Tag Archives: Character

Movie: Dhobi Ghat – Mumbai Musings

Movies are a big part of weekend planning. Realistically, what else is there to do in Mumbai? Let’s not go into the notions of what a ‘happening’ city this is. I’ve been active on the cultural circuit for the past year and a half and gone to everything I could find. Poetry slams, Open mics, music gigs, stand-up comedy, workshops, book readings, board game meets…to my utter disgust, all I found was the same frenzied networking, the same desperate need to be cool, the same petty politicking and hard-nosed business dealings, in place of any real interest in the event/field or depth of thought. I’ve struggled with this but had to conclude that Mumbai lets you make a living, not a life.

Dhobi Ghat, Kiran Rao’s directorial debut was this weekend’s big feature. It started on a less-than-pleasant note. Considering that movies are the only standard entertainment available and the skyrocketing multiplex prices, I tend to frequent the second-tier theatres that are still ‘safe’ for a woman to go to alone but cheaper. Moviestar Goregaon was my pick. We entered about ten minutes before the start of the show, when the lights were still on, which is probably why the filthy seats caught our notice. I don’t mean a broken armrest or an undone stitch on the upholstery. I mean filthy, godaloneknows what black, smelly, gunky-goo streaked across all the seats that we could find. The manager was apologetic enough but there were no cleaner seats available and so we had our tickets refunded. While on this, I must add that the theater is now under BIG cinemas which to me, means that service levels can only plummet. My past experiences show that Fame Adlabs, also part of the same group, offers rude staff, smelly (and bedbug-infested) seats and stale food for its high prices. I bid goodbye to another of my budget alternatives. The boy was most appalled at the fact that the other theatergoers streamed in, blindly (and deafly) made their way around us and arranged themselves comfortably in those same filthy seats, even as we pointed them out to the staff. Mumbai, you could redefine the laws of robotics.

We managed to finally catch the movie at 24 Karat, another theatre down the road and I was glad we’d persisted. After the kind of tortures that Bollywood has been visiting on our senses lately (Sheila Kejwani, anyone?), it was a real pleasure to not have to shield my eyes and ears.

A number of things stand out about the movie. Firstly, there isn’t one concrete plot. What there are, are a number of strong, well-etched characters and the little (and big) incidents that constitute their lives. Secondly, the absence of background music is noticeable. Most Bollywood films use music to cue the audience into the mood of the scene, sometimes excessively. Dhobi Ghat, in comparison, is understated, stark and disorienting because it doesn’t offer any such hints, preferring instead to let the audience figure it out for itself. It’s hard to tell whether you’re supposed to laugh at Zohaib’s poker-faced filmdom dreams or empathize with them. It’s tricky to deciding whether Shai’s pursuit of Arun (and parallel ignorance of Zohaib’s attention) is pathetic or natural. You’re not sure whether to dislike Arun or admire him. And thus we respond to the characters just the way we would to people in real life. With confusion, with warmth, with respect and then derision, with conflicting emotions.

It seems counter-intuitive but its not, that when the viewer is given so much to think about, even deeper levels make themselves visible. I liked how Dhobi Ghat effectively portrays that Mumbaikers blur the social order but don’t quite erase it. Economic classes, gender barriers, cultural divides are bridged and broken in mysterious ways. Most of us flit in and out of the periphery with a comfort that sometimes baffles outsiders. Interactions happen in that twilight zone as so relationships – odd, indefinable and yet deeply intimate ones like those of fellow train-passengers, bais & dhobis & house madams and people who occupy the same flat at different times.

Prateek Babbar (underutilized in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na) steals the show with a poker face arranged around brooding-animated-wry-resigned-intense-pragmatic eyes. A hundred emotions flit across his face in a single look over a brun maska. And most impressively, his very silhouette seems to evolve over the course of the movie, starting with an awkward, blurred  look to a more resolute, defined profile at the end of the movie. I don’t know if that’s good acting or good cinematography; I’m willing to bet on both.

Kriti Malhotra comes in second in terms of her performance as the anonymous face in a series of video-letters. She’s spontaneous, realistic and her voice washes over you with as much familiarity as the neighbor’s.

I was the least impressed with Monica Dogra. Considering the footage she has in the movie, (the promos say it’s four people’s stories but she seems to be around the most), she doesn’t stand out much, except as a moderately pretty face. Interestingly, her act is what made me think that Dhobi Ghat may have made a good movie but it would be a great book. The characters are wonderfully created and the script is taut. Beyond that, it falls to the people who don the roles to bring them to life and I’m afraid Monica as Shai, just didn’t do it for me.

As always, I checked what Meetu had to say before watching the movie. This time, I don’t quite agree with her, when she says that the movie could have very well been set in New York or London or even Pune. Dhobi Ghat doesn’t just pay lip service to standard Mumbai iconography like trains and movies. It snaps up an accurate slice of Mumbai life, from its crowded chaos jostling with glitzy glamour to the near schizophrenic behavior that these contrasts seem to bring out in the city’s occupants.

I started this post talking about the robotic behaviour of Mumbaikers but I also speak for the tangible, prideful emotion that we carry collectively. A city is no more than a group of human beings, after all. And I’d like to think that the unique situations that this group finds itself in, day in and day out, makes us uniquely who we are. Dhobi Ghat seems to agree.

If you love Mumbai, this is definitely for you. If you’re appalled by it and there’s still room for an explanation, maybe this movie will give you one.

Reverb 10.10: Waiting For Wisdom

Another somewhat uninspiring Reverb 10 prompt but that may just be because I write so much about this already in my blog. So here goes:

December 10 – Wisdom Wisdom

What was the wisest decision you made this year, and how did it play out?

(Author: Susannah Conway)

This has been a year (and a little more) of reflections and insights. I had a windfall of wisdom due to me, after the decade I spent chasing all manner of unwise things. I don’t know if I’ve collected all but I’m still making sense of much of them. Wisdom seems to me like the juice of ripe fruits. The orchard spans acres and acres and I haven’t even finished on the first tree. The feasting has begun but there’s much wisdom juice to still be sucked out. Let me just instead, list some of the wisdom-rich experiences of the past year.

I’m not counting the experience of turning thirty and quitting my job and starting my book. Yes, all of that is slightly stereotyped early mid-life crisis like, isn’t it? Those experiences are already being chronicled in The Thirty Diaries.

Last year, I participated in an online study that examined the trend of people quitting their regular jobs to pursue other lines for various reasons. My participation required me to write an essay type answer each day, to various soul-searching, thought-provoking questions that the group posed to me. The questions explored my notions of success and motivation as also my life lessons and my future plans. What I discovered for myself, was that I had spent a decade and more aspiring to (and with reasonable success, living up to) a common perception of success, as it was held by my family and friends. The big change in my life at thirty was less about quitting one track and more about deciding to figure out success for myself – what it is, how to measure it and how to get going on it.

The novel was begun last year but that was more of a task. It really became a soul exercise only this year when it hit me that fiction or otherwise, this was something I was creating from myself. The emotions, the ideologies, the characters and their stories, these were all things I shaped from the raw material of my own life experiences. While my novel is not autobiographical and none of my characters are based on me, their world and them is built from the clay and bricks of my own dreams and feelings and relationships. Writing about them is quite literally like building. For that, I have to go into the storehouse of my own emotion every single time. And what I find there, is not always to my expectation, let alone liking. There are wells over wells of forgotten feelings and repressed emotions that emerge with every soul-digging enterprise. When I write about a fifteen-year-old’s struggle to fit, it irrevocably takes me back to my own awkward adolescence and forces me to face what I thought and felt and believed, back then. The mind is storehouse of every single thing you’ve said and done and felt and in so many ways, you are better off not going there. Writing is signing away the safety valve of forgetfulness that life gives us. My madness is let loose. And yet, I wouldn’t stop it, if I could. Maybe there will be some wisdom in this unabashed tidal wave.

And finally there is the relationship. I’ve been writing about dating and the opposite sex and relationships for a long time now. But actually living it is a whole new experience. What’s more, the last time I was in a real relationship, I was a different person. The very act of being with someone is stepping over into a different world and being a different person. You are never quite the same again, even after the relationship ends. Building something with another person, just adjusting to another person’s world is causing the foundations of my own careful, precise, cleanly-ordered world to crack and crumble. It’s not comfortable, in the least. But this time, I can feel me growing, quite literally. Wisdom, I await you with humble arms, wide open.

Movie: Ravanan-Skip & Read Amar Chitra Katha Instead

If you haven’t seen Ravan (or Ravanan) already, I’d suggest you not bother. If you’re the only person in this country who doesn’t know the story, pick up an Amar Chitra Katha rendition of Ramayana. It has the basic plot, the facts as most of us have heard them and the visuals are nice enough. It’ll be cheaper on the pocket too.

I would have given the movie a definite skip if it had been called Rama or Ramayan. I mean, I was weaned on the Ramanand Sagar classic and the aforementioned Amar Chitra Katha culture. I even saw the various renditions on television, movies and pop culture, edifying the perfect man, his perfect wife and the exact opposite embodiment of evil with all the paraphernalia of Hanuman, Vibhishan, Lakshman and Surpanaka.

If by some chance, I found I’d forgotten a tiny point, I could retrieve my copy of the original or I could turn around and ask just about anybody and expect the right answer. Why then, would anyone in their right minds, want to spend time and money to hear the same story in a theatre?

I was intrigued by the title Ravanan. While I’ve seen the old story in the old setting and in new settings, I haven’t heard it from the other point of view, the darker side. I’m sorry to say, it was a sad trick to lure the audiences into the theatres. As a vision, the idea of telling the Ramayan from Ravan’s point of view is interesting but it didn’t carry through in execution.

*spoiler alert*

A movie that set out with such lofty ideas didn’t even explore the complexity of some of the other characters. Hanuman, for instance, is depicted by a washed-up actor portraying a jungle officer given to silly dancing and pesky monkey-like behaviour. Vibhishan is no more than a nondescript younger brother who has exactly one dialogue and gets shot dead soon after. Lakshman is a lackey cop who is unconscious/dead for most of his screen time. Each of these depictions comes across as a parody in poor taste.

The idea of a tribal leader on the wrong side of the law is intriguing and the tough forest terrain would well explain his personality and behaviour. But it wouldn’t explain spending an entire hour showing what looked like rejected National Geographic clips. I kid you not, I was surprised when the interval came and my watch showed only an hour had gone by. And the Vicco Vajradanti ads in the interval were far more entertaining than what I had been subjected to, before that.

The second half picks up (though not before a forced back-to-back two songs) but by then the damage has been done. Too much, too late. There just isn’t enough time to think about the character conflicts, the depth of each of their emotions. Mostly by then, you just want the movie to get over and be done with it.

I’ve never liked Aishwarya Rai as an actress and with this movie, I add the rest of the cast to this list too. Vikram does an Ajay Devgan with grunts and a perpetual scowl to depict menace. I’m sorry to say that Mani Ratnam and A.R.Rahman fall in my ratings too. This is just lazy creativity – poor storytelling and rehashed tunes.

The bigger question is why are we so stuck on the two great epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata? Granted, they were great stories (and that’s why they’re called epics). But have centuries worth of storytellers not been able to come up with new fare? Have we become pathological remixers?

Last week’s fiasco Rajneeti was a foul remix of Mahabharata and The Godfather. It grated on my nerves for how the characters seemed to be forced into the roles of their Mahabharata counterparts to the point of ridiculous serendipity (Ajay Devgan being the driver’s boy a.k.a charioteer’s son, Ranbir Kapoor as the sharpshooting Casanova a.k.a. Arjun). Ravanan didn’t even get that far. With the caricature of Hanuman in the first few minutes of the movie, they had already lost me.

My tweets on this have been getting a few replies to the effect of human emotions being finite and there being only so many stories to express them. I disagree. The art of storytelling is universal and timeless. It is an art because it moves, it flows, it engages and it grows. It’s what made Omkara wonderful even as it was a retelling of Othello. Vishal Bharadwaj managed to find his Iago in a rustic local goon called Langda Tyaagi. His version, in an English script could have been called Iago and not Othello. That’s what a different story is all about, even though it’s the same plot.

With a movie, there are several components that can drive the story forward – an original script, great casting and acting and good screenplay. Ravanan, I regret to say, enjoys none of these.

Movie-Making & Story-Telling: Jail – Epic Fail!

I saw Jail last night. This is the latest offering from the Madhur Bhandarkar stable and is about (yes of course) life within the confines of prison. One thing to say about Bhandarkar is that he definitely picks his topics well. From the plight of bar dancers to the socialite circles, the corporate battlefield and the glamour industry, each of his ideas are rich for development. My problem is that he stops right there. I’ve seen all the above movies and almost all of them left me wincing.

Chandni Bar had an overdose of pathos and greyness. I wasn’t asking for Karan Johar’s brand of fluff but I at least expect a story, not a list of all the possible evils that could befall a woman.

Page 3 received a lot of critical acclaim and perhaps it was a bold depiction of the filth behind the finery. But as a story, the plots were poorly depicted and the whole film came through as a collage of images badly pasted together by a young child.

Corporate was perhaps a little better in terms of story value and depiction. I believe the characters could have been etched a little better and the plot explained clearer too. For example, it is never quite clear just why KK Menon’s character has gone away (been expelled?) and then come back. Bipasha’s relationship with him is too stark, too simplistic and goes counter to the otherwise strong, rational character that she portrays. Still I guess it was a better effort than the earlier movies.

Fashion was probably the only one of his offerings that I really liked. The three protagonists were very well characterised, the plot was believable (within reason, it is a Bollywood film after all) and the story carried through well.

And finally we come to Jail. Going by the  progression of his earlier movies, I was expecting him to be learning and growing as a film-maker and serving up an ever better film. Sadly enough, Jail falls in the same pit that swallowed up Chandni Bar. Pathos and gloom sit heavy on your shoulders all through the movie. The main character depicted by Neil Nitin Mukesh doesn’t come through convincingly. At the end of three hours I’m still left wondering about what kind of a person he is, despite the camera riding on his shoulders all along. The conflicts, the confusion, the utter bewilderment of a man thrown into a harsh worldwere situations ripe for portrayal but I’m afraid neither the script, nor the dialogues nor Neil Nitin Mukesh’s emoting do any of them any justice. Manoj Bajpai shines in his portrayal of a convict/prisoner-on-duty but the role is too small to push the movie into the realm of palatable. Mugda Godse has very little to do other than look wide-eyed and say, “It’s okay.”

As a viewer I was left fidgeting and annoyed with the way the story dragged on. More than once I found myself asking “Why isn’t anyone pointing out that he didn’t fire the gun?”. Each courtroom scene looked exactly like the previous one with the lawyer reciting the same indifferent speech and Neil Nitin Mukesh’s stammering, “No, please..!”.

I found myself comparing Jail to another movie about prison life – Nagesh Kukunoor’s Teen Deewarein. Certainly the backdrop of Kukunoor’s movie may have been a bit of a rosy picture but as a story it brought out the agony and frustration of the daily bonded life superbly. Bhandarker in contrast dumps a series of gory situations to make up for lack of a storyline.

If this had been Bhandarkar’s first movie, I’d have given Jail full points for the authenticity of the background. But after all these experiences with ‘real cinema’, I really think a lesson should have been learnt on how to tell a story. At the end of it, I’m not willing to like a movie simply because it has a great concept. The concept is only the starting point and the movie is its complete expression. When the last falls flat, I think the director has failed as a story-teller.

NovelRace Week 6: My Characters Are For Real!

A quick update on NovelRace. I know this is mid-week so a little late for this but I want to keep the diary going.

As the forerunners start to complete the race and drop off the list, the rankings of the rest of us obviously improve. Also, possibly because we are still learning the ropes and are just about now finding our feet and pace, the numbers are going up at a steady rate. Samit Basu, the pro at this, is still very much in the race which gives me solace in being able to think that each person follows their own pace, irrespective of experience and talent.

I’ve been writing of course, though not in an organized way. The biggest change over last week has been letting go of needing a schedule to sit and write. The good part about being on a sabbatical is that I’m master of my own time so I’ve decided I’m going to make full use of it and write only when I feel able to, without agonizing the rest of the time.

With my latest wordcount update of 22,491, I’m sitting at number 13 (an odd but closely associated number for me). Last week I’ve just finished introducing the many characters in my novel. I found resolution in the thought that my novel isn’t a story of one person, it is the story of a phenomenon. And the only way to explain a phenomenon fairly would be to show its manifestations in many situations. Hence I justify my large character cast.

Earlier I laid out a sketch of all the characters but I’ve found that these have needed to be revised as I actually wrote. It’s actually almost like the way I set an agenda for my own life and had to revise it in the past ten years as some unexpected things came up.

Also, I started with a certain plan of order of importance of the characters but even that has changed. Some characters have just written themselves into oblivion while some have emerged stronger and aggressively demanding “MORE FOOTAGE!” so I’ve given it to them.

Do you hear what I’m hearing? I’m talking about my characters as it they are real. Something interesting that has been happening to me in the past couple of weeks is that I seem to be seeing my characters walking out of the book and around me everywhere. In my conversations with various people, I find I’m fitting them mentally into my character cast and saying “This is so much like X. I could use that little habit she has of flicking her hair behind her ear and build it into X.” I created a sketch but it’s the people around me who are colouring in the details with everything they say and do.

And finally, quite unexpectedly, I’ve had a number of people offer their help. A colleague-turned-friend has offered to read and comment on my work so far. The A.E. comes calling with the standing offer to critique and I know his will be a valuable opinion to have. A lovely stranger/friend I met last year has offered her services in ‘ripping it to shreds just to see what part of it will sustain’, a favour I think I’m definitely going to call in. I will need to put my story through some acid tests. Not yet though.

One exercise I did take on earlier was to plot all my characters into a structure. Know those organisation chart/family tree diagrams? I’ve done dozens of those – I always enjoyed charting. I laid out my characters with their linkages and the sub-plots that they belonged to. I even colour-coded to show the main characters, the supporting characters and the furniture (background people who are referred to or just add scenery but aren’t really important on their own). It wasn’t just fun but I realised at the end of it that it actually crystallized my thoughts and sub-plots as well. It is the visual depiction of the skeleton of my story. Maybe I’ll include it in the final novel; I’ve seen some authors include a family tree in the appendix. 🙂

That’s the update for this week. See you on the other side of the weekend, with (hopefully) a higher wordcount and more writing lessons!

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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

NovelRace Week 5: The Lone Runner

Okay, weekly NovelRace update time. First of all, congratulations to Angad Chowdhry and shomeshome for having completed the race at 1,67,934 and 74,000 words each. These are the first novels to be completed and they signal the start of a new phase in the race.

A conversation with my dad earlier this week made me rethink what I was setting out to do with this race. It isn’t a word race where the more words one has, the better it is. And then there is the pacing. Obviously different people write at different speeds. Mine has been going up and down and I’ve been agonizing over it. But really, it was just a matter of getting my own individual pace right.

I’ve always been an organized person and the whole ‘creativity doesn’t follow a schedule’ idea is one I don’t really buy into. My one terrible late-nighter boosted my wordcount by nearly double but I couldn’t write a word for nearly 4 days after that. It is probably true that at least in the start, when the ideating is happening, you need to give yourself the flexibility of time. But now, I’ve got the ideas more or less in place, it’s about getting them down on paper. For the past few days, I’ve been following a loosely-set time schedule and find I’m quite happy with the way things are progressing.

In terms of actual progress, I’ve managed to ‘tighten’ the book a bit. Some people seem to be going all out to write and plan to edit later. However, my style always involves alternating write-edit-write-edit patterns. I use it in everything from blogposts to presentations and I don’t see why it shouldn’t work now. Each time I return to my draft, I re-read some section of it and rework it in parts. This usually extends a string of thought that I can pursue and write even more from there. It ensures continuity at least in my mind. It is probably the reason why my progress chart goes up and down while most other people’s (yes, I’ve checked!) goes straight up.

While on the progress chart, here’s one reason the NovelRace is really great. It’s not so much about benchmarking myself against others, since writing is a craft and individual to each person. But this is giving me a certain discipline to follow by providing a frame of reference. The deadline, the wordcount and the other players in the race are all part of what’s keeping me going, even if I don’t follow what they’re doing. After all, you need a track, a starting and ending point and other runners to be able to be an athlete. Else, you’re just running.

In terms of what I’ve learnt (isn’t there always a lesson?)…firstly I had a sudden revelation in the form of a new character. This character, the creation and integration into novel of whom took up the better part of my late night, has given my entire novel a new spin. The story and theme don’t change but somehow this person’s inclusion has added a whole new quality to my novel. I’m very happy with it as I’m aware that inspiration does strike suddenly and can be like a jackpot in its results. Still, I’m not going to run after jackpots, I’ve had one already and that’s as much luck as I hope for.

I’ve actually spent far less time writing this week and much more talking about it, thinking about it and just walking around. Walking seems to stimulate my brain processes while also de-cluttering them. And I found when I came back to the draft, I was approaching it with renewed vigour and enthusiasm. What’s more, it is not important to keep writing all day long and all the time. A major part of story-telling is letting the story grow in your own mind and that’s just like gestation. Sometimes you don’t do anything, you just have to wait and let it grow. The actual doing or writing is only one of the many activities associated with the creation and expression of a story.

And finally, a nugget of wisdom again from my father (subject to my “I can’t do this!!” panic attacks and quite used to having to steer me back onto the path after all these years). At one point of time I found my morale really sinking (it must have been burnout from that single late-nighter) and I said,

It’s not like I’m writing a Lord of the Rings. I mean, I’m not bringing the world something really new. And what’s more, I’m not creating most of these characters. They’re all inspired by someone or something I’ve seen in real life. Where’s the creativity in that?

He just smiled and said,

Even Einstein said, “I stand on the shoulders of giants”. No one person can be responsible for any major shift of consciousness or thought, no major endeavour can succeed because of a single person. There are some roles that are more visible than the others but almost everything is done by the collective effort of a group of people. It’s difficult to say why a book turns out well but brand new ideas are not the only reasons it does. Sometimes you just like the way something has been said, some stories you like because you can relate to them so well. You need to decide what it is you want to say and you need to write because it is your passion to, not because you’re trying to please an audience or reach a goal.

Thank you, dad, I really, really needed that. I was approaching the race the way I approach work, with goals and competitors in mind. I had forgotten that I write not because I have to but because I can’t help it. There is a shade of a difference and actually it makes a world of difference in the experience. And I’m not writing this to prove a point, I’m writing because there are stories to be told. Even if they’ve been told before, they’ve never been told in my way, before.

And lastly, my own status. I stand at No.16 with a wordcount of 17,625. After much agony over the unrealistically huge cast, it’s come down to a manageable 13-15. The order of chapters is also falling into place. The best part is that most of these things created themselves. That is to say, certain characters were just not strong enough so they faded away and some emerged stronger than I had conceptualised them. I only really know ‘how the story ends’ with two of these characters and even how they get there is hazy. The others, I’m now just going to trust since they shaped themselves, will go through to the end of their stories as they get told.

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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

NovelRace Week 4: If You Fall, Get Up & Run Again!

Here’s my NovelRace update, not one but two weeks later. After a ‘I do me proud’ start in the first fortnight, I slacked off for a week in between, making full use of my 30th birthday as an excuse. Pune and its wonderful people gave me a delightful celebration spread over 4 days (a birth-weekend rather than birthday) so I’m full of fervent enthusiasm now, all set to prove myself again.

What have I learnt? Other than the fact that creative endeavors don’t follow regular schedules but do need discipline to keep running, that is. I bemoaned the fact that I didn’t like my protagonist and realised that it was very important to understand and empathise with your characters to be able to tell their stories well. I did something else, almost a reverse process this time.

Instead of creating a character and endowing him with attributes that I would like, I formed images of people whose stories I wanted to tell. That is to say, instead of creating a character, I just picked out people and decided to build stories around them. As you might expect this means that the characters are drawn from real life, people I’ve known or in some cases, my own self. I don’t want this to be either biographical or autobiographical so what I did do is use my real-life inspiration only as a reference (“What would he do in such a situation? What would she think?”).

It is actually not as difficult as I thought it would be. For one, I’m superimposing the personality traits of one, on the lifestyle of another, overlaying it with imagery of my own thoughts and spinning the character’s life into a direction that suits the story. I’m fairly sure that there’ll be very little resemblance left to the original inspiration at the end of it. In fact, I’m not even really telling the story of the person who I started with. They only inspire the character, not their stories. Does that make any sense? I would hope so, it makes perfect sense to me and the art of telling stories is being able to make sense to other people too.

While on characterization, I was also recently (2 hours back to be precise) struck with the thought that there might be a certain typical range of characters that make a good story. All the good stories I’ve read have about 5-7 key characters and everyone else is just scenery. The exceptions to these are the Mahabharata and The Lord of The Rings (off the top of my head, I’m sure there are plenty more). All of these are magnum opera (which wikipedia tells me is the plural of magnum opus) – huge, sprawling canvasses with big, grandiose stories. I seem to have a huge character set already but I don’t know whether I want to tell such big stories. My worth is in my details, small everyday observations of life. Still, things are changing at such rapidfire rate, I really don’t know how tomorrow is going to look.

The loss of a week meant I dropped out of the running, a fact that made me panic earlier this week. The numbers continue to do a number on me. But my competitive streak may turn out to be an asset, yet.

At the end of this week, in a late burst of effort, I’ve managed to pull up the wordcount to 10,896 which puts me back in the top 20 (just about). I see the gap between the forerunners and the others widening and I really, really do want to be in the first group. Well, I was one of the surviving bloggers from the bunch that started 5 years ago (yes, that’s how old this blog is!) so it’s a matter of pulling off the ‘not fall by wayside’ trick again.

If you can’t already tell, I’m playing coach to myself by now, giving myself several pep talks. It’s a horribly lonely thing, a writer’s life (and hell, I’m just starting!). For one, the story is forming in your head, right before your open eyes and no one else can see or hear it yet. You can’t quite explain or put it in words, the characters and names and plots and situations and conversations and actions are firing through your head too fast and the best you can hope is to be able to pin at least a few of them down in words.

The other thing is something I remember reading about in Richard Bach’s ONE. Ideas come to you when you’re in the shower or brushing your teeth or right in the middle of your slumber (which is about 3am for most people and 7am for me) or taking a walk or crossing the road. In short, at the most inconvenient, embarassing, socially inconsiderate time possible. I wonder if any of my friends have noticed me fade in and out of conversations this week. Well, since a number of them happened on the phone, they probably didn’t notice, having gotten used to a quarter-attention-quote from me while at work. Ideas are not very nice creatures, they’re horribly pampered brats. It’s getting so I’m rethinking even my fondness for babies and kids.

And at the end of it all is the gnawing, throat-strangling self-doubt. Writing a blogpost is one thing, even a business report, a short story or an article…but a real, honest-to-goodness, full novel?? I really don’t know if I have it in me. I have ideas but I really don’t know if I have a novel in me. Why should that matter, ask the most supportive of my umm…supporters (gah, and I’m supposed to be a writer). It matters because whatever I choose to create will be made word by word, character by character, every silver tinge on every cloud in every goddamn horizon on every page will be created by me. And if that doesn’t mean something to other people, it will be a colossal, utter, heart-breaking waste. Like giving birth to a stillborn.

Okay, I’ll stop panicking. DEEEEEEEEEEP BREATHHHHHHHHHH. Wish me luck, if you love me. I really need it!! Until next week, I’m still going to be running.

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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

NovelRace

The literary world is never boring. And social media is never quiet. Put them together and what have we? My new passion is the NovelRace that Aditya and Samit have organized. Several people, serious writers and others are scribbling away furiously (okay tapping away on their keyboards), to see who can complete a novel of 60, 000 words first by September this year. Participants tweet their wordcounts and some like me, also share their little woes and joys about the experience.

Well…since this is my own, sweet, undemanding blog, let me share what’s on my mind. I’m scared witless. Frightened, terrified, petrified, spooked, horrorstruck, struck dumb (not a good thing for an aspiring story-teller, I’m sure you’ll agree). What if it comes to rubbish? What if I discover that after all these years, I’m not that great at it anyway? Oh horror, there’s nothing worse than losing a dream. Okay, I’ll worry about that later.

Pull back and onto the point. What’s really interesting is what I’ve been learning about writing in the meagre few days that I’ve been in the race. For posterity, some of my big lessons:

1. You can’t write about a character that you don’t like. Get to know your characters well if you are going to tell their stories.

2. A short story can be created from a plot idea and the characters will just sort of fall into place (I know, I’ve done it). But a novel is different, you really need to work on characterisation and build a case for each character in your reader’s mind, for them to empathize with the story. So Character above Plot is my big takeaway.

3. Writing a chapter is very different from writing a short story. I’ve spent so much time ‘condensing’ my writing…into blogposts, into tweets, into 55-worders, into short stories, into read-all-in-one-page articles, into concise reports that I have to learn the art of writing with a lot of words and not boring my reader. I am finding it really, really hard to go beyond 1000-1500 wordcount. And that’s sometimes not enough for a chapter, or well the chapter just seem like fluff.

4. Just because you can string words together well, doesn’t mean you can tell stories well. BIG, HUGE lesson. But ah, I’ll come to dealing with this on a later date. For the time being, this experience is valuable for how much I’m learning about writing.

And hey! I got quoted in a Mid-Day article about Twitter and NovelRace for this, today.

There are others who use it to post recipes or haiku poems. In fact, Novelrace followers are even giving each other tips on what would be an ideal length of a chapter and style of writing.

For instance:

ideasmithy: wonders what is the right length for a chapter. 1-1.5K is as far as I’ve gone with short stories & now one chapter. Thoughts?
allvishal: @ideasmithy Break them up as you like. Wrote a story with 2K chaps once, this one is leaning to 5K. Some may have none or 100.

Signing off now. I have a novel to go write. In the meantime (in a shameless self-plug), go read about my writing adventures on Twitter.

~O~O~O~O~O~

UPDATE: If you’re a participant, follow the participant discussions on the NovelRace Facebook page. Also, a live update of participants’ wordcount is available at the NovelRace website.

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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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