Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Unleashing Our Creativity

Several times our creativity gets stuck in  a rut as we work long and hard for several hours in a day,  for months together and sometimes for  years on one WIP. Our thoughts get stilted. They seldom drift from plot, character, conflict and resolution. This leads to battle fatigue. Yes, we do  get tired and the flow of creativity is restricted.

We may call it Writer’s Block or by any other name. I noticed while teaching my students that they were moving along just one track. The group of 18-19 year old girls seldom strayed from the path of love stories. Most were getting stuck in a rut.

To infuse fresh  enthusiasm I introduced them to the Double Trouble Game which I  had come across on my blogging friend Australian Writer Sheryl Gwyther’s blog long time back. Sheryl  generously allowed me to share this creative game  not just with  my students but with everyone. I would like to share the game with everyone. 
 In this game we have to pick two nouns from a list of unlikely 'room-mates' - naming words that do not go together. 

You get the idea? Now imagine the combination of two (Frog and Guitar) and ask yourself What if ? Or you can think of unusual situations  consisting of a frog and a guitar.

Like: What if a frog  loved the guitar? What if the frog lived inside a guitar? Or what if a  frog  liked to play a guitar to serenade his girlfriend? What happens  when the frog is rejected by other frogs  because of his love for guitars?

How will our   Frog  ( my frog is called  Freddy Strings) cope with this rejection from  other frogs? Can he live away from the frog community? What  is he going to do? Would he stop playing the guitar? Would he stop living inside the guitar and move to another place? Short  stories can be built on these unlikely room mates.

My brief to my students was “ Go wild. Have fun. Let nothing hold you back.” And fun they had. I got such unlikely roommates (Cindrella- McDonald, Dog-Rose, Icecream-Sun, Plant-Coke, A popular Actress-Chocolate, Ant-Skateboard ). The stories built around these strange roomies were wild, wacky and weird. But it did let loose their creativity.  

I think this is a wonderful way to create unusual situations  in our manuscripts. We  can take two unlikely room mates ( elements from our WIP) and come up with something unusual. Maybe we can arrive at an unexpected  and unusual plot twist. Who knows  which direction our imagination will lead us to?

What do you think of the Double Trouble Game? It would be great  if  you  share two unlikely room mates with us. What is their unusual problem/situation?  Don’t you think this can be a wonderful source of inspiration not just for picture book writers, but for all of us?

P.S: My unlikely  room mates were the frog and guitar. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Top Ten Novels Blog Fest

 I caught this Blog Fest  on Madeleine’s Blog a bit late. I just hope my post makes the deadline. It’s  
  been a bit of a rush to gather my top ten favourites from the different corners of my mind.

My Top  10 is in random order.

  1. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth.  Set in post - independence,  post - partition India. A book I read 13 years back. Its the story of every Indian mother who has a daughter of marriageable  age. The book is about the ups and downs of the journey to find a suitable boy.

  1. The Crow Eaters by Bapsi Sidhwa. A humorous tale that plunges us into the heart of a parsi  community  with the protagonist  Faredoon (Freddie)  Junglewalla. The pages are   replete with the  customs and unique traits of the  parsi community.

  1. Matilda by Roald Dahl. Matilda was my first encounter with the amazing Roald Dahl. Matilda Wormwood who loved to read from the age of two was stuck with parents who had no interest in her whatsoever, she  wormed her way into my heart and has continued to stay there.

  1. Artemis Fowl By Eoin Colfer. The anti hero  is  my personal favourite.

  1. The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. The story set in Ayemenem Kerala about  twins Rahel and Estha   who are trapped in a rigidly pre- determined social niche  where the female characters suffer twice as much as the male characters  shows the hypocrisy prevalent in our society.

  1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I  personally felt that it explored  plenty of themes :jealousy, hypocrisy, infidelity, family, marriage, society. It presented a vast panorama of Russian Life.

  1. Wuthering Heights a  gothic  novel by Emily Bronte needs no introduction. Heathcliff, Catherine  Earnshaw and Edgar Linton are popular  and memorable literary figures.

  1. Harry Potter books  by J.K Rowling. All the seven books are my favourite. Magic and Hogwarts  completely bewitched me.

  1. The Lord Of  The Rings by J.R.R Tolkein is another perennial favourite. This Epic high fantasy novel was my introduction to Tolkein.

  1. Gone with the Wind By Margaret Mitchell was a book I read in  high school. Both the book and the movie will remain fresh in my mind  forever.

      Feel free to name your favourites. I would love to know.


Friday, September 24, 2010

13 Elements of a Good Story

 Many elements go into making a book  lovable and memorable. The reason we like  some books and  dislike  others  is not just because  of the writing style or the story, but for several other reasons.

I have read many not so great books only because I found the characters worthy of following. Unfortunately these characters were caught in a not so great story. Many other books  I  have read because I liked the way  the plot  twists  kept me on tenterhooks, though I disliked the language and  the writing style was ordinary.

 For a book to make the cut, many elements must fall into place. The ones that instantly come to mind, I have listed below.

1.      A  Strong  Protagonist: who beckons the reader into his/her story and  makes them follow him/her page after page. A protagonist who becomes a literary friend, one we are eager to know more about.   

2.      A Powerful Antagonist: who evokes  immense dislike from the readers. To see the antagonist fall and lose,  readers root for the protagonist's victory and get glued to the pages.        
3.      A Unique, Original, and Amazing Setting that has the readers eager to know more. Settings take time to create, but they are well worth the effort.

4.      An Engrossing Conflict that  sucks  the readers in its grip.

5.      Unexpected Twists and Turns of the Story: keeps the readers engrossed.

6.      A  Generous Sprinkling of  Romance: brings a smile on the readers’ faces and makes their hearts flutter.

7.      Heart Tugging Emotions: very  crucial for the emotional connect with the readers.

8.      Rounded, Peripheral Characters : they help in   pushing the story forward.

9.      Atleast two Strong  Subplots that Intersect the Main Plot:  this can involve the peripheral characters and  is extremely crucial to break the monotony if the main plot slackens.

10.   A Gripping  Plot: packed with racy scenes that add tension and make it a page   turner.

11.   Awesome Writing Style: full of vivid and unusual descriptions.

12.   Wonderful Dialogues or as I  prefer to call them Conversation  Pieces that are remembered long   after the book has been put down.

13.   A Great Resolution ; preferably a Happily Ever After.

Do you think there are other elements that I have overlooked? Is there any other element that  is crucial?  Please tell us, not only are we  keen to hear about it, we can also add it into our next manuscript.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Invisible Hand Guiding Our Writing

This  post is inspired by a  comment made by my blog and writing mentor Lia Keyes.  

Here is her comment  on my post  Ganesha’s Symbolism for  Writers  “What a lovely idea, Rachna, to tie your spiritual beliefs to your writing. I do think that writers who stop trying to direct their writing from a factual place within themselves and instead listen to a higher source, as though taking dictation, tend to end up with a more soulful end result that moves readers more deeply.

Lia’s comment resonates with me. Because I  too believe that  we have an Invisible Hand Guiding our  Writing  from a far off place. Sometimes the stories our dictated to us. At other times key points are whispered into our ears so that we are able to build a story based on that.  Actually if we come down to it where do we get our ideas and thoughts from.  There has to be a larger source of ideas  from where we tap our story ideas. The reservoir of ideas  I believe is  held by the power who controls us. We may call it by different names.

This super power is  not only responsible for our ideas but also whispers in our ears to work on those ideas. He gives us the patience and dedication and infuses in us the passion to pursue our dream. Have you noticed how from a basic seed (germ  of an idea) we are able to weave tales of  hundred odd pages, add all kinds of characters, write thousands of words that make a huge impact on our readers. Whenever we are weighed down by  pressure, something or the other is always there to ease our burden. When we are plumbing the depths of despair, in a strange but surprising way a  small good news drops into our laps. It could be a critic partner’s fabulous feedback, a blog award,  news about a manuscript or story we had sent somewhere. This Invisible Hand is always quick to brush away our tears.

 Its this Invisible Hand  that sweeps away the Writer’s Block that  crops up at frequent intervals in our lives. At those times when we  are stuck, he is responsible for the AHA moments that help us in crossing the big hurdles.

Its always God’s subtle hand that sees us creating  anything beautiful.  Many writers see  glimpses of their stories in dreams.  Others have visions where their characters come to life. The Muse who I consider God’s messenger for Scribes carries the messages to our brains. Any thing of beauty  has God’s hand behind it: at times supporting the effort, at other times urging us along and  many times holding us when we fall.

Several times when I am stuck big time I have seen that Invisible Hand coming to my rescue in different ways. Maybe a conversation  with a friend helps in untangling the plot, sometimes while watching a movie  my story unravels in my mind. Many times story ideas pop into my mind when I least expect it. Something I see on the road motivates me to change my character’s behaviour or goal.      
What about the Invisible Hand Guiding your Stories? How have you felt that divine presence? Will you share your experiences with us?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Effective Marketing Strategy to give Books Visibility

A  successful book  encapsulates not just a good story but also a clever and smart marketing strategy. Many good books because of low visibility just do not reach the masses.  A writing friend and I were discussing how the actors market their movies. Everyone is  aware of the  forthcoming releases. What I am trying to say is that there is heavy duty marketing done for movies. Writers work as hard as actors, I think we lose out because writing is not a glamorous profession and not everyone likes to read. They would rather watch a movie.

Many writers consider it infra dig to market their books. They feel their  job ends with writing and after that it’s the publisher’s problem. I disagree.

I have realized that we writers  can do a lot to market our books. When my first two books were published, my publisher requested me to ask my family and close  friends to  visit bookshops to buy my books. When the staff in the  book shops realize that the book is moving they not only give it a prominent display but also recommend it to other customers. Unfortunately I was too shy to ask anyone to do this and the 35% discount offered by my publisher to friends placing bulk orders enticed them away from the bookshops. They approached her office directly.

One writer I knew had put up posters of her books outside movie halls. I did see people stop  before the poster. But how many actually bought the book I have no idea. But atleast the book got some visibility.

              Publishers can do a lot  to market the books.

1.      Putting up posters in schools and colleges and other frequently visited places is a good idea for spreading the word around.

2.      Approaching schools with offers of huge discounts if bulk orders are placed is another great idea. Many schools distribute books as prizes.

3.      Approaching librarians and talking with  library owners about our books is another smart  marketing  strategy.  Many prefer to borrow books from the library  than buy books. But atleast the book is read.

4.      Organising book  reading  and signing sessions in bookshops is a wonderful idea. If this can be combined with a themed event ( like my publisher did for my books)  its super.

5.      Arranging for author interveiws with several newspapers did its bit in spreading the word for my first two  books.

6.      Sending out free copies to newspapers for reviews. The books can also be given to columnists whose columns have a wide readership.

7.      What we didn’t do was the radio marketing. Local channels like (FM, 94.3) have a  fantastic reach. Unfortunately my publisher just did not tap that media. Radio contests with the book as prize would have worked wonderfully well. People are listening to the radio all the time: while driving  and at home. And who doesn't like a free book.

8.      Organising readings and visits  in schools was another missed  opportunity. This is one of the best ways for children’s books to reach their readers.

9.      Blog posts about book releases and Tweets are effective Internet  mediums to bring the book to the notice of people inhabiting the virtual world. As are like pages. Blog contests and giveaways are a great way of spreading the word around.

10.  One Indian publisher put up ads about their  forthcoming book on MTV.

11.  The same publisher also placed newspaper ads.

Do you believe in the adage that effective marketing  sells more copies? What  does good marketing  mean to you? Any ideas  you would like to share about marketing?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

In a Muddle Over the Middle

When we start our WIP, there is a lot of enthusiasm going; to keep the initial chapters strong, to introduce the character and  the setting, to hook the readers into the story, we give it our best shot  and when we end, extra attention is invested in the last few chapters to tie all the loose ends together, to effectively resolve the conflict. The beginning and the ending  take tremendous effort from us. They actually tire us so much that we have little energy to tackle the middle chapters.

It’s the middle that has us in a muddle. It’s either flabby and inflated: carrying extra layers of story fat, or  sunken: devoid of attention grabbing conflict. The middle lot of chapters tend to shed momentum, the pace slackens and things slow down to a crawl.

It’s at this point readers lose interest in the story. Its then the time to ask ourselves how to keep the middle as sharp,  spicy,  crisp and interesting as the rest of the book.

I have realized that a lot can be done to spruce up and tighten the middle.  I am currently doing  this. A few plot twists  can stir things up, the introduction of a new character  will keep reader interest alive, even the exit of an old character will elevate  the suspense. A life altering situation can  be added. As well as few surprises;  both for the reader and the protagonist.  The middle  can also be  the start of the final clash which we can call the pre-final climax. The protagonist will then  have to make a decision on the  next course of action.

 The middle of my current  WIP  has settled down to a slow trot.  My middle chapters   need a really good stirring up.  So I  added a  little emotional turbulence and  made it a time for the protagonist to indulge in a bit of introspection about her motives. Inner conflict  was  increased. What  was my  character willing to sacrifice to achieve  her  goal?  If  she doesn’t win  what would be the consequences and what  would  happen to her?  

The middle is  the time to push our protagonists  out of their comfort zones, throw them into shark/whale infested waters and watch them battle successfully. The protagonists have to earn their stripes. They have to tie their shoe laces tightly and ready themselves for the final round. We can  add a life threatening event which will shake the protagonist and the reader out of their boredom induced stupor.  

Middle portions of manuscripts are trying and taxing indeed. What do you all do to keep the  interest and suspense alive? Is there any way to tighten the middle belt? Please share your middle secrets with us, as we all often get in a muddle over the middle.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ganesha’s Symbolism For Writers

This post is about Ganesha and his symbolism  for  writers.

Ganesha is  the elephant headed Hindu God. His birth is unique: his mother:  Goddess Parvati  smeared her body with a paste of  sandalwood and many fragrant herbs. She collected this mixture and shaped it into the form  of a small boy and breathed life into it. She asked the boy to keep guard  while she went for  bath. Her husband Lord Shiva returned home after a  long meditation session.

He was shocked to see the strange boy outside his house. The small boy refused to let  the God enter. An argument ensued.  Lord Shiva reknown for his quick temper chopped the boy’s head. After  the Goddess finished her bath, she was shocked to see her son’s head on the floor. To console his distraught wife, Lord Shiva sent his  minions in search of a creature whose head they could transplant over the  boy’s neck. The first creature the minions saw was the elephant.

The elephant head was brought and Lord Shiva placed it over the boy’s neck. But his wife was not satisfied. Her argument was that  everyone (Gods and demi gods) would laugh at her elephant headed son and no one would respect him. Lord Shiva blessed the boy with a boon that he would  rule over all the Gods by being the Remover of  Obstacles. Every endeavour  had to start with a prayer to Ganesha.

Ganesha’s entire body is filled with symbolism.

Ganesha’s trunk indicates the wise person’s   immense strength and fine discrimination; an  elephant’s  trunk has the strength to uproot trees and the grace to pick up needles.  His large ears show that the wise person hears everyone.

Ganesha  has  four hands. In one he holds a lotus:  the symbol of enlightenment. In the other he holds a hatchet : symbolizing  the cutting of old karma: accumulated good and bad of past deeds get cut when enlightenment occurs. The third hand  holds laddoos: rewards of a wise life. But Ganesha is never shown eating them just as a wise man never partakes of the rewards of his deeds. There is no attachment to the deeds. The fourth hand is shown blessing people. The wise man wishes good for  everyone.

Ganesha has only one task; the other is shown broken. Perhaps this is to show that perfection is just an illusion. Ganesha is shown  with one foot on the ground and the other resting on his knee. The wise person is of this Earth, yet not entirely of this Earth. He is seated on a rat that keeps nibbling on whatever is available. The rat is a symbol of our senses, never satisfied. The wise person rides on his senses and keeps  them under control.

The entire cosmos is said to reside in Ganesha’s  large belly, held together by the Kundalini or cosmic energy symbolized by a snake. The  son of Lord Shiva: the god governing the life force and  Parvati: the earth mother,  symbolizes the spirit and body of the wise person. 

Ganesha  also  played the role of a scribe, he was requested by Ved Vyasa (a sage) to write down the Mahabharata (epic) while the sage dictated.

Ganesha’s symbolism for us  writers.

The Four hands of Ganesha are   the four components of our books: setting, character, conflict and resolution. His  rat is symbolic of the distractions that trouble us. Ganesha’s foot resting on the ground symbolizes our grounding in reality and the other foot resting on the knee symbolizes our thoughts ( the stories  we create). The entire cosmos residing in Ganesha’s belly is a symbol of all the incidents packed inside our manuscripts. Ganesha’s trunk is a symbol of our inner editor  which has the wisdom to delete the unsuitable parts in our manuscripts and retain what it considers suitable. Ganesha’s  large ears symbolize the comments we hear in our writing careers.

Lets pray to the remover of obstacles to bless all our endeavours and clear   the obstacles in our paths. May Ganesha’s blessings be with all of us on this Ganesh Chaturthi. ( 11th  Sep)

If you were to ask Ganesha for one boon/blessing what would it be?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Delivering Delectable Dialogues

Whenever I read a book, I look forward to the pages filled with dialogues. Not only do they provide a respite from the descriptions but also help me in  understanding  the scene and  familiarize me with the characters. The way they talk, the way they think.

I will share nuggets about dialogues  which I have gathered from several sources, including my own insights from the books I have read  and liked and also from the assignments of my students: why I liked some dialogues more than  others.
1.  Dialogues should be as natural as possible. For this we have to be good listeners. We should listen to how people talk. Stilted and  forced  dialogues hamper a great scene.  

2.  Long Dialogues  are boring. Just like long descriptions can put readers to sleep so can long dialogues.

3.  Dialogues with too much information can grate on the nerves. It becomes obvious that the author has made the dialogue a dumping ground for information overload. Add the information little by little. Let  readers get used to  first lot of information before the next lot is piled upon  them.

4. Overdoing of dialogue tags detract from the actual dialogues. Sometimes  “ she said,  he replied, ” are better than fancy dialogues tags which distract the readers’ attention from the actual dialogues.

5.  Whenever there is a dialogue between two people, dialogue tags can be done away with. The reader is intelligent and is capable of understanding which character is saying what.

6.   Dialogue should always be authentic and real. We should  do our research well to check for the authenticity of dialogues. We should check our dialogues against people : will a doctor talk like that, would a police inspector say this, will a teacher speak in this way, will a teenager use that word?

7.   Dialogue should always be broken with action.  This way our readers will remember that our characters are real people engaging in some action.

8.   Slang, abuses  and stereotypes  must be given a shove.

9.   Dialogues should and must contribute to the plot.

10.  The purpose of the dialogue is to advance the story, flesh out the character and ofcourse provide the reader a welcome break from long descriptive paragraphs. And the dialogue should do all that.

11.  Dialogues should suit the occasion and  the scene.

12.  Dialogues  can identify characters. It would be fun to make certain characters speak in   a certain way. That way  dialogues become personalized like  badges for the characters.

I love to write the dialogues. For me it’s the fun part of my manuscripts.  I am guilty of  overdoing on  dialogue tags ( I hate to repeat a dialogue tag, I prefer to add variety) and I am sure my  long dialogues must be driving my editors crazy. What about you all?  How do you all tackle dialogues? Any dialogue guilts that you would like to admit?  

Friday, September 3, 2010

R.I.P Cliches

Cliches are an editor’s nightmare. Actually they are everyone’s nightmare. I  have nothing personal against clichés, but,  I really, really hate them. Whenever I come across the common cliches my hands itch to scratch them out.

 Few months back, a writing friend I had befriended  on one of the social networking sites sent me few pages of her story.  She just wanted my feedback. The more writer friends I am making, the more politically correct I am getting. I hate to criticize someone’s work as I detest ruffling feathers, or, bruising egos. I would hate it if someone criticized my work.

Her writing was riddled with clichés. She is a veteran writer probably writing even before I was born. I will not talk of the clichés infesting her work, but I will give you few examples of clichés that can me modified.

I always feel there are better ways of saying things. Instead  of saying  “the color of her dress was  as green as grass”  we can always say  “ her dress was  the color of freshly watered grass.” This description instantly creates an image of   swaying grass with drops of water clinging to it.

 Another  cliché  that really irks me  is  “her eyes were  blue as the sky,” we can say this in a different way  “her eyes were the color of a cloudless summer sky.” There is an instant visual of  an endless blue sky devoid of clouds.

A cliché  I detest is “ her hair was as black as the night.” There is always a better description, we just have to exercise our  creative cells.  Isn’t the description “ her hair was dark as sin, her hair was the color of melted dark chocolate, her hair was the color of a cold winter’s night,” way better. 
 “Far from the madding crowd,” is a cliché I have come across several times. Isn't  “far from the dust and pollution of the city,” or  “ far from city noises,” a slightly better way of describing  the same thing?

 The stereotypical clichés should actually be cremated. Cliches should be given a royal burial. There is no place for them in a good piece of writing. Cliches are responsible for pieces of writing  that come under the heading of  ‘ Bad Writing.’

As writers we are supposed to see the unusual in the usual stuff, to see a thing differently is our forte. And to describe it in an unusual  way is what we specialize in. Our descriptions  conjure vivid images in our readers’ minds. They literally transport them to  other and different worlds.  It’s our moral duty towards our readers to give them different descriptions.

Is there any cliché you particularly detest? Is there another  and better way of describing it? We all would love to read about the clichés you abhor.