The grey area between a pantser and a plotter

I am neither a pantser nor a plotter. I have my own method. It’s worked for me so far.

Pantsers write without a structure in mind and plotters outline and then fill in the blanks. The pantsers and the plotters. I never really got this distinction. The grey area between these two extremes is just too huge. Experts tell you to do what suits you best. I figured it out, for me.

I did write my first crime thriller (to be published next year) as a pantser. It took several rewrites and several years and a lot of muddling about. I want a better method. Fun as it was.

The second time around (I am penning my second thriller, a sequel) I thought I would try the plotting method. Total Fail. Got writer’s block. So that’s out of the window.

This is what did next. I wrote out about half the novel (rough first draft) and then stopped. This is usually where I get into hot water.

I decided to flesh out the characters in greater detail. Not the main characters (protagonist and villain) because I already knew them well. But there were the minor characters who weren’t as vivid in my mind as I would have liked. So I wrote out detailed physical descriptions, personality traits, goals, motivations, and interviewed them, asking them all sorts of questions. This also included the characters who play bit parts. It took time and at times seemed a futile exercise. But I carried on. Some insights I got surprised me.

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It wasn’t a magic pill. After the exercise was over, it wasn’t as if that I knew exactly what was going to happen.

I picked up the draft where I had left off. The protagonist was in the thick of it already but now I knew how the minor characters were going to create even more hurdles. All of them had serious personality issues. There would be consequences.

Even then I did not plot or outline the rest of the novel. A few chapters were done this way (the last 3-4 chapters) but the rest were written out. They were written very roughly, not bothering with grammar and paragraphs. Quite basic really, not like the first half of the book, which was also a rough first draft type of thing. But in the second half, there are mostly half sentences, dialogues without tags, and plenty of notes and questions to myself. The chapters are still about 1000 words or more; I was certainly not writing an outline. This is where I am now. Hope to finish in a month or so.

I will write a proper first draft next year (hopefully in the first 3-4 months) and then finish the second draft in the next 3-4 months. If I manage it, I’ll give myself a break for a month or two and then go back and polish it up. I think it will be faster than the first novel I wrote, but it’s not as if I will be churning out book after book. I am just one of those who is slow. But at least I am clear about the story now, before I have written out the first proper draft. That’s what matters.

 


Becoming an author

NitapcI always thought of myself as a writer and of course an author too…an author of countless articles and a few short stories. Becoming an author of a book is different though and that is happening soon.

I signed a contract with Vishwakarma Publications for the Publication of my first novel after winning a contest at PILF (Pune International Literary Festival) in September this year.

The novel is a thriller set in Mumbai. A murder mystery. It will be out in September 2019.

Vishwakarma Publications, a Pune based publisher, was founded in 2013. Vishwakarma is also the official title sponsor of the Pune International Literary Festival which is held every year in Pune. It is a part of the Vishwakarma group which is into education.

I am happy that I have been accepted by a traditional publisher and that too a reputed one. And of course the fact that they are Pune based is a matter of great joy!


PILF 2018 – Pune International Literature Festival

This was a wonderfully organised lit fest (by Vishwakarma Publications, MIT and Manjiri Prabhu and other partners) which was held at Yashada, in Pune. As a Punekar, it made me proud. This is the sixth one, but the first one which I attended as I was not in Pune when the previous festivals were held.

Listening to authors like Shobha De, Gurcharan Das, Isak Bagvan and a myriad of other authors and poets was invigorating.

It was also quite interesting to hear owners of bookshops speak out on the shrinking shelf space, which according to them is not really shrinking! According to them running a bookshop is all about the passion. If it is run like a business the chances are that it will fail. Today, with the digital media fast catching up (or has it already?) bookshops have a lot of competition. Bookshops today need to revive the days when entering a bookshop was all about the experience. And one is not talking about the experience of buying toys and other merchandise in a bookshop. But about entering a quiet, sacred space where the salespeople guide you, and talk to you intelligently, helping you find what you want.

Here are some photographs from the festival which went on for three days from 28th September to 30th September 2018. Several books were launched at the venue and it was a place where one could meet one’s favourite authors.

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If anyone has missed this festival, then they can look out for the one which will be held next year around this time.

At this fest, you can hang out the whole day, reading, buying books, drinking in not just thoughts but also coffee and tea. Snacks were available, and yes, a thali too. Toilets were clean and there was a large number of enthusiastic youngsters helping out the attendees. All in all, great fun! It is the kind of festival you can attend absolutely alone. Your only company the books and their authors.


A writer’s journey

If there is a major pothole a writer should avoid falling into, it’s the fear of rejection. I fell into it, and am just about getting out of it. Now that I look back, maybe (partly at least) it was because I revered authors. Whether it was Charles Dickens or Minette Walters, it didn’t matter. How could I even dream of walking amongst them?

The fear of not being good enough paralysed me for years. I had wanted to write a novel since I was ten actually, and I wrote several, starting from the time I was a teenager. Not just novels and novellas, but short stories, fan fiction, and screenplays. I would read these out to friends and family off and on, but never sent anything for publication. I threw almost all of my early writings away, except for the poetry.

I turned into a journalist –  a fairly good one at that. I liked to see my byline out there in mainstream newspapers and I liked the paychecks. Often, I would submit a humour piece or a short story, and my editors liked it and published it. But writing a whole novel? That was a different ballgame. The project fell by the wayside. When I did draft a novel one day, it was in a tentative fashion. Then I kept it away and concentrated on my “real” work.

Last year, my daughter told me it was time I published it. So what if it was rejected she said. I was an experienced writer by now and should not feel insecure. She was right. The years of writing had done me well. My words flowed better. I felt more confident and decided that I was ready.  So I re-wrote my crime novel and was happy with the result.

But when I sent in the book proposals, I realised no one even wanted to read my novel, leave alone give it a shot.

I read up on self-publishing. Most of what I read was discouraging. Besides the obvious challenges that were underlined, the message was that if the holy grail of traditional publishers did not want even want to read it, something must be wrong with the book. I did not let it get me down. I sent my novel out to beta readers, and now it’s just come back from a professional edit. I will continue to search for a traditional publisher and if I am not successful in finding one, it does not mean that I will give up on my book.

(This post was originally written for a writer’s group which I am no longer a part of and therefore all references to it have been removed)


A writer’s angst

When I heard that British writer Preti Taneja (she won the Desmond Elliott Prize for her first novel, We That Are Young) was turned down by all the big names in the publishing industry, I realised that my angst over finding a traditional publisher for my book was misplaced.

Preti’s novel was published by a small publisher in 2016, and the publisher could not understand why there “hadn’t been a bidding war for the rights.”

Preti’s prose, according to the judges, contained “prose as sensual, perfumed and parti-coloured as a wedding basket of ladoo, inset with gems of pure poetry”.

I do not consider myself in Preti’s league, not by a long shot. Then why in the world was I resentful of publishers who did not bother to respond to my book proposal?

I did wonder whether my book proposal was good enough, although I did all the right things by reading HowTo articles. No one asked for the manuscript (in India traditional publishers accept book proposals directly from authors). A friend, who was published by Harper Collins, told me that my book proposal was probably lying in a slush pile somewhere. Harper Collins hasn’t responded even though it has been over 8 months.

I completed my first novel in December 2017. I had written the first draft some years earlier, but the manuscript had been lying around gathering dust. I finally took it up in the summer of 2017 and finished it in six months. Once the 300-page novel was done, I knew I wanted to write 5 more books, two of them non-fiction. God willing, I will do it. It could take years, maybe ten. That doesn’t matter because all that matters is that I love what I am doing.
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(This post was originally written for a writing group but as I am not a part of that group now, references to it have been removed)