Friday, March 26, 2010

A Picture Book That Inspires

Many of the readers (mostly teachers) of my picture book (though I prefer to call it an illustrated book) ‘The Lion Who Wanted To Sing’ tell me that they found the book extremely inspirational! A school principal has openly admitted to my editor about using the lion’s example to motivate her graduating students.

Few teachers told me that my picture book has been responsible for them re- chasing dreams that they had long given up. If Leo - the king of the jungle could turn vegetarian to pursue singing, then, why couldn’t they follow their dreams, was their arguement. Perhaps these adults were waiting for a much needed nudge in the direction of the dreams they had jettisoned, and, unconsciously Leo’s journey towards the fulfillment of his own dream, propelled them in that direction.

I heard this several times from adults, while children just enjoyed the book. Most adults loved the subtle message that had been added to each story without it developing a preachy overtone. That would have been a sure fire way of making the child run in the opposite direction. Children by and large hate preachiness. Actually, all of us hate it.

My intention was to write a lovable book, with an absolutely adorable protagonist. Maybe subconsciously we (writers) imbue our writing with subtle messages, which few readers are able to decipher. I definitely could be guilty of that. As could many other writers.

Initially I was unhappy with the compliment about writing an inspiring book. Wouldn't that put off a child, was my concern.  But, as time passed, I realized that a child reads a picture book over and over and over again, until the entire story is memorized. So, if a picture book character is inspiring, the message will settle deeper and deeper inside the small mind with each reading. It will stay there for life. In one way or the other it will influence the tender  mind, if not immediately, then, maybe sometime in the future. The child may act upon the inspiration years later. I also realized that if a picture book carries a positive message, it is a good thing. The best teacher is a character the child loves. The child will never spurn these messages.

Leo's  journey taught me several things about picture books which I want to share:

1. Every word in a picture book has to earn its way into it. There is no room for meandering, or, long winded explanations.

2. The story in a picture book has to win the reader over. Completely. It must have believable characters.

3. The message or the wisdom has to be quiet, and, should never intrude upon the story.

4. The message must neither overwhelm the protagonist, or, the child.

5. The entire story can be a message by itself which the child learns as he\she progresses further and further into the story.

If Leo has ended up entertaining as well as motivating readers, its more than what I asked for!

Has any picture book character inspired you ? Pushed you a little closer to your dream?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bonding with a Literary Character

Though writing is largely a solitary activity, the writer literally lives on an island, scrawling away on sheets, or, typing furiously, isolated from family and friends for long and painful stretches of time, it’s also one activity that connects writers with a vast number of people (readers) instantly.

Our books act as the bridge that link us to people who bring their unique sensibilities to our work. I agree with another writer who said “books like water will find their own level.” Books are open to interpretations any which way. The characters that we have nurtured inside our feverish minds find other dimensions when they meet the readers.

Different readers glean different nuggets of wisdom from a literary character/book, depending on their personal perception. Whatever the reason for the bond between book\protagonist and the reader, the important aspect is that an emotional connection has been forged. A literary kindred spirit discovered. A relationship formed. These connections between reader and character are the barometers of the real success of a book. Not the number of copies sold, nor the clutch of awards won. Readers after all are the best critics, and their appreciation the real award.

To create a literary character that firmly entrenches itself into a reader’s mind is an extremely difficult task. A memorable literary character must appeal to each and every sense of the reader, not just tug, but play with their heartstrings, seduce them away from the million and one things clamouring for their attention, entice them into the world woven by the writer. Memorable literary characters leave strong traces of their presence inside a reader’s mind long after the book has been devoured. In the history of books there have been several such characters: Anna Karenina, Jane Eyre, Lata Mehra from Vikram Seth’s ‘ A Suitable Boy,’ Harry Potter to name just a few.

A character can achieve literary immortality if there is a strong sense of Empathy and Sympathy between the reader and the literary character. Because, when we empathize, or, sympathize with someone, albeit a literary character, concern for their well-being creeps in, a reluctant love develops. The warp and the weft of the reader’s life then entwines with the character’s. This ability of a character to attract the twin emotions mentioned earlier encourages the readers to be quasi participants rather than distant indifferent observers.

The character must invoke the feeling of oneness, there has to be a sense of similarity of experiences, similarity of emotions, of choices made, paths chosen, sacrifices done, between the reader and character. These aspects further cement the reader- character bond.

To create such characters is every writer’s dream. The character then becomes the voice of that generation of readers, a kind of a role model. There is a complete sense of identity between the reader and the literary character. “Hey that could be me, it’s is the story of my life,” the delighted reader nods his/her head. These characters are not only inspirational, they gently urge the readers to aspire for greater glories by acting as catalysts of change in the readers’ lives, and also, silently beckon the readers to visit them again and again.

Isn’t this a measure of a successfully created character?