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.


Busting the IQ test myth

Have you ever wondered whether people with low scores in IQ tests are really less intelligent than people who score brilliantly?

If you have, you are not alone. Doubts such as these have plagued researchers and laymen for years. Howard Gardner, a Harvard educationist, was one of the first voices of authority who raised questions about the efficacy of intelligence testing. It was only after the publication of his book Frames of Mind some twenty years ago, that new fuel was added to the fire.

IQ tests test just one ‘type’ of intelligence
In the light of what we know today about ‘emotional’ and ‘social’ intelligence, it is significant that as far back as that, Gardner put forward his various theories of ‘intelligence.’

The ‘intelligence’ tested by IQ tests he said was just one ‘type’ of intelligence, what is called ‘academic intelligence.’ Gardner was hailed as a genius by several educators who said that he had ‘liberated them from the ‘one-size-fits-all pedagogy and given them a framework to help children develop individual strengths – as artists, scientists, or just good citizens.’

Different cultures, different standards
Long before Gardner, fallacies about intelligence testing had done the rounds. It was more or less accepted that cultural differences between test subjects distorted test results. For example, an intelligent Sudanese from the jungles of Africa, with superior survival skills and finely developed leadership qualities, was likely to perform worse in an IQ test than an average school-boy from a developed country. To counter this, tests to suit different cultures were devised, but unfortunately, they never became as popular as the standard ones.

It’s just practice
However, even those from similar cultural backgrounds can produce distorted results in IQ tests. That is because those familiar with the tests perform better than those doing them for the first time!

What are the barometers of Intelligence?
But the most disturbing fact about IQ tests is the limited number of skills that are taken to be the barometers of intelligence. Qualities like verbal ability and fluency, agility with numbers, memory, perceptual speed, spatial visualisation and reasoning are the usual barometers tested. These are not comprehensive, however. Of these, memory, speed, and skills like verbal ability are considered by educators to be simply tools which are used by people for certain tasks, and are not indicative of intelligence.

We just have to think of Einstein to know how true this is. Einstein, a creative genius once said: ‘My intellectual development was retarded, as a result of which I began to wonder about space and time.’ He was, of course, referring to his poor reading and writing skills.

Many legendary geniuses have lacked the so-called logical and calculative abilities tested in IQ tests. Yet these people achieved fantastic results in the fields in which they worked, often producing inventions which the world had never seen before. Often it was their acceptance and analysis of seemingly illogical modes of thinking which have played a part in their creative genius.

When Galileo said that the earth was round he was ridiculed. And when physicist Murray Gell Mann from the Santa Fe Institute said that protons and neuron of atoms are formed of subatomic ‘quarks’ with fractional electrical charges, he too was laughed at in the beginning. But these men had the courage to explore seemingly ridiculous ideas and proved them correct.

Highly intelligent people can fail IQ tests
Einstein and Galileo would have probably failed the standard IQ tests. What the IQ tests would not have been able to measure was their ability to form novel combinations of ideas, amazing combinations which average minds would not have the ability to create. Their brains are able to make brilliant neural connections, the likes of which can never be measured in IQ tests. IQ tests deal in possibilities and work with tried and tested problems, that is their very nature.

Intelligence is taking an idea through to its logical conclusion
Laymen might consider these novel conclusions by geniuses as some forms of ‘intuition’ but this is not so. The conclusions that these men reached were a result of logical and brilliant thinking. They were able to reach them not only because they thought of them, but because they were the kind of people who did not discount any possibilities, however ridiculous they sounded. A standard IQ test simply cannot measure the tenacity and persistence that these minds possess. Persistence which stands like a rock against society’s ridicule. Also, IQ tests are unable to measure the high mental concentration that these minds possess.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Intelligence is imagination
There is also the imaginative faculty. Writers, musicians, and even scientists possess this to a high degree and it is quite impossible to quantify it in IQ tests. Picasso, for instance, saw numbers as patterns ever since he was a child, and in 1965 A Kekuli discovered the shape of a benzene molecule by dreaming of it as a snake biting its tail – round!

Intelligence is related to life
Besides the creative and imaginative genius, there are other qualities which are not measured in standard IQ tests. These set of qualities fall under the category of ‘practical intelligence’ and consist not only of ‘social intelligence’ and ‘emotional’ intelligence but also an ability to solve day to day problems. Many highly intelligent people possess this type of intelligence and they are usually very successful in life.

Social intelligence includes leadership qualities, good interpersonal relations, the ability to judge other people’s moods and behaviour and an ability to sell one’s ideas to others. A detailed analysis of socially intelligent people revealed characteristics like punctuality and an ability to compromise and see another’s point of view.

A problem-solving ability can mean an ability to read maps to simply finding solutions to daily irritations. Good problem solvers are clear, positive thinkers who do not dismiss solutions because they sound unworkable or because they come from an unacceptable source. Good problem solvers think solutions through before abandoning them and geniuses as well as highly intelligent people possess this ability.

Academically brilliant people are often mentally lazy
On the other hand, many academically brilliant people, people who score extremely well in IQ tests, do not think problems and solutions through. They are used to pat solutions. Worse, their academic intelligence often makes them arrogant and impatient and they are eager to reach ‘correct’ answers. This can make them quick impulsive thinkers.

Academic intelligence is useful
This is not to undermine academic intelligence. This type of intelligence is a prerequisite in certain fields and in most other fields it is critical to have at least an average academic intelligence. A truly intelligent person uses academic intelligence as a tool.

Academic intelligence can be measured accurately
Unfortunately, as only academic intelligence can be measured accurately, it is given the most weight.

Is there a way to measure true intelligence?
True intelligence cannot be measured except in a general way, and by observation, but is there an explanation in the physical structure of the brain? Are the brains of highly intelligent people different from the brains of less intelligent people?

While it has been proved that ‘quantity’ of grey matter is not indicative of intelligence, there is evidence that the way neurons in our brains are wired can give a clue.

Smart, intelligent people have more complex and more efficient neural pathways for transmitting information. In 1985, Dr Marion Diamond of UC Berkley and Sceibel, found that Einstein’s brain had four times more of oligodendroglia helper cells that speed neural communications than the brains of eleven of the gifted people also studied. Other studies have also borne out that people with higher educational levels have a more complex neural web than the uneducated. However, one is not sure whether this is the cause or the effect of education.

Intelligence starts to develop early
Yet, there is also evidence that these ‘efficient neural connections’ start developing early in life, as a result of stimulation which a child receives and absorbs from the environment. Probably an explanation as to why children from deprived backgrounds find it so difficult to catch up with the level of intellectual attainment of those who have had the opportunity to absorb from a rich, interesting and challenging environment. An environment which is not necessarily full of ‘academic’ challenges, but an environment which is rich in the lessons of life.

(This article was written by me for Deccan Herald, Bangalore, and published in the nineties. Amazing that not much has changed and that these ideas are still quite relevant. Even today there is no accurate way to measure true intelligence.)