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. 

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MY SECOND NOVEL BLOG #30.

DOES AN END OF A NOVEL ALSO GIVE A NOVELIST AN EMOTIONAL CLOSURE ?

        In my previous blog , I had discussed the process of ending a novel. I had suggested that a climax and a twist in that climax are necessities. I had suggested that a novelist is bound to attempt to create a climax even when she/he knows that it is a difficult , if not an impossible task. In my last few blogs , I had described the structural and thematic compulsions for creating a climax in the narrative. While ending a novel is something that is preordained , it does not imply that a novelist is comfortable ending   a novel. Therefore , in this blog , I would discuss emotional problems that a novelist may feel while completing a novel.

        From a novelist point of view , this situation is poignant because she/he is torn between two conflicting emotions. On one hand , a novelist wants to end the novel because she/he wants to experience an emotional closure. On the other hand , a novelist doesn’t want to end a novel because , over a period of time , she /he has found a sense of identity with that novel and therefore would like the novel to go on. Therefore , in this blog , I would discuss my own experience while closing my two novels.

           The conflicting emotions that I mentioned above arises from the ambivalence that a novelist experiences towards the novel under preparation. On one hand , a novelist is observing the characters from outside. On the other hand , part of her/his own self gets indirectly reflected in these characters. It is this duality of frames of being an observer and a participant that gives rise to the conflicting emotions mentioned above. I recollect that when I began writing my first novel , I was hopeful of analysing my own creative instinct while writing that novel. As that novel progressed , I realized that the process of creative writing is far more complex than I had anticipated. Finding myself unequal to the task , I decided to focus on writing the novel. However , insights into my own creativity would surface in my mind now and again.

      As my first novel approached its climax , I experienced this duality of the frames for the first time. I was determined that I would not experience emotional closure as a novelist through the emotional closure of the protagonist. I wanted to arrive at my emotional closure through the plot itself. Since my first novel had two climaxes , one structural and one thematic  , it was easier for me to experience my emotional closure when the plot ended with the nervous breakdown of the protagonist. As a novelist , I felt satisfied that three different threads in the narrative converged into the climax. This convergence of three different threads required a creativity which I didn’t know I had. Therefore , when I could manage to bring about the convergence , I felt cathartic and cleansed as a novelist. Later on , when the protagonist found his own emotional closure by finding a new meaning of his life , I achieved my own emotional closure.

       In my second novel , I am nearing the end of the narrative. This time , I am trying to have a single climax having a structural momentum and a thematic depth. As I have mentioned in my previous blog , I wish to achieve this by introducing a twist in the climax. Therefore , my challenge is to make sure that the twist is already present in the backdrop of the novel but in a different context. Moreover , I want to surprise the protagonist and the readers as well. Therefore , I want to achieve my emotional closure as a novelist through the fine tuning of the twist in  such a way that it brings out tragedy of human life. This tragedy consists of our ability to delude ourselves with convenient explanations. The human mind is clever, but not clever enough to see through its own deception. The tragedy of human life is that our mind uses deception to make our life bearable , but in the process , our mind is itself deceived.

           There is another aspect of closure from the novelist’s point of view. It refers to the novelist’s own transformation during and after the writing of a novel. While ending a novel , a novelist may achieve an emotional closure , but that novel remains embedded in the novelist’s psyche. The true closure for a novelist happens when the plot , the characters and the theme of the completed novel are dissolved into the novelist’s subconscious mind. This process of dissolution takes a very long time. For instance , the details of my first novel and its narrative construction is very much present in my psyche. Of course , it helps me because every time I find an echo of my first novel in the second novel , I stop and make a conscious effort of not repeating myself. However , it does indicate that I have not achieved a complete closure in case of my first novel. While I make conscious effort of not repeating myself , I realize that , at a fundamental level , there is continuity between my two novels. This perhaps represent my inner self. In that sense , I don’t think a novelist can ever achieve complete emotional closure while ending a novel. That novel remains in the novelist’s sensibility forever. This continuity is inevitable because life itself goes on forever without achieving any such closure.

            In my next blog  , I would discuss why a novelist is inclined to continue writing novels. The question that bothers me is that is there any point in a novelist’s life , when She /he feels that she/he has nothing new to offer and therefore must stop writing novels ? Frankly speaking , I can’t think of myself ever reaching that saturation point. However , I want explore the motives and motivations of a novelist that prompts her/him to begin again. I would discuss these issues in my next blog. 

MY SECOND NOVEL BLOG #27.

HOW FAST OUR LIVES ARE IN COMPARISON TO OUR PARENT’S LIVES ?

          It is universally accepted that we live relatively faster life than that of previous generation. When we think of our parents , we conjure up an idyllic picture of easy paced life when we were growing up. Our belief in our comparatively faster life is further strengthened by our belief that modern technology has offered more options than those available in our parent’s life time. This is , by and large , true. However , we make mistake in thinking that earlier life was slow and therefore it was more tranquil. It is true that there were less options available to people in earlier generations. It is also true that people were less mobile in earlier times. However , it would be a category mistake to think that life earlier was less frenetic or less stressful. This mistake arises from the fact that we overlook how our mind works.

           It is not number of options available that decides the pace of life. It is our indecision to make choices that sets the pace of our lives. The human nature is such that it is equally burdened with decision making whether we are dealing with few options or hundreds of options. This may sound strange , but it is true. When we have large number of options , our mind picks up only the top few options while making a choice. Therefore , mind spends quite some time in making a choice and it doesn’t really matter how many options are available. Our mind is involved in constant conflict of making choices. Therefore, our sense of living a fast life mainly arises from this constant dilemma of making choices. It does not really matter technologically how advanced we are. What matters is how fast our choice making processes are. In that sense , every generation feels that it is living a fast life. We may find such assertions from our parents rather comic but from there mental perspective , this is a valid perception. It is more than certain that our children would find that we have lived in a slow paced life. Therefore , our external yardstick of measuring fast paced life is not in harmony with our internal perception of pace of life.

      In this blog , I would pick up this aspect of our perception. There are two aspects that I would discuss here. Firstly , I would discuss whether our personalities have altered because of fast pace of life or not. Secondly , I would describe my own difficulties in creating a plot that appears as a slow paced to the readers even when the characters feel that there is a constant rush in their lives. The beauty of fiction writing is that it allows a novelist  (and therefore readers ) to stretch a brief moment into eternity and a life long experience into a flitting moment. I would describe in this blog , how I sought to achieve a balance between the different paces of life say thirty years ago and our contemporary life.

          Let me tell you how difficult it was to have the protagonist of this novel to interact with two women in different phases of his life. His trouble is that he suspects that both women are in fact the same individual in two different births. The first woman was his girlfriend when he himself was young. The second woman is also a young but he is , by now , a sixty year old man. Therefore , he finds it difficult to adjust. Part of his mind tells him that he is an old man , whereas part of his mind tells him that this young woman is his girlfriend from the past. At some point in the novel  , he realises that it is his own mind that is playing tricks with him. What he remembered as his tranquil past of his girlfriend turns out to be a selective amnesia. The new woman makes him confront the reality and his own true self. At that point the protagonist realises that the life is always complex and fast. It is because we selectively remember the past that it appears to be smooth and slow.

           As a novelist  , I found it difficult to portray this deception in the protagonist’s mind. However , I accidentally found the answer to this difficulty. When I began narrating the protagonist’s younger days , I spent quite a few pages in creating the details of his background. However , as the plot developed , these very details became instruments of pushing the story further. The plot quickened on its own momentum. Since the novel is in a part flashback and part now frame of reference , this matched very well with the present fast paced life. However , the bottom line is this. The life is even paced. It is how our mind chooses and selectively remembers that gives us a false impression that our present life is faster than the  life a generation ago.

         Since my novel is nearing it’s climax , I would discuss in my next blog what kind of problems a novelist faces while creating a climax. I would also discuss whether and why should a novel have a climax. 

MY SECOND NOVEL BLOG #26.

MODERNITY AND IDIOMATIC EXPRESSIONS.

        In my previous blog , I had discussed the the role of emotions in shaping our beliefs. I had focused on the situation wherein a novelist could have different set of beliefs than that of one of the characters of created by that novelist. In this blog , I would discuss another problem faced by novelists. It has something to do with the kind of language employed by characters having diverse background. This problem is particularly important in case where the linguistic backgrounds of a character and a novelist who created character are totally different.

            In my second novel , I found this difficulty when I wanted to create a comparatively younger character. In my case , the problem is further compounded by the fact that this younger character is suspected to be a reincarnation of a character who has been described in great details in the first half of the novel. Therefore , my problem is how to keep emotions unchanged during reincarnation while creating a distinctively different persona. My initial idea was to use different idiomatic English to highlight these different incarnations. That is when I realised how deeply our personae and our expressions are connected to one another. Therefore , in this blog , I would discuss the relationship between the language and characterization. The focus would be on the changing idiomatic expressions with increasing modernity.

         In my first novel , I was more concerned about the distortion that our emotions cause in our understanding of the reality. In my second novel , the focus is on the characters as personifications of complex emotions. Therefore , the details of the characters in my second novel assume more significance. For a novelist , the challenge lies in creating characters whose behaviours are reflection on the emotions embedded in them. In addition , each character would have an identifiable manner of expressions that would be in harmony with her/his emotions, social background and the time in which that character is supposed to have existed. In this case , I was trying to create a younger character with the behaviour patterns and the idiomatic language that reflected the generation which went to college in last fifteen years. I realised that my own background could hardly provide any help. I had to , therefore , fall back to my own interactions with younger individuals , both within the family and within my social circle.

         When I did that , I realized that I was using their facial expressions  , hand gestures to understand what these individuals meant. Moreover , there usage of English was markedly different than the one I am comfortable with. Of course , I don’t speak as formally as I write. Still , I tend to use language with high vocabulary. I also tend speak complete sentences. This is totally missing from the younger individuals with whom I normally interact. These individuals use half sentences, phrases and very often , monosyllabic grunts to convey their views. I am not trying to look down upon their linguistic skills. On the contrary , they are very effective in communicating what they wish to. My problem , as a novelist  , is how does one portray such communication skills in the novel.

       My next strategy was to pick up idioms so popular with the youngsters and see whether that would help me to create a convincing characterization. While creating the earlier avatar of the character suspected to have been reborn , I had used one such idiom ‘ spot on ‘. It was used to imply that that person was absolutely right. I believe nobody uses that idiom anymore. In fact , there are large number of idioms and phrases which were in vogue  earlier and we don’t hear them these days. This is , in some sense , inevitable and even desirable. Our languages have resilience and flexibility to transform with changing times. However , a novelist is required to capture these nuances as she /he is duty bound to capture the social context in which the characters of her /his novel.

           Returning to my second novel , I have tried to use the idiomatic expressions of a girl who had graduated in the times of Internet. I have sought to employ different colloquial language for this girl. For instance  , that character , in her earlier avatar , would speak rather bookish English. This is because she was studied in a vernacular medium school. The same character , in her later avatar , is shown to be a convent educated. Therefore , her expressions are essentially half completed sentences or phrases and even monosyllabic expressions. Surprisingly , the situation is reversed when it comes to written English.That girl , in her earlier avatar  , would end up writing improper syntax. The same character , in her later avatar , would write flawless text. This is because the students from the vernacular medium pick up spoken language but rarely write the same. Therefore their spoken language is as formal as  spoken by their parents who have studied Victorian English taught a generation earlier. The character , her later avatar, has studied in a convent school . Therefore , she writes proper text , but speaks contemporary college lingo.

     I found it challenging to use two idioms while expressing same emotions. The readers , hopefully , would notice it. In my next blog , I would discuss how the pace of life has changed during a single  generation. The protagonist describes his past in slow paced narrative. However , the pace of narration picks up after the character supposed to have been reborn enters his life. I would describe how the narrative changes from one generation to the next. 

THE MULTITUDES OF RIPPLES. BLOG 8.

                      THE ROLE OF A NARRATOR IN NOVEL.

               The essence of writing a novel is creating a narrative. There are two aspects of narrative. Firstly , the narrative is unfolding of events during the passage of time. In case of avant garde fiction like stream of consciousness it is the unfolding of thoughts. In case of surreal fiction this unfolding is not in the linear fashion. The narrative , in this case , does not follow the normal direction from past to present and from present to future but there is a flow of time and there is corresponding unfolding of events. In that sense , unfolding is the essence of fiction , though the nature of unfolding and content of unfolding changes according to writer’s own predilections.

         The second key aspect of a narrative is the presence of narrator. In this blog , I would describe my own views and my own experience in creating a narrator in my novel. I think a narrator personifies a particular viewpoint. She/ he represents whole lot of value judgements , social norms and psychological framework. On little reflection , one realizes gthat after all  this is what a person is. In hindsight , this personification of narrative requirements looks obvious but I did not realize while beginning this novel.

             Once one accepts that a narrative needs a personified frame of reference for the narrative , the question arises whom does the narrator represents. Sometimes the narrator represents the author. Sometimes the narrator represents the the collective sensibilities of the society in which the narrative unfolds. When I began writing this novel , I wanted a first person narrative because , as a beginner , I found it easier to internalize Manas’s own emotions. As mentioned in my earlier blogs , I was trying to unravel my emotions through writing a novel. Therefore this process of internalization of Manas’s emotions was effortless. Maybe this is the reason why some authors create a narrator so that process of transference between an author and a narrator facilitate the creative process.

             There was another reason for me to create first person narrative. I had always believed that a good literature is always multilayered. Therefore , rather naively , I wanted to create multilayered personality of Manas .I thought at that time that it would be a good idea to have Manas observing himself and commenting on his own persona. This strategy largely worked. However , a strange thing started happening as the narrative progressed. As Manas became uncomfortable with his past , his narrative started getting distorted. The whole psychopathology of Manas started surfacing. Initially , I had thought of using alternate dimensions as a metaphor for our subconscious mind. However , as the narrative progressed , it started representing a device of accommodating Manas’s fragmented personality. Of course there is an overlap between my original intention and the final outcome. The fragmentation of individual entity into different characters was not planned. It was as if , Manas had taken over the role of a narrator and had started dictating the narrative.

            Though this interplay between an author and his/ her characters is , by itself , subject matter of good fiction , I was not ready for it. Therefore who was the narrator in this novel is not very well demarcated. I began this novel with the intention of using a narrator as a literary device for creating a depth. However , the device became autonomous entity beyond my control. I have pondered over this and have come to conclusion that the two explanations for this. One possibility is that I and Manas are , somewhere deep within , psychological twins. Therefore Manas had no difficulty in wresting control of the narrator. Alternatively , it is possible that I , as a creator of Manas , was more of a doting parent who willy nilly surrendered his authority to his  child. After all I named him as my son Manasputra. In either case , it is a troubling reality.

           This is last of my blogs on this novel. I hope the readers have sufficient insights into the processes that went into creating this novel.

VAACHAKMITRA.

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