Thursday, September 24, 2009

Imagination to Ink : The Narrative Style and Viewpoint

So you have done research and you have a plot and you are now ready to write out the story. But what narrative style are you going to use? From whose point of view will you write the story? Who is actually telling the story? Is it the chief protagonist? Or are several characters taking over from time to time. Or is it the author narrating the events?
First, let’s understand what Style actually means. Style is a question of approaching the story, either in first person singular, third person singular or plural or as the omniscient narrator.
The most commonly used narrative styles are the first person singular and third person singular or plural. We shall only consider these two popular styles of narration.
To put it very simply – a first person narration is the voice of a particular character, usually the chief protagonist. Let me cite an example here:

I am wondering where I should begin my story. Should it be on the day when I saw Napier and Edith being married in the little church at Lovat Mill? Or when I was sitting in the train starting out on my journey to discover the truth behind the disappearance of my sister Roma? So much of importance happened before either of these significant events: yet perhaps I should choose the second alternative because it was then that I became inescapably involved.

The third person singular is the narration of the author but from the viewpoint of a single character, usually the hero or the heroine. The narrator in a way has a bird’s eye view of the whole story, but restricts himself to the viewpoint of the protagonist, thus becoming his ‘voice’. Here’s an example:

Sonia watched in admiration as Nimisha, the famous actress and her friend danced with perfect tempo and grace to the music, before a huge ornate set of a temple. The camera whirred. The light men trained reflectors and the lights on the beautiful actress. There was no doubt, Nimisha was a star – in the real sense of the word. Attired in a sequined, traditional blue and gold Bharat Natyam dance sari, her tall willowy body showed off perfect curves. Her personality emanated magic, poise and vitality. In front of the camera, she positively glowed like a star.

And the third person plural, is the author using his bird’s eye view and becoming the ‘voice’ of several characters, telling the story from their viewpoints. Either shifting focus from one character to the other alternately or devoting a certain amount of time to each character.
Next time, we shall try to understand these narrative styles individually, a little more in detail.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Letter to my Dearest Departed Brownie. . .

My Dearest Brownie,

I have to write this letter to you – now. Before you move on forever. Now, while you are still around me in spirit and are trying to help me cope with my grief.

There are so many things I want you to know and understand.

You came into our house a tiny weak pup, straight off the street. You and Tuggy. But you stormed into our hearts with all the strength of a hurricane. You entered every part of our being and existence and left a lasting impact. And it was not just your unique features – the glistening chocolate brown coat on a spectacular small frame, and those light brown eyes which spoke the knowledge of the world.

Whether it was your shy nature, your forever seeking, probing eyes asking for permission for even a little thing;

Or your excitement at going out for a drive; barking joyously at Bipin's arrival from the office every evening; running in the woods and chasing the birds; interacting with the other street dogs and inviting them generously to share the circle of your warmth and loved ones:

Whether it was your pleasure at eating your food and only diving into it after I kissed you on the nose;

Or it was rocking your head fondly and rushing to me at the mention of the word 'brushing';

Whether it was your playfulness at midnight when you and Tuggy chased around the house or in the parking;

Or just sitting quietly and patiently, looking out for me and my needs and expectations, hanging on to my words, actions and subtle reactions;

Or whether it was your insistence at snuggling between the sheets with us at night, or laying your head in the crook of my arm or leg and staring at me with those innocent eyes;

They are all endless memories of your sweet, unselfish love and bonding. . .

I want to tell you how important and significant each moment with you was. . .your every gaze, mischievous when you played, or bewildered when you couldn't find us; soothing when you waited and frightened when you didn't want to leave the house; beseeching for water and filled with puzzlement in the last days. . .every single blink of your eyes, wag of your tail, crook of your straight long ears, feel of your warm firm body is a precious part of me and will remain with me forever. . .I love you Brownie, I love you so much and miss you so much that I feel that the world has stopped with your heart beats. My grief knows no outlet.

You were only four when you passed away but you gave us a lifetime of joy, love, tolerance, learning and wisdom. . .perhaps that's why you left us. . .we were the luckiest and the most privileged people in the world to have you with us. . .even for such a short time. . .Thank you for your unconditional love, sensitivity and support, for your thoughtfulness, obedience and caring, and for making us feel special and wanted.

I always called you my Angel and my reindeer sent by Santa Claus. Now I know that you really were one.

I adore you and hope that God will take special care of you and that you are happy and in good health wherever you are. . .

God Bless You my dearest Brownie. . .

You are in my heart for several lifetimes now. . .


Brownie : Born on 20th March 2005

Departed on 8th August 2009

Friday, June 26, 2009

Imagination to Ink : Story

In the last two sections, we read about Plot and Characters. Now let’s understand what a Story means. A story is an account or narration of imaginary incidents, facts or experiences. But like a plot, a story is also made up of certain basic elements. It stands for a combination of similar necessities. Like :
S for Structure
T for Technique
O for Originality
R for Research
Y for Yearning
Like we discussed in the plot, a story has to have a definite structure. A beginning, a middle and an end. In other words, sequencing your story into different parts will help you lay out your idea in a logical and gripping manner.
We already know that a well–told story usually boasts a good writing style. The technique of writing out the story has to be appropriate and suitable to its contents. Also it is crucial for your story to be original and creative.
But the two new concepts in the STORY are Research and Yearning. Research is an important activity that takes place BEFORE you begin to write out your story. Research is specially essential if your story is based on scientific, historical or geographical knowledge.
Imagine what were to happen if your protagonist is a doctor and you don’t know a thing about the medicines he is supposed to be administering. Or you diagnose a disease on vague symptoms and administer an incorrect prescription? Or suppose your protagonist is a lawyer and you use completely wrong legal terminology! Perhaps he’s a cook and you muddle up the names of all the spices. Or if you describe a funny scene about traveling by an auto rickshaw and it turns out that that particular city has no auto rickshaws! You could be describing the use of oil lamps and lanterns in a village when that particular village actually has electricity! These are huge blunders! And not only would they seem ridiculous, but they would reveal your lack of interest and sincerity. And if that shows, do you think the readers would be interested in reading something the author himself is disinterested in?
Background research on the locales, customs, professions of your characters is a must. Get your facts right and add authenticity to your story.
And lastly, Y for Yearning – you have to yearn to write out your story. If the desire to write is from your heart and not your head, I do believe that you would surpass every single hurdle that lies between you and the completion of your book!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My Quote

"A novel is born several times and dies several times, before it takes its final life form."
Manjiri Prabhu

Imagination to Ink : Plot

What is a Plot? The dictionary meaning of a plot is : an interrelationship of the main events in a play, novel, film etc. Another meaning is a conspiracy or a secret plan.
Within a novel, a plot is exactly that – an interrelationship of the main events, which give rise to a conflict between the characters (sometimes a conspiracy) and which leads the story to a climax, resolving the conflict.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that a plot is the core of the novel. It is the HEART of your novel and a very crucial element. A good plot is made up of many virtues. It has to be gripping and interesting to keep the reader hooked. And, of course, it has to be convincing.
A gripping plot is usually a combination of the following :
P for Planning and Pacing
L for Logic
O for Originality
T for Technique
We all know that a story needs a beginning, a middle and an end. And so, it is very important to plan the layout of your plot. How is the story going to begin? Is the conflict in your plot revealed immediately or is it exposed gradually? Is it introduced through characters or situations? At what point is the conflict going to rise and climax? These are some of the questions you need to answer, which will assist you in planning the layout of your plot.
Also, what is going to be the pace of your story? Is your plot going to be fast paced, or slow-paced? A thriller usually is fast-paced, whereas a romance can be relatively slow in pacing.
Another crucial feature of the plot is Logic. The events unfolding in your plot have to be logical. The sequences that will lead from point A in the story to point B, should be logical and convincing enough to clear the doubts in the minds of the reader, as he continues to read. At no point should the reader feel – “Hey! this is impossible! This can’t happen!” or “this is too much, no one will ever behave like that!” Of course, you are free to experiment!.
Indisputably, Originality of the plot is a must. You may love a particular character or a story that you have read. But although you may be inspired by it, under no condition can you copy any part of it! You’ve got to be original, by trying to create a plot which is absolutely incomparable! I agree that this is the most difficult part of a plot. But not impossible. If others have done it, why can’t you?
And last but not the least, comes the technique of writing out the plot. The style and the narrative techniques will hold your plot and novel together, making it an interesting read. Sometimes even off-beat techniques can take an ordinary story to great heights!
Well, in short, you have to understand, that for a good plot you need to Plan and Pace your story in a Logical and Original manner, using different Techniques in writing.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Astral Alibi

'The Astral Alibi' is a sequel to 'The Cosmic Clues'. Detective Sonia Samarth is back with Nidhi and Jatin to solve many more cases in cosy Pune, India!
'The Astral Alibi' was honored as a Notable Fiction Book in the Kiriyama Prize 2007

Friday, June 19, 2009

Imagination to Ink : Characters – Part Two

We tried out a small exercise and your imagination soared. Let’s analyze this exercise. You could outline a perfect character sketch from the description of the room. How did this actually happen? As I said before, an image instantly sprang before your eyes. But how did you really go about concretizing that image? By a very simple technique. Asking questions.
The articles in the room were suggestive enough. A person using a computer frequently lived in this room for sure. And he was so busy that he couldn’t even finish his sandwich, right? So, what do you think he does with his computer? Draws cartoons? Is he an animator? Perhaps that’s his profession! That certainly adds up to the picture of the monkeys on the wall. A hand-sketched picture, which meant probably that the picture, was drawn by the person in the room. What do the fresh flowers and the dog’s leash indicate? This person must be good-natured and loves animals. He owns a dog, who is naughty enough to upturn the paper basket? Or the person is so busy working on the computer, that he is neglecting the dog? What age do you think he or she is? Back ground. . .So you see, the more questions you ask about the character, the more you probe and the more you imagine!
A well-defined and well-described character gives a whole lot of strength and realism to a book. But to make the character believable, you need to work on him. Now you will understand that your character must stand the test of certain questions. How old is the character, how does he or she look? Hair, eyes, teeth, smile, height, weight? Does he have some special characteristics or behavioral oddity? What are his educational qualifications? Is he highly qualified or barely managed to scrape school? Is he working, rich, poor—what is his background? Does he come from a cultured, reputed family or is he an orphan? What religion is he? Does he pray regularly? All these questions, in context to your story become extremely relevant, even giving a direction to your story.
This not only applies to the central character, but also to the other major and minor characters, supporting the story line. Each character is important in whatever role he or she plays. Just be careful that you don’t pile the novel with unnecessary personalities, cluttering the scene. Every character must contribute to the development of the novel.
In a nutshell - the more you know about your characters, the more credible and interesting they will be within your plot. And certainly more endearing to the reader!

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Imagination to Ink : Characters – Part One

Let’s talk about characters.
Sometimes ideas can come in the guise of characters. Like I said before, J.K.Rowling ‘met’ Harry Potter in a train journey. And the rest is history!
Characters play a very important role in a book. There is usually a central character or the ‘protagonist’ and there is the ‘antagonist’. The ‘good characters’ pitched against the ‘bad character’. And there are also the supporting characters, some minor but others important enough to add to the story.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that characterization can make or break a book! Strong characterization can take the novel to great heights and weak characterization could prove fatal for the story. A well-formed, unique central character is like the engine of a train, which leads other characters smoothly on the tracks of the story!
But where do these characters come from? Specially the main central character? From your imagination, for sure, but sometimes also from your day-to-day interactions with people. Every day you meet several people. Some are boring, some interesting, but some may be distinguished enough to create an impact. Perhaps not the whole personality, but a particular mannerism, a trait, stays with you. This trait and mannerism may automatically concretize into a solid character or inspire a completely novel character.
A small warning : It is unadvisable to lift a whole character straight out of reality. You cannot discard the possibility that that person may object strongly to the idea of being ‘exposed’ in a book! And anyway, a good character is usually a combination of qualities ‘borrowed’ from different human beings.
Remember, that characters have to be realistic, believable and interesting enough to hold the reader’s attention. But what is most important is that, first and foremost, you have to believe in the character yourself. You have to live with the character, get to know his past, present and future so well, that he grows with you.
Here’s a simple, but interesting exercise :
Some articles are strewn in a room. There’s a dog’s leash on the floor, a hand-drawn framed sketch of a group of monkeys around a tea-table on the wall, fresh flowers in a vase, an upturned wastepaper basket, and a half-finished plate of sandwich on the table where a computer is on, with the picture of a cartoon on the screen. Try to imagine who must be occupying this room. Immediately, a vague picture of a person must be materializing before your eyes. An image must be forming in your mind. Write down every thing you can visualize about this character and send me your results.
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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Imagination to Ink - Idea

'Books choose their authors; the act of creation is not entirely a rational and conscious one,' says Salman Rushdie.
Absolutely! Great books have found their authors. But even then we have to start a conscious process at some point. A concrete thought. A germ. An idea. You have to have an idea for a story. But where does this idea come from?
Have you ever woken up restlessly from your sleep, with something jiggling in your mind? Something that you dreamt perhaps or some incident that happened? That could be the vague hint or beginning of an idea!
Ideas can come from almost anywhere. Day-to-day life. Newspapers, books, dreams, songs, films, workplace, people on the streets, shops. While you are exercising, in the bathroom, while you’re shopping, listening to music or to your neighbor’s chatter, hearing a dog bark or doing absolutely nothing. It may crop up suddenly in a quiet, totally silent moment. Sometimes it’s one idea, sometimes there are too many at a time. The one that keeps recurring—that sticks in your mind—is the one that has to be developed!
J.K.Rowling was traveling by train from Manchester to London, when the idea of Harry Potter fell into her head. . . . Agatha Christie says, "they come suddenly, I even don’t know how. Whenever I am listening to opera, walking on the street… they come from everywhere!”
The fact is that there is no sure-fire method of finding an idea. But that doesn’t mean we cannot try to attract one. One way is with brainstorming. Which is a random generation of ideas. Sit with a friend and throw out different ideas that come to your mind, without checking their workability. Write them down if you like. If you have too many ideas vying for attention, write all of them down! Then keep going over them, considering each possibility, till finally you hit on the one that really appeals to you.
Another way is to stop worrying too much. Don’t pursue it in a frenzy. The more you push your mind, the farther the idea will go. Relax, keep your mind open, observe everything and everyone around you and before you know it, THE IDEA will have found you!
If you don’t already have a story in your mind, try these methods out. There is never a certainty but anything may work.
Here’s a simple exercise to stimulate your brain. Jot down ten words that immediately come to your mind. Don’t think. Just write down any ten words. Then look at the words. They may be disconnected. Using the words, make sentences in such a way that all ten sentences are interconnected. Through out this process, observe the way your mind tries to reach out to different ideas. Try this exercise and tell me your experience.

Imagination to Ink - What do you want to write?

What do you want to write?
You're here! Which means that you do believe that there is a writer in you. Good, so let's get started.
You are already aware that there are different types of books - Romance, Romantic Suspense, Crime, Mystery, Thrillers, Children's fiction, Science-fiction, Fantasy, Horror and many others. What do you really like to read?
Reading is a natural habit with most writers. We are exposed to a variety of books from a very young age. So many generations have grown up reading the Enid Blyton books as well as classics by Jane Austen, Somerset Maugham and others. For those who believe that love is the key word, Romances play a big role. It is not at all surprising that Mills & Boon, Silhouette—the romantic genre has been going strong worldwide. On the other hand, brain-racking mysteries are also extremely popular. Agatha Christie—the Queen of Crime—still rules the world with her unmatchable tales of suspense.
Preferences may differ and reading habits may vary. But the indisputable truth, is that a good read may come from any genre. But what you have to decide is what you would like to write. Should you write what you like to read or should you experiment?
Personally, I believe that you should begin by writing what you like to read. Don't forget that you are a reader after all! Also remember that writing is a tough job. Someone once said that "writing is a combination of ditch-digging, mountain-climbing, treadmill and childbirth. . ."
So, if you are going to experience all these hardships to reach the ultimate pleasure and satisfaction of a complete novel, you may as well begin with a genre or a story that is close to your heart. Because only then will you be motivated to put your heart and soul into the work. Only then, will your story reach and touch other hearts.
There's no harm in experimenting, of course. Trying out genres that you would like to explore, is like trying to prove something. Sometimes to others, sometimes to yourself.
What is most important is that you write for yourself. If you like what you write, then there's a chance that others will too. But if you write with others in mind, it is certain that you may lose interest along the way and your work would be a half-hearted attempt.
Either way, think of Benjamin Franklin's famous quote—"Either write things worth reading or do things worth the writing!