Welcome, dear first-time authors!
In this post, you’ll find the ingredients that make your soup the most sought after at the annual readers’ dinner party (ARDP); rather than land you in a soup through the dismal sales records.
What are my credentials, you ask? Well, I am one of your targeted Indian readers, who has been starved for a good Indian soup since some decades.
If you go to any best-selling author (I’ve been to discussion panel sessions featuring the stars of Indian fiction – Amish, Ravi Subramanian), they’ll tell you that the topmost ‘thing’ that can make your book a bestseller is – marketing. Author Ashwin Sanghi swears that he has stormed ahead of many a better writers than him because of his clever marketing tactics.
While I agree with this to a certain extent, I also feel that the soup will not ‘sell’ unless it has some underlying unique OR popular taste that the feasters at the ARDP like. Sooner or later, the readers will discover that the promise of quality is a hoax, and most of them will not finish the soup. If they’ve already finished it, they won’t take the soup offered by you at the next ARDP.
So, hurry up and pick these ingredients off the proverbial book writing shelf:
- Story : Make the book about your story, not about your linguistic skills.See, the fact that you have undertaken the herculean task of setting out to write a book screams from the rooftops that you have a flair for expressing yourself through your writing. It also establishes that you are relatively well-versed with the rules of grammar and have a vast vocabulary.
Because, other people who don’t have these qualities would get cold feet at the prospect of writing down what they envision in a story, biography, or auto-biography. They’d get someone else to do the ‘dirty work’ of putting thoughts on paper.
So, you don’t have to prove your linguistic proficiency to anyone. It is a given, since you’re writing the book yourself. Desist from dragging the narrative just to show off how well you can play with words.
The language in your book should be according to :
- The time frame and the location in which it the story is set.
- The social status and the educational level of your characters.
This will help you in establishing authenticity – the second ingredient.
- Authenticity : Believe in your story. Only then will your readers buy it.
Let your story be as outlandish as possible. Do everything in your capacity to narrate it in a matter of fact tone.
If you have read any of Asimov’s books, you’ll see how unassumingly he goes on setting up the Universe that is statistically heading towards annihilation. The reader has no choice but to accept what the author states to be the ‘norm’ in his world.Even if the story is based in the real world, there can be some character traits, some scenes that won’t be easily digested by the ARDP, unless the author writes them with conviction that stems from – 1) Extensive Research and 2) Huge Self-confidence.
“Masakali landed swiftly on the porch. His hind legs hit the ground first.
Mohan retrieved the letter that was carefully wedged between Masakali’s front paws, which were folded in a classic Namaste position all through his arduous flight from Mumbai to Pune.
Masakali gave a grunt of relief and dutifully licked his Master’s cheek. In return, Mohan affectionately booped his nose, which signalled that he is dismissed.
He was dying to see his wife, Deena. He sprinted towards the mud pool on the far side of the garden. There she was, lying contentedly in the soft gooey mud. And nuzzling against her, were four pink babies! So they had hatched!
Masakali was overwhelmed with joy. He lost no time in hurtling his rotund self in the mud pool and embracing his family in a strong pig-hug. This was a moment of celebration. After all, these piglets would grow up into fine flyers and help him realise his dream of keeping the ‘Fastest Messenger’ title in the family.”
Now tell me, are you in the mood to ‘tell me that pigs don’t fly’ or ‘read more about the Fastest Messenger competition’?
- Visualisation : Live in the world in which your story takes place.
Continuing from above, to create an authentic narrative, you have to be able to see the setting and the characters as if you’re living with them as one of their own or as an observer.What makes Harry Potter a success? Is it only J K Rowling’s lucid writing, or the depth of her characters, or the intriguing plot? It is mainly because in her writing, the reader is shown a world that is replete with details about its physical appearance – be it the sorting hat,the Hogwarts hall, the magic wands, or anything – alive or inanimate.
Ironically, writing fantasy with a believable setting is relatively easier than writing fiction in the real world – where you have to describe the character’s house (say set near The Louvre, Paris). Apart from their abode, the characters have to have physical attributes and dresses that can be visualized by the reader. All this information should be conveyed subtly, rather than pointing it out in an obvious sentence.
“Rani was a tall girl. All her cousins were shorter than her. So they made her get the cookies, which her mother hid on the top shelf in the kitchen.”
“Rani could reach the top shelf of the kitchen cupboards, without as much as standing on her toes. Her cousins had often tried to jump on the kitchen platform to get to them, but they were always discovered and given the scolding of their lifetime as they hit their heads or disturbed the electronic appliances with their feet while trying to stand up from their crouched positions. The decision was unanimous – Rani would get the cookies. After all, her mother had hid them.”
- Rendering : Find your own chapter presentation style.Dan Brown alternates between two narratives – one, the protagonist’s and one, the antagonist’s. I have read some authors who make each characters narrate a chapter, to make the readers see their point of view. There are some who prefer the traditional third person narrative.
Again the flow depends from author to author, book to book – flashbacks, cliffhangers, etc. are the chapter styles that I am accustomed to. Now, what works for a crime thriller won’t necessarily work or not work for a romance. Eh, all I am trying to say is – instead of aping a chapter style that has become popular of recent – here I go back to Dan Brown’s alternating narratives – try picturing a movie that is based on your book.
How would the screenplay pan out? Try to base the chapters in that sequence, and that style.Is your chapter descriptive? Does it have more dialogues? Does it end abruptly? Do not think about all this. Avoid cliches like – leave a hook and make the reader feel incomplete after one chapter. Do it, but don’t do it consciously. When you’re writing the chapters as if they’re happening on reel, you’ll end up writing the most enticing book ever.
It’s another matter that very few writers are happy with their book’s movie adaptations. The movie reference here is in context with point 3 where the reader should be able to visualise what’s happening – and that is only possible if the chapter style and flow are complementing the author’s narration.
- Revise : Fine tune your work for the finale.
It is a known fact that most writers are big time procrastinators and don’t like revisions.It’s not because they’re lazy. It’s because they lack the motivation of going about a task that is less creatively fulfilling than creating the story and the characters in the first place.
You can make the revision interesting by reading alternately as a diner of the ARDP and the chef who made the soup. Do you like the primary flavor of the soup? Can you find subtle underlying flavors? Yes, pat yourself on the back, and finish the garnishing. No, do the required changes/additions and then garnish it.
Even I’ll revise this blog, and then post it. 🙂