A WRITER IN TRANSITION BLOG #8.

         A WRITER IN SEARCH OF AN AUDIENCE.

           In the previous blog, I had discussed the structure of a plot of a novel and what factors decide it. In all my previous blogs in this series, I have discussed several literary aspects of writing a novel. In the next few blogs, I would discuss the problems of a novelist that are not exactly literary but they are important nevertheless. These are the problems of finishing the novel as a product and delivering it to readers. In this blog , I would discuss the problem of finding an audience.

          For a first time novelist, this problem is nonexistent or to put it differently, a first time novelist is oblivious to this problem. To that novelist, novel writing is an abstract exercise to be carried out in the privacy of her /his mind. I am using the word ‘abstract‘ because no part of this activity is grounded in the reality, except perhaps the pen and paper  ( or a computer these days ). Everything else about that yet to be written novel is ethereal. The would be novelist is not even aware of whether and by whom that novel would be published. To her/him, the novel is like a newborn baby who needs round the clock mollycoddling. A novelist is on an emotional high during this phase. No mundane details are of any importance to the first time novelist.

      When I recollect my life when I was writing my first novel, I now realise how naive I must have been. This dream like reverie exists because the novelist is , in reality , writing for herself /himself. The novelist is a writer and a reader at the same time. Therefore, there is no need for anyone else. However, things change after the novelist finishes writing that novel. The novelists, as a species, live a paradoxical life. On one hand, they are intensely private individuals, but on the other hand, they seek external approval for their outputs. Therefore, once a novel is finished, the second persona of novelists takes over. The first time novelists have all the more need to secure approval  (and even praise ) from people around them.

      That is when the reality sinks in. A first time novelist realises that there are real life problems in making people read that novel. Reaching out to readers requires an effort. Finding out the potential readers requires a skill, a strategy and resources which the would be novelist may or may not have. In earlier times, one needed to have literary agents who would try to sell the manuscript to big publishing houses. Thus, a novelist would have to wait for long periods before a publisher would agree to publish a novel by a new author. There have been several instances where the novelists who subsequently became best-selling authors, had to wait for long periods to get their first novels published. In the present times , with the spread of Internet and online publishing, the things have changed. It takes much shorter time to publish novels.

       However, finding the right audience is still a problem. The real problem is not that it requires lot of marketing to sell a novel, but rather that a novelist does not realise that without marketing no novel would find its audience. In addition, as mentioned above, a novelist has no such skills. It is sometimes tempting for a novelist  ( or for that matter for all creative persons ) to look down upon such marketing strategies. It is natural for a novelist to put the creative process on a pedestal and neglect everything else. In fact, it is this ideal of artistic purity that misleads an artist to relegate the importance of reaching out to an audience.

        It is a common mistake to think that this emphasis on marketing is of recent origins. It is tempting to think that this undue emphasis is a consequence of increasing commercialisation of every sphere of human activities. While it is true that, with the passage of time, things are increasingly valued at their monetary worth,  the real need for marketing is  for targeting the potential audience and not necessarily for monetizing a novel. It is not just  money but every resources are in limited supply. Therefore, what marketing does is to chalk out a strategy to put that novel within the reach of such resources. It creates a channel which makes a novel to connect with a reader who has either an inclination, a spare time or spare budget.

        I would like to admit that when I began my first novel, I was blissfully unaware of this wisdom. It was only after publishing the novel, that I found this out. A  large share of the credit of enlightening me goes to my publishers Cinnamon Teal publishing.

     In my next blog, I would discuss whether the artistic purity is really in conflict with the marketing strategies or not ? 

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A WRITER IN TRANSITION BLOG #7.

            THE STRUCTURE OF A NARRATIVE.

       In the previous blog, I had discussed my experience in developing characters during the unfolding of the novel. A novelist is required to provide direct and indirect clues which would give the impression of a  character’s growth as the plot of a novel unfolds. In this blog, I would discuss the problem that a novelist faces while creating a plot.

       Normally, a reader would prefer to read a novel which is told in a linear style. In other words, a novel must have a beginning , an end and the narration of what happened between the beginning and the end in the same sequence as it must have happened. However, very often, a novelist would prefer to begin a novel somewhere from the middle of the plot and keep going back and forth in the plot. The technique of flashback is sometimes necessary because it helps a novelist to begin the novel at a point with which the readers can identify themselves. Therefore, flashback, in such a scenario, enables a novelist to develop a context why the readers could identify themselves with the protagonist. Once the context of this identification is established, it becomes easier for a novelist to move the plot in the forward direction. Thus, the technique of flashback helps a novelist to begin the narrative from the middle of the plot which is contemporary and easily identifiable by lay readers. The flashback then provides a novelist with a tool to depict the past of the protagonist. Since the readers have already identified themselves with the protagonist by then, the revealing of the past takes readers to their own past, thereby providing an opportunity for catharsis.

        In my both novels, I have used this technique. In my first novel, THE MULTITUDES OF RIPPLES the novel begins when the protagonist, Manas Desai, is hospitalized after his nervous breakdown. I thought, at that time, that this is a good starting point because Manas Desai was in a most vulnerable state and therefore he was easy to be identified with. Secondly, since he was trying to recollect his own past, the very process of recollection could become the narrative. Of course, due to his nervous breakdown, Manas’s recollection was fractured and that created a surreal narrative.

      In my second novel THE HUMAN PILGRIMAGE, the protagonist Gautum Parikh, begins writing his own life story when he finds himself overwhelmed by the irrational things happening in his life. I felt that this situation, wherein we find ourselves unable to cope with circumstances of our lives, is a universal situation. Almost all of us have felt that way, sometime or the other, in our lives. This vulnerability, I thought at that time, to be a good starting point because the readers would find it easier to identify with such a vulnerable protagonist. The unfolding of the protagonist’s past, in this novel, provides the context in which readers would find out why  their own  identification with the protagonist was justified. Of course, in this novel, things happen even while Gautum Parikh is writing about his life and these events provide a meaning to him about what life is.

      In my first novel, the plot was unfolded twenty years after it happened. In my second novel, the story begins and ends in the present times. It begins and ends in the year 2016. Therefore, I am wondering how to structure the plot of my third novel.

          I have decided that in this novel, I would not use flashback to take readers to the past. Instead, I would keep the plot restricted to a small period of time. I am planning to tell the readers about what happened to the protagonist, a software consultant in the last  three years.  His past would be narrated only through the references and allusions. Since this novel is a third person narrative, the protagonist would not be able to narrate his past. Therefore, he would recollect his past in the context of things happening to him in these three years. Therefore, the novel would begin in the year 2014 and end in the year 2017. The protagonist’s past would be revealed to the readers only through the reminiscences of the protagonist in the context of what is happening to him.

        This arrangement creates a rather complex narrative, and I am looking forward to it as a challenge. The reason why I have chosen this style of narrative is that it is my belief that, in real life, we don’t recollect our own pasts in a linear fashion. What actually happens is that every new event in our lives connects us to some incidents that we had experienced in the past. Thus, we live a complex life in which our past surfaces in our minds at every instance of our present moments. Moreover, since every moment of our lives triggers different and sometimes unrelated memories of our past, we spend lot of energy in making sense out of this haphazard experiences of living moment by moment and trying to cope with random memories that these moments trigger.

        This is where the significance of fiction lies. It helps us to learn how to create a simple narrative from our haphazard lives and make sense out of it. Therefore, writing and reading fiction is a therapeutic. It helps us to understand what life is.

        Having tried magical realism in past two novels, I am planning to write my next novel using realism. I am convinced that realism is as magical, if not more magical than the fantasy. I am also convinced that it doesn’t matter what the life really is. What matters to me, and it is a matter of faith for me, is that a human mind is capable of infusing meaning into the life. The life may be haphazard or absurd and the meaning that we infuse into such a life may be subjective, but it doesn’t matter. This is because this  subjective meaning of otherwise absurd life is what keeps us alive. Without it, we would not be able to live.

         In my next blog , I would discuss more practical aspects of being a novelist. I would discuss my problems with finding a right audience of a novel. 

A WRITER IN TRANSITION BLOG # 6.

THE EVOLUTION OF CHARACTERS IN A NOVEL.

        In my previous blog, I had discussed my problems with selecting a protagonist for my next novel. In this blog, I would discuss my problems with depicting the growth of characters in a novel with the passage of time. Normally, a novelist employs two methods . A novelist either can use some external markers like changes in the surroundings of the characters or can use some internal markers like thoughts of the characters to denote the passage of time. These, in conjunction with the emotional changes in the characters, can give a perception that these characters has evolved during the unfolding of the novel. Therefore, it is always a challenge for a novelist to bring out this perception indirectly through the creation of  details of  a novel as it unfolds.

        While writing my first novel, I realized that, both these techniques require different skills. While using external markers to depict the changes in the characters, I had to depend on my memory of the city of Mumbai  to differentiate between the old and new surroundings. The depiction of changed internal markers, on the other hand, required me to think and feel like the characters of that novel. Therefore, I  chose in my first  novel to restrict the geography of the plot to the one I am familiar with. Similarly, I  tried to flesh out characters with the emotions and thinking of the individuals of whom I had read about or whom I had met.

        However, in my second novel which would be published shortly, I have tried to be more adventurous. I chose to write about places I was not familiar with. Similarly, I have tried to flesh out characters  whom I have never met. This turned out to be a creative challenge because I had to rely on my imagination to create details of these entities. Of course, in the days of Google search, it is easy to find details of the places one has never visited. However, one needs to recreate the ambience of these places. I hope I have done it well. Similarly, if one were to create a character whom one has never met, one runs a risk of falling back to stereotypes. I have tried to invest new behavioural details in such characters to make them authentic. I hope that this detailing makes these characters believable.

     These might appear to be restrictive techniques. However, the key insight that I have gained is that beneath these limitations, there is something more fundamental and universal about the  human existence that would come through in spite of a novelist’s limited repertoire of locales and characters. There is something in each one of us that transcends these mundane details. It is novelist’s prime objective and in fact, a moral obligation, to tease out this transcendental aspect of otherwise ordinary characters. Fortunately, I could do it reasonably well in both these novels. Of course, the readers are the final arbiters of whether I have managed to do it or not. However, I personally think that I have done a decent job of extracting   the human angst from the lives of  otherwise nondescript characters.

       Let me now tell you how I am going to depict the  evolution of  characters in my third novel. As I have mentioned earlier, this novel is going to be a third person narrative. Therefore, there is no narrator. As a result, sense of continuity, both emotional and temporal, must come from the plot itself. Therefore, I have decided to describe the life of the  protagonist in a narrow time span of three years from 2014 to 2017. The events in the protagonist’s life prior to this time span would find oblique references in the narrative. This is necessary because it allows me to minimise the depiction of external markers. I would be able to focus on the details of the plot unfolding.

         Moreover, since the past events would surface in the plot indirectly, this would give a new complexity to the plot itself. This resurfacing of events in the protagonist’s mind, by oblique reference, would provide a tool to depict the changes in the protagonist’s mindset. Similarly, all the other characters would connect to their past indirectly by connecting to the events unfolding during these three years. Since this novel is a third person narrative, the protagonist is not really a protagonist in the conventional sense. He is a protagonist because the plot revolves around him and not because his version of the narrative is articulated. In fact, it would be proper to think of life or the plot itself being a real protagonist in which the conventional protagonist occupies a central place. The protagonist is in the centre of the plot but he is not in the centre of the novel. The centre of the novel is the human angst in the contemporary life in Mumbai.

         As a result, each of these characters would evolve only marginally during the unfolding of the plot which spans three years, but it is their ability to connect to their individual pasts that would give an indication of their own perception of their personal evolution. Thus, the evolution of individual characters would be indirectly perceptible by their own reminiscences of their pasts, while the events of these years unfold. It is as if each of these characters lives these three years, but they live in the context of their individual pasts. Thus, the events are same, but how these characters interpret and react would tell readers about the evolution of each of these characters. Admittedly, this can only be done when a handful of these characters are developed in details. Therefore, there are two kinds of characters in the novel. There are characters whose lives are woven into the narrative and these are only a handful. Then, there are characters who are mere instruments to carry the plot further.

            The beauty of fiction writing is that sometimes, these characters surprise the  novelist. I found about this in my second novel. When I introduced a character called ‘Pakyabhai ‘ , he was merely an instrument to carry forward the plot. However, to my chagrin, he kept on reappearing in the novel without my knowledge and approval. In that sense, I can confess that this is my present intention of how this novel ought to be shaped. However, it is possible that any of the planned characters might hijack the narrative. Sometimes, the evolution of a character in a novel may overshadow the evolution of a novelist. This is true in life as well. Our own progeny sometimes overshadows us. Unlike novel, life is not a single narrative but a collection of narratives, each valid in itself and yet each being divergent from the remaining narratives. I only hope to capture this quintessence by using the third person narrative in my next novel.

         In my next blog, I would discuss how complex structure of the narrative becomes when one writes a novel spanning three years but the  history of thirty years.