NovelRace Week 9: Taking A Stand


This week’s NovelRace update appears early because the lesson came like a revelation and it is a big one (again!). This happened in a conversation with fellow NovelRacer Rehab.  Rehab asked me how I was dealing with having to take a stand. Her exact question was,

Say you want to talk about something that might be controversial, later on. What are you doing about it?

My reply was that I didn’t have any such incidents or insights in my book since it wasn’t that kind of a story. I’ve steered away from the ‘big, intelligent things’ in my blog and so also in my book. It isn’t entirely a diplomatic matter; it is also because I think focusing on one issue will detract from what I want to achieve with this story. I’m telling a story because it is there to be told, because it is wonderful and worth thinking about, worth marveling over, worth experiencing. With all due respect to those writers who write with a bigger purpose in mind, mine isn’t one of those.

And yet, I realized as we spoke, that invariably there would be conclusions drawn about my personal beliefs from what I wrote, even if what I wrote was fiction. My reply to Rehab was,

Human beings have conflicts, world over. That is why we have stories, they arise from age-old conflicts and human response to them. Also, our audience is human beings; there will be people who don’t agree with or like what we’ve written. We must be prepared for that. And finally, we, the writers are human too. We will bring our own perspectives, our prejudices into it.

As soon as I had said it, I knew it was my revelation for this week. I’ve been trying very hard to play God, to be absolutely ‘fair’ in all respects, unprejudiced, unbiased, non-racial, politically correct etc. But if I did manage to scrub every trace of judgment from my story, it wouldn’t be a story anymore, it would be a clinical representation of facts. The value of a story lies in the story-teller after all, that unique perspective that he or she brings to it. And that perspective is called prejudice if you don’t agree or a revelation if you do.

On a less abstract level, for an example, I have a large cast of characters. I have tried to ensure that there is some fair representation of people from different communities and strata; this is story set in Mumbai after all and we are nothing, if not a heterogeneous society. But at this late stage, it occurs to me that I have a number of very powerful female characters but not too much equivalence from the men. That’s not to say that I’ve written in weak male characters but just that the women seem to be getting more ‘footage’, there is more detail and diversity, more grey in them than the men.

This is not because I don’t like men (really, I keep saying that to everyone who reads XXFactor, I do mean that) or because I believe that men are not equally complex human beings. It boils down to a simple fact that I have never been a man so I have never experienced the complexity of being a man, from within. I have also not been close enough to enough men to understand it from outside. At best I have been close to the male members of my family, which may be why one of the strong male characters in my cast is an elderly gentleman. But it is really so much more difficult for me to imagine the complexity in a younger man…I’ve never experienced it or seen it close-up myself.

You might argue that a fantasy writer is able to write about things and ideas that he or she has never seen or felt. But then, I’m not a fantasy writer. It has never been my intention to touch that genre. My stories are about tangible, real, living beings, the kind of lives that you and I live and see around us each day. I fear however, that (if and) when this novel is published, it will suffer accusations of being anti-male as my blog has been earlier. At least, I might say that the blog may deserve such sentiments for the volatile statements I’ve made there, but not this book.

Finally, I end with something Rehab quoted to me, a conversation between two famously controversial authors. One of them told the other that the book had been written and had gone out into the world and there was nothing more she could do about it. How the world chose to interpret it was upto them. That might be simplistic since I don’t want to absolve the writer (myself, indeed) of responsibility for caring about people’s sentiments. But I must say that a writer cannot carry the entire responsibility of a new idea on his/her shoulders alone. An idea is just too big for one person to bear the burden of it and what’s more, that would mean when the person died, the idea died along with them. We all know that’s not true so I’ll end by saying that all I am is a medium, a vessel of expression of a thought. To that I add my own petty filters, boundaries and fears. And magically it seems to touch other human beings, in some cases by its vision and in other cases by how small it is. It is the humanness of my writing that I hope will resonate with my readers, nothing more, nothing less. Taking a stand is something that gets thrust on some of us and none of us can do anything about it.

For the remainder of the update, my other lesson was that a change of scenery and location can really grease the wheels of the mind. Having exhausted every chair and corner of my house, I’ve moved the writing out to the neighboring coffeeshops and restaurants. Next week I’ll do something I’ve always wanted to do – sit in the park and write. (Fingers crossed that the cloud-seeding doesn’t put end to that!). With this added incentive, I’ve just updated my wordcount to 43,887, which painstakingly hoists me up one position to number 6 in the race. As I noted last time, the gaps between the racers at the top is widening so each jump gets harder and harder. Over and out and off to the park!

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Other NovelRace updates:

  1. NovelRace
  2. Adventures Galore!
  3. If You Fall, Get Up & Run Again!
  4. The Lone Runner
  5. My Characters Are For Real!
  6. The View From The Shoulders Of Giants
  7. So Much In A Name!
  8. Taking A Stand
  9. Everything But The Novel
  10. The Long, Dark Teatime Of The Writing Soul

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2 thoughts on “NovelRace Week 9: Taking A Stand

  1. anand jeyahar January 2, 2010 at 18:41 Reply

    you don’t have to carry the entire responsibility of an idea… i found Elizabeth Gilbert’s speech very inspiring on that issue.. but takes practice to follow..(http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html)

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  2. […] Taking A Stand […]

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