A WRITER IN TRANSITION. BLOG # 3.

                   IN SEARCH OF A THEME.

                  In my previous blog , I had discussed my transition from a first person narrative to a third person narrative. One of the necessities for such a third person narrative is that it looks at the story from outside. Therefore , by definition , it eliminates an individual perspective of the story. The conflict , therefore, doesn’t exist in the narrator’s mind , but it exists in the story itself. Therefore , the story told in such a novel becomes more important than the mindset of any of the characters. It is in this context , I would discuss my problems with selecting a theme of my next novel.

                 In my both the previous novels , I had sought to describe the mindsets of a  protagonist by depicting the distortion in his perception of reality. In such an approach , the plot of a novel plays a secondary role because no matter what happens in the story , what is illuminating is the protagonist’s perception of it. The distorted perception of the protagonist is a tool for depicting the human angst. However , in a novel based on a third person narrative , the plot itself becomes the tool for depicting the human angst. Therefore , the selection of the theme of a novel becomes critical for a novelist.

               As a novelist , I am averse to pick up a theme which is socially and politically sensitive. It is not that I do not have such views , but these views are my personal views and they are outside the public domain. Moreover , there is an inherent risk for a novelist while choosing such a theme. The factors that are extraneous to the literature , dominate appreciation of such a novel. It is not that I don’t believe in social equity and the need to reform our society to achieve such a social equity. It is just that I don’t think it is a novelist’s job to do it. I think that a novelist’s primary concern should be to make readers more introspective. If such an introspection leads to social equity,  it would be ideal. However , a novelist can not write a novel to bring about social equity. A novelist can only write to force readers to reflect on their own value system. I am not saying that a novelist can not be or should not be a social reformer. All I am  saying is that to become a social reformer , one doesn’t need to write a novel.

                 Returning to my search for a theme of my next novel , after finishing both these novels , I realized that I was more concerned with the nature of reality and our perception of it. I was convinced , more so after writing these novels , that our perception of reality is distorted by our subconscious emotional state. In that sense , both these novels tried to depict this distorted perceptions to highlight the underlying emotional state of the protagonists. However , during the process of writing these novels , I have found another aspect of this distorted perception. Our biggest problem arises not from the fact that our perception of reality is distorted , but it arises from the fact that we act in accordance with our distorted perception of reality. More importantly , our actions seem to crystallise our subconscious emotions. Therefore , our actions must be seen as expressions of our subconscious mind. It is as if our subconscious mind forces our conscious mind to express itself through our actions. Let me add that , in this context , our conscious thoughts too must be considered as our actions. In other words , our conscious mind is nothing but awareness of what is crystallised out from our subconscious mind. These include our conscious thoughts and our deeds. In fact , that is the reason why our religions equate bad thoughts with sins. In the Indian context , an evil thought is considered as bad karma.

                I am convinced that if this is a correct picture of how a human mind works , it is possible to simplify our moral values to two simple concepts. Firstly  , there is a sense of guilt that we experience and seek to compensate with atonement. Secondly , there is a sense of sacrifice and our need to feel nobility that arises from such a sacrifice. In fact , in literature , the notion of catharsis embodies both these senses. Therefore , I have decided to write my next novel based on the plot that embodies these senses of guilt and sacrifice. Surprisingly , some of the most memorable literary characters are personifications of simultaneous senses of guilt and sacrifice. However , I would not deal with the emotions that a protagonist would experience while undergoing the catharsis , but I would focus on the circumstances which force the protagonist to experience the catharsis. Therefore , I need a third person narrative which would tell readers what happened in the protagonist’s life. As to what the protagonist feels and how he achieves his redemption via catharsis , I would want readers to experience it themselves through identification.

                  I would end this blog with a hint that the protagonist would be forced to commit what he consciously knows to be wrong.  In  spite of his belief , he is forced by his subconscious mind to commit something wrong. The novel deals with how the protagonist achieves his redemption without being aware of what brought about this redemption. It is only in the climax that he would find the explanation of his guilt , his catharsis and therefore his deliverance.

             In my next blog , I would discuss we cope with our ambiguous moral sense.

                

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A WRITER IN TRANSITION. BLOG#2.

THE NARRATIVE FROM OUTSIDE.

                     In my previous blog, I discussed the emotions that I, as a novelist, felt while finishing my second novel. In this blog, I would discuss my problems with the literary style of writing a novel in a third person narrative. This is important because my both previous novels were first person narratives.

                     Traditionally, it is easier for a new novelist to adopt a first person narrative while writing a novel. There are two reasons for this preference. Firstly, it is easier for a novelist to express her /his thoughts and feelings through the narrator. This is because there is a sense of identification for a novelist with the narrator. Therefore, without being aware of it, a novelist finds her /his own expressions being expressed by the narrator as a proxy. However, as a novelist becomes more adept in writing novels, she /he learns to become detached from all the characters of her /his novels. Therefore, she /he doesn’t require such a proxy. Instead, a novelist is more interested in observing the evolution of the characters from outside. Therefore, the first person narrative which was necessary for the proxy, is no longer a prerequisite. Thus , in most cases , the shift from a first person narrative to a third person narrative is a mark of evolution of a novelist. I was aware of this aspect of writing a novel when I began my first novel. After having finished two novels, I agree with this rationale.

                  The second reason why this approach works is that it is always easier for a new novelist to create a subjective world view of the story being told through a narrator. While telling a story through the subjective view of a narrator, a novelist is required to make sure that the story remains internally consistent. In other words, a novelist just has to  ensure that  whatever the drama or the conflict that the story contains, must appear to be consistent with the narrator’s understanding of the story. While this task offers a challenge to a novelist’s creativity, it ignores one essential feature of real life. In real life, every individual has her /his own understanding of life and these understandings are in conflict with one another. Therefore, in real life , there is a constant conflict. We, each one of us, live parallel lives. Sometimes, our views converge and sometimes, our views diverge. However, most of us live our lives by pretending that our own narrative of life is a real narrative while the narratives of others are faulty. Our belief in our own understanding of life is inevitable in some sense. This is because such a pretense enables us to retain our sanity and a sense of well being. Just imagine a situation where you know that you beliefs are wrong and you are still forced to believe them !! Though, we know, somewhere deep within, that there could be other ways of understanding of life, our conscious mind does not allow that deeper understanding to surface. This is  because such a realization would increase the workload of our conscious mind to keep reminding itself about what is its own belief and what are other’s belief . A good novel enables us to experience these different understandings of life without creating any additional burden.  Therefore, a great novelist is required to give us a perspective that enables us to understand why different understandings of life are equally valid. This is best  exemplified  in our epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata.

                   Therefore, when a novelist makes a transition from a first person narrative to a third person narrative, she/he develops an objective view of life. It must be kept in mind that not every third person narrative is an epic , but every epic is a third person narrative. Ever since  I finished my second novel, I have felt an urge to opt for such a third person narrative. Of course, it doesn’t necessarily mean that my next novel could be an epic, but at least it would be broad enough to accommodate different narratives together. These two reasons why a new novelist prefers to write a first person narrative, are generally known and even I was aware of them. Therefore, in some sense, my own journey as a novelist has so far followed a predictable path.

                 However, there is a third reason why a novelist prefers to write a first person narrative. Frankly speaking, this is one reason which I was not aware of. I have discovered this reason while writing these two novels. Therefore, I would end this blog with this new perspective.

                  When I began my first novel, I I was strongly influenced by my own favourite writers. There were two genres which I admired greatly. They are literature of the absurd and magical realism. Therefore, these influences are plainly visible in both my novels. Since I was determined not to imitate any of my favourite writers, I have ensured that my novels are rooted in Indian sensibility. However, it never occurred to me till I finished my second novels that I chose to write in first person narrative because it allowed me to hide my own shortcomings. I always thought that magical realism was a good literary device to incorporate parallel narratives into a novel. For instance, in my first novel, I have used three different time frames of a protagonist’s life in a single frame of narrative and show how self contradictory the protagonist’s life has been. Similarly , in my second novel, I have used a device of reincarnation to show cognitive dissonance in the protagonist’s mind.

               It is only now, after finishing both these novels, that I have realised that great works of fiction don’t need such devices to describe deeper insights into the nature of human beings. In other words, realism, at least literary realism, is more magical than the magical realism. It is also more absurd than the theatre of absurd.This is because literary realism is capable of making us experience  the depth of human mind without resorting to any such artifices. The name of Premchand comes to my mind. He didn’t need any such artifice to make us aware of fundamental angst of human existence. The literary realism achieves this enlightenment by simply placing before us the stark inequities of life in front of the readers. It believes that an average reader has an ample innate wisdom and an emotional depth to grasp this angst. It occurred to me that it is possible to be a realist, in a literary sense, only if one were to employ a third person narrative.

                Therefore , I have decided to employ a third person narrative in my next novel. I aim to bring out the inequities of life by depicting the parallel narratives without a narrator. More importantly, I hope to restrict myself to the traditions of literary realism in my next novel .

               In my next blog , I would discuss the theme of my next novel.