Friday, February 25, 2011

Lessons I Learnt from my Current WIP

 My current WIP has taught me more in the past year   than what I learnt in  school and college. When I started it, I was under the impression that it will be a start to finish project. That I could write it in  few months. But it took me over  a year and more to  complete it: I feel it still  needs lots of polishing and editing. But, the major work is over.

Though I had plotted in detail, several drafts later my initial plot outline went for  a toss. The ending was not what I had initially envisaged. As the characters grew: both in my mind and in the story, they became headstrong and wanted their two minutes of fame, via tiny sub-plots. Yes, the doting writer that I am, I allowed them this leeway.

This WIP taught me what mom  and dad tell me is not  my better known quality. I am not known for my patience. This WIP taught me patience by the truckload. It took a long time to arrive at its completion point and there were many roadblocks and obstacles that I had to overcome. Each obstacle ensured that I was away from my WIP for several days. And everytime I returned it was more difficult to get into the story as the distractions had  fiddled with my thinking process.

Few characters jumped into my mind fully formed: arrogant and  full of pride that I would welcome them with open arms. Few other characters were a  part of my extensive brainstorming sessions. I realized that there was no hard and fast rule when it came to characters. Each one has a mind of its own and a temperament to match it.

This WIP taught me that I was  neither a plotter nor a pantser, I was half and half. Though I plotted in details, I often strayed away from it when voices whispered frantically in my ears.

This WIP also taught me submissive behaviour, many times I just bowed down to the inevitable: the pull of the story was too strong and it dragged me along wherever it wanted to go. Many characters too turned into monsters if I did not include them in the subplots.

In the course of writing this WIP, I learnt the important lesson that the final draft or version is  very different from the initial few drafts. It also taught me to let go: scenes I had lovingly created in the first few drafts are nowhere around.

We do learn a lot during the process of writing. The story itself turns out to be the biggest teacher of them all. What have you all learned from your current WIP, or,  are learning in the course of the WIP of the moment. Are your characters and stories making you go crazy? Is your WIP  docile, or, does it have a mind of its own?


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Many Writing Illusions Shattered

When we  write that first word or key it in, plenty of writing illusions surround us. Illusions that paint a false picture of a writer’s life and  make others rush in and embrace a scribbler’s life. People have these rosy pictures of a writer’s life: manuscripts being accepted  by the first publishing house its shopped to, there are visions of  writers  signing glossy copies, agents at  their  beck and call, editors gushing over them,  fat cheques, reviewers praising them and readers buying the books the moment they reach the bookshelves.

Once someone enters into the writing career every illusion is shattered into tiny pieces. Here are few:

  1. Writing is Easy. It’s anything but easy. Anybody who believes that, has definitely  not struggled with  troublesome characters, tricky knots in plots, hard character  growths  and  truant muses. They have not stared at blank pages and screens for  long  periods of time, nor have they struggled with several edits and laboured over  rewrites.

  1. Getting a book Published is not Difficult.  People who think like that do not  belong to the publishing world. Getting a book published is more difficult than actually writing it. Manuscripts sit in the slush pile, agents are more elusive than a rainbow and editors are highly choosy about the manuscripts they  accept. Even after a manuscript is accepted there are the harsh edits  to wade through.

  1. Writing can be a career option by itself. This is the  worst  illusion. People who think like that have not set their eyes upon  a writer’s royalty or advance cheques. Bills cannot be paid through the income one makes  from one’s book/s unless the  book wins a big prize or sells a million copies or is made into a movie. Most  writers have a day job and writing is relegated to the free hours or restricted to the late night hours.

  1. Once a book is out, the next one is accepted faster. This is another illusion that needs to be broken. Unless the second  book is a part of a  series, its not easy to get it published if the first one was a stand alone book. With every book a writer must prove herself and the story must catch the editor’s  and agent’s eye.

  1. Writers live a glamorous life. We wish. Most people think we writers live a glamorous life, where agents and editors are standing outside our doors waiting for our completed manuscripts, where people are hanging onto our words. If only. Writing is absolutely unglamorous. If  people could see us typing furiously or scribbling hard, the mess constantly surrounding us, the irritated expression on our faces at the thousand and one distractions we have to battle, and the hundred  things vying for  our attention, they would  surely  think differently. Most people have not witnessed the tormented expressions on our faces when we deal with tantrum throwing characters and  unruly muses.
I know I have been guilty of shattering the illusions a newbie writer has of a writer's life, perhaps I have even marred him or her for life, but, I am sure being forewarned is nothing short of a blessing. I am just bringing them face to face with reality. Have you seen any of your writing illusions being shattered? Did you have any illusion when you started this journey? Please share them with us.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Plot Structures that Capture the Essence of the Story

Every story has these  basic plot  points which my friend Lia Keyes shared with me. I have added my two cents to it.
Inciting Incident. Every story has this event. The Inciting Event  is responsible for throwing the protagonist headlong into the path of trouble/conflict or problem.

 Plan. It’s what the Main Characters decides to do, to thwart the obstacle, to bypass the roadblocks and overcome the Antagonist. This is a course of action the MC decides upon to tackle the problem at hand.

Game. Every conflict is like a game where there is only one winner; either the protagonist or the antagonist. The result depends on who plays smartly and aggressively. The game and its rules come into play here. Who has the odds stacked against them? Who is the Dark Horse?

Changing  Obstacles. These  obstacles  in the story keep changing, very often they grow not only in size, but also change their direction and shape. The introductory of  sub - plots comes into focus here. This change of direction can get the protagonist into more trouble and make the antagonist more powerful.

Plot Twist. These curves in the path of the plot help to set the pace. Many times plot twists happen when new  characters arrive or the old ones wave a goodbye.
Sometimes even the unexpected actions of few trusted characters bring about a twist in the plot.

Dark Moment. This is the moment when the Main Character is left completely alone. He or she has to now trek the route to victory only on the sheer strength of  his or her  own efforts. External help may or may not come. But the war started has to be waged and the battle fought.

Epiphany. The moment of Epiphany  brings about an illumination. It’s the moment when things fall in place and the path ahead is clear as though someone has showed the Protagonist a roadmap complete with detailed directions. A light bulb literally lights up.

New Plan. With the moment of Epiphany a new course of action is charted, new plans made. Once again there is a change of speed.

Cliffhanger. The Cliffhanger sees the execution of  the  new plan/s. Will they bear fruit? Will the protagonist fall flat? Will the antagonist win because of the protagonist’s foolishness. It’s the moment that adds  tension.

Climax. The final battle is fought. The protagonist is all set to do or die, while the antagonist is all ready to kill or be killed.

Ending. Where perfect resolutions find their true place and the loose ends are tied together. 

These are the plot points I  loosely base my stories on. They are like a rough map that help me chart the course of action the protagonist takes and the plans he or she makes. What about you all. How do you plot your stories? We all would love to get familiar with your individual processes, as I am sure we can learn a lot from it

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why is it Important to Hate the Antagonist?

Antagonists by and large are loathsome creatures; evoking dislike  and rage not only in the Protagonist’s mind, but also in the mind of the  readers.  I have noticed that the more we  (readers) dislike an antagonist, the more we root for the protagonist. If we really hate an antagonist  we are  more deeply  involved  in the story, as we are dying to know what will happen to the antagonist. We can even say that a reader’s dislike of the antagonist  is equal to his or her love for the protagonist which makes for a page turning read.

Right from childhood we have been taught that good is ultimately rewarded and evil punished. Being good is nice and has a big pay off. This mental set up sees us disliking every villain we come across, whether in real life, or in our  literary life. We know that in life  every good deed  however small is rewarded and  no bad deed goes unpunished. When an antagonist is thoroughly whipped by the protagonist, our hearts swell  with joy. We as readers  know that justice has been meted out. That truth, honesty and goodness has ultimately triumphed.

For Writers -  To make an antagonist absolute vile we have to make him do evil things not just to the protagonist, but also to other characters who the readers have started to love. The antagonist has to be full of vices, he has to be  completely  evil, his lust for greed and power should be unquenchable and unsatiated. He must torture everyone (not just physically, but emotionally, mentally and psychologically too).  If an antagonist is extremely powerful or  invincible, then his or her downfall is all the more welcome. Everytime the villain  torments  other  characters; especially the main character, he accumulates plenty of hatred from the readers.

Even if a protagonist is not very likeable, we stick on with a story if our dislike for the antagonist overrides our love for the main character. In  this case hate really works in capturing a reader’s attention and eyeballs. For this we have to create a vile, vicious and a sadist  villain who has made evil his main profession and who can stoop to the lowest level to get his way.

Is it important for you to hate the antagonist? Do you feel that you are glued to the pages if the  antagonist is loathsome? What do you do to make the antagonist evoke hatred  from the readers? We all are eager to know as we have our own vicious villains to craft.

Friday, February 11, 2011

What Kind of Friends does your MC have?

Friends are an important part of all our lives. I am sure we all look forward to long conversations with our close friends. We confide in them and cry over their shoulders. They are the reason we smile even in the midst of  discomfort and trouble. Our friends can be slotted into several categories.

Do we give  considerable thought when we start creating friends for our Protagonists or Main Characters? What kind of friends do we give them? Do their friends help them, or, are their friends a cause for trouble. Here is my take on few types of friends we can give our MC’s:

1.      The Sacrificing Martyr – who will sacrifice his or her comfort to help the protagonist.  Just like Hermione and Ron who almost always put Harry’s interest before their own. This was visible  especially in the last book when they left the comforts of Hogwarts to be with Harry.

2.      The Fair Weather Friends – who will desert the ship when troubled times loom large. The support of this kind of friends can be certain only for  good times. These friends are self serving.

3.      The Voice of Caution – a lot like Hermione in the Potter Series. This type of friend also doubles as a guardian and conscience rolled into one, giving warning about the repercussions of certain actions the protagonist undertakes. This type of friend can put up a fight if she or he feels that the protagonist is acting foolish.

4.      The Idiot – who provides the lighter moments and is the butt of all the jokes like Neville Longbottom  and Luna Lovegood in the Potter series. These friends are harmless and can rise to the occasion if the need arises.

5.      The  Turn Coat – who does not think twice before betraying the protagonist  when it suits him or her to serve other interests that clash with the protagonist’s.

6.       The Fool Hardy One – this type of friend leads the protagonist into all kinds of trouble.  The aim of this friend is  to get the protagonist into as much trouble as possible.

7.      The Wise Ones – who have the answer to most puzzles  bugging the protagonist. These friends can be a great source of help to the protagonist.

8.      The Dependable Ones – these friends can and  will almost always help the protagonist  and will stick with him or her  through troubled times, through thick and thin.

9.      The Jealous Friend – this kind of friend is fiercely competitive and sees the protagonist more as a rival than a friend. These friends are extremely prone to jealousy and may even harm in a moment of  anger.

10.   The Silent One – who seldom offers an opinion, but can be extremely loyal and protective of the MC.

11.  The Defender – who gets into all kind of trouble trying to protect the hero/heroine. This type of friend picks up fights on behalf of the MC.

12.  The Lackeys – who hang around the MC as it’s prestigious to be seen in their company. They are like leeches, they can never be depended upon for help.

What kind of friend/s have you given your protagonist?  Did you ponder over the type of friend you wanted to give the Main Character, or did it just happen as a part of the story? Do you take time to create the perfect friend  for your hero/heroine? Please share. We all can learn lots from your  process.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Why do we Connect with some Characters?

Few Weeks back I had done a post on  Do Characters Make a Story, where  I  had spoken about a book I read sometime back where the Main Character  did not appeal to me. But, I ploughed on through the book because of the story which was interesting and kept me turning the pages  to know what happened next.

The post opened up a list of views where every writer differed; few believed that strong characters made for a good story, while few said that they were partial to a good plot irrespective of the appeal of the protagonist.

I hasten to deny that the reason I did not connect with the protagonist  was not because of the fact that  he was an old man. If that was the case, I would  surely connect with every book housing younger protagonists.

My good friend Jai Joshi asked me a very interesting question, “I'm wondering about your experience reading this book about the elderly man. You say you didn't connect with him, but did you connect with any of the other characters? Sometimes it's possible to not be into the main character at all but be fascinated by the minor characters. Many times for me during reads it's the minor characters who have carried me through the story.”

Jai’s question made me think. To be completely honest, I had not given the ensemble or the supporting characters much thought. But I loved each and every one and their individual stories made for an exceptionally good read: they ranged from  a domestic help to a flower seller, from a butcher who also moonlighted as a school teacher to a sewage cleaner. These were people I had no connection with,  yet I bonded with them, while the main character who had aspirations of doing service to society and was a well read individual was  the one I should have connected with.

This made me realize that  the reason I connected with most of the supporting characters was because I  felt sorry for their  plight. I connected with them emotionally, while the main character  left me cold. When we  feel sorry for  some characters, we kind of forge a connection: albeit a bond of sympathy.
Does this happen with you all? Do you end up connecting with characters because your heart bleeds for them? Does sympathy play a huge role in making  you like few characters and dislike few others. Do the underdogs get your attention? Please share your views.  

Friday, February 4, 2011

A New Award to All Deserving Bloggers

Yesterday  one of the first few people I connected with online, Elizabeth Varadan passed me an award invented by her - The Helping Hand Award  It was a lovely surprise and one I will cherish. The other recipient of this award  is Lia Keyes, creator and administrator of  Scribblerati. Ideally I would like to pass this award to both Lia and Elizabeth. They are the reason I started blogging. But that would be unfair.

I am going to pass  the Helping Hand Award to All My Lovely Blogging Friends. I will just use  few sound bites to mention  two lovely ladies  ( if I mention everyone's names the post will be too long) who have helped me in innumerable ways, they are Birgitte Necessary of Necessary Writers  and Sheryl Gwyther.

Birgitte and I met on my blog when I wrote about my spiritual master Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi) who co-incidently happened to be Birgitte’s spiritual master too.  We connected big time. Our initial chats  started with Amma and our  Spiritual journeys and moved onto our writing lives. The more I am getting to know Birgitte, the more selfless I find her.

I was quite technologically challenged when I started blogging  ten months back. It was Birgitte who would guide me via Facebook chats on how to add links and pictures on my blog. Everytime  I was stuck while writing my current WIP, Birgitte  like Lia, would leave aside her work and brainstorm during Facebook chats. It helps to talk about tricky knots in plots with writing friends. Their feedback helps untie these knots and makes us see things from a different perspective. Birgitte has helped  me a lot  me by sharing several writing resources (she  emails them to me) and then during our chats guides me to use them correctly.

Australian Children’s  Author Sheryl Gwyther is another lovely lady who has enriched my writing life. She is equally generous with her time and tries to help and promote  as many writers as she can. From writing about my blog in an Australian newsletter to  sending me links to important sites, Sheryl like Lia, Elizabeth and Birgitte keeps herself very busy trying to help me. 

It’s been wonderful connecting not just with these four writers and bloggers, but also with each and every one of you. You all have helped me in several ways, have made me see the flaws in my writing. Have shared links, writing resources and tips which has helped me grow as a writer.  I am passing  this award to everyone, and  I hope they pass it on to few more people. This is one award circle I  wish and hope becomes bigger and bigger engulfing more and more people. I think we all are trying to help each other in our writing journeys and we all deserve this award.

If you haven’t met any of these four lovely ladies, its time you amended that. Drop in on them and say Hi from my side. I promise you, you won’t regret it.

Thanks to each and every one of you for helping me in my writing journey. I hope you will display this award on your sidebar and pass it onto few  more bloggers. Its time we showed our solidarity and expressed our gratitude to the Helping Hands. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tips to Craft the Sub – Plots

Sub- plots are a vital part of any story. As we all know, a  sub- plot is a secondary plot that is a supporting side story for any story or the main plot. When one or two sub- plots  are added to a story,  the  story  becomes  powerful and the conflict is enhanced.  The story then  gets its required amount of tension and its grip on the readers becomes firm.

Here are few points I have learnt while  working  and researching on sub-plots.

             1. A sub-plot involves  lesser important characters or what we call secondary or supporting characters. The significance of the events in a sub-plot are also of less importance when compared to the main plot.

             2. A sub-plot  should  connect  or be related to the main plot in some way: the characters involved in the sub-plot may have a vested interest  to sabotage either the protagonist or the antagonist’s agendas.

             3. A sub-plot can run parallel to the main plot  without intersecting or affecting it at all. But these sub-plots have to be powerful by themselves and should involve characters who are important enough by themselves. The actions of these characters should affect the story in some way.

             4. A sub-plot can intersect the main plot at regular intervals when the characters involved in the sub plot feel that their interests are being affected by either the protagonist or the antagonist’s actions. These characters can have hidden agendas of their own, which though the protagonist and the antagonist are not aware of, yet it affects them in some way. It requires a lot of planning to create sub-plots  that constantly cut into the main plot.   

            5.  Sub- plots take up less action and the conflict from the subplot is milder when compared to the conflict in the main plot. The conflict in the sub-plot has to be interesting and has to affect the story in some way: directly or indirectly.

            6.  Many experts advise that  good stories should have two subplots intersecting  the main plot at regular intervals. When these subplots cut into the main plot, then the conflict is intensified; this increases  readers' attention and keeps them glued to the pages of the book.

 I feel I am a sub-plot novice.  I am completely clueless where sub-plots are concerned. I have been looking a lot for resources and tips to help me with sub-plots. While outlining I try to plan the details of atleast two sub-plots. What about you all? Do you all pay a lot of attention to sub-plots? How do you plot and plan  the sub-plots which are extremely important. We all would love to  learn and get these details from you.