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.

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