NovelRace, I’m very happy to note, is up and running well. It has been exactly a fortnight since I signed up and it has actually been an adventure so far.
The first major event was when I realised that I didn’t like my main character. No, not just as the main character, I just didn’t like the guy himself. I can imagine what you’re thinking of – I did too. Characters are fictitious, how can you develop such strong emotions for them? But that really is the crux of the lesson. How can I tell a story unless the person it is happening to, is real to me? I must believe in him, I must understand him well enough to see the world through his eyes and sit inside his head and I most certainly must empathize with him. How else can I get my readers to empathize?
I got a handy tip from Vishal who suggested I ‘interview’ my main character to get a feel for him. You know, as crazy as that idea sounded when I heard it, it actually worked! I created a questionnaire that would let me build a character sketch of a person. Before I knew it, I found myself talking to my protagonist and genuinely interested in trying to know who he was, and what he was about. The unexpected result was that I decided that he needed some changes in history (family background) and geography (where he grew up). It made me feel so much better to realise that my biggest grouse had been that my protagonist had not sounded believable and now I was in a position to give him credibility. Discovering the problem isn’t half the battle won in this case, it is the entire battle since you can rewrite the character’s life with your imagination.
Right after the above realisation, the following comic-relief conversation happened:
@ideasmithy: Being a writer is next best thing to being God!
@samitbasu:HAHA just wait till you encounter publishers!
This discovery also made me think that I was going about it in the wrong way. I had rushed slam-dunk into chapters and run out of steam when I realised I barely had a clue what I was talking about. I mean, odd isn’t it? I was trying to live someone’s life, someone I barely knew at all. So step number two was getting to know the cast and the landscape (the setting where my story is based).
Again, I had a handy intervention in this which came from a conversation with my father, when he explained how animation movie scripts created a bible before starting, which detailed each character’s personality and role. I spent a good bit of time creating a bible and this, by the way, is still a work in progress as I add characters and build linkages between them.
A valuable insight has been that a novel does not have to be written sequentially. That is to say, you don’t actually have to create the story from start to end. You can put the blocks together in clusters and then link them all up together later. I should have seen that coming earlier. It is after all the same principle that helps me solve jigsaw puzzles well. Bring together those pieces that seem to fit well with each other, don’t worry about where they fit in the grand scheme of things – that will become apparent with time. I call this valuable because last week I thought I was hitting writer’s block already when all I had hit was just a temporary dead-end. I’ve left that section as it is and picked up another thread. I’ll figure out how to tie it all in later or maybe it will weave itself together by itself, just the way a jigsaw does when the last piece ‘falls into place’.
My last and most delightful lesson has been that writing is indeed, not an 8hours by 5 days job. I’ve been feeling a tad guilty about not putting in a consistent effort each day and producing x number of words. But at 14493 (not including the Bible), this weekend’s wordcount tally shows that I’m number 7 on the list of top NovelRacers. I don’t know if that is necessarily a good reference but it at least tells me that I’m not falling behind – or *gasp* – out of the race.
So I end a fortnight of writing and lessons on a happy word count-ey note. I am going to get into another burst of writing so this may increase. Then again I might find that instead of writing, the best thing to do is to weave the pieces together and end up editing out words so the count could actually go down as well.
I have to add that writing a novel in this way – publicly with a group of other writers, all of us sharing ideas and egging each other on is tremendously satisfying and what’s more – encouraging. I dreamed that writing would be fun but I never, in my wildest imagination, thought it would be such an adventure!
The NovelRace updates: