point helps me visualize the details and imagine the conversational style of the person.
2. The time one spends in building the characters style of speaking adds authenticity to the novel.