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Archive for June, 2008

Kkrishnaa’s konfessions got a great review. Am over the moon…Check this out! For those who wish to read the whole article click here. You’ll have to scroll down to “Confessions of an ambitious mind.”

Here’s an excerpt:

“Move over Bridget Jones, We now have our own Kkrishnaa, writer of TV soaps, young, attractive, single, and living alone in the big bad city of Mumbai. Indian writing in English has discovered chic lit and Kkrishnaa’s Konfession by Smita Jain is just what the urban English-speaking professional young woman was waiting for.The style is clever, irreverent and witty.It is an action filled page turner. Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions is an unpretentious, rollicking romp through the lanes and by lanes of Mumbai. Considering the fact that there is a twist and turn in every page, the author Smita Jain has shown great skill in untying the knots, and giving the book a somewhat intriguing end.”
 
Deccan Chronicle 15 June 2008.
 
For those who wish to get a taste of Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions, I’ve put up the entire first chapter on the Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions page.

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It’s been a lazy weekend. Did a bit of writing on my next book and caught a few movies – watched Sex and the City and wanted to watch 21 but there wasn’t a convenient show available. Then caught Man Bites Dog, a French film, and Mirror Has Two Faces on DVD.

Sex and the City happened on the spur of the moment. It was Saturday and by virtue of being a weekend, most promotional work on Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions was on hold. All distractions switched off, my work on my next book was going really well when some friends, all huge fans of the series,  arrived who insisted on getting me out of my tracks and tee and dragging me along.

It’s not that I wasn’t planning on watching it. It’s just that I, never having been a faithful follower of the series, wasn’t about to go out of my way to watch it.

But the film was a breeze, if a little long. King should have capped the length at 2 hours max. And quite contrarily, amongst all the friends I was the only one who enjoyed the film. The rest, were kinds disappointed. They found the film lacking in its trademark sass and the screenplay a little linear. After all that, they griped, it was all about love and forgiveness and fairytale endings.

I thought the film was very smart and aimed at providing viewers closure. Think about it, underneath the veneer of sexual freedom, wasn’t Carrie always about Big? Didn’t she always want to get married to him? Didn’t she keep going back to him, time and again?  The makers knew viewers wanted to see Carrie and Big seal the deal and they provided that, complete with a token heart-stopping moment.

Granted, the screenplay was a little one-sided and Carrie centric with the rest of the tracks thrown in for sprinkling. But then sex and the City was always about Carrie. Moreover, the rest of the tracks had been closed somewhat during the series – Charlotte was married happily to Harry, Miranda had decided to get hitched with Steve, and Samantha was in a monogamous relationship.

So they took the next logical step in their relationships – Charlotte and harry have adopted a Chinese girl and then Charlotte gets pregnant, Steve has an affair leading Miranda to break up with him, and Samantha breaks off her monogamous relationship.

With all this, the makers kept the relationship between the four friends at the forefront and even retained the trademark label parade – Vogue, Louis Vuitton, Manolo Blahnik and what have you. I don’t see how the film was any different from the series. In fact, it was like watching an entire season on DVD.

My guess is the next instalment (make no mistake, there will be) will have a bereavement, a life threatening illness, a break up, and Samantha will find someone like herself.

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The difference between a screenplay and a short story/novel is that in a novel most of the action takes place in the protagonist’s head whereas in a screenplay most of the action is physical. Only what the character does gives us a glimpse into his character.

 

Also it is a very tight document that leaves absolutely no scope for any flab. If a scene has no bearing on the story but is there for the express purpose of illuminating a character trait, it has no place in the screenplay.

 

Also, another ploy that is used to trim the fat and keep the tension going is the scene structure. Just like a story/screenplay, a scene has a legitimate beginning, middle and end. But we DON’T always have to begin at the beginning and take it all the way through to the end. When writing a scene a good theory to employ is, ‘enter as late as possible and exit as early as you can.’

 

For example,

 

INT. BAASI HOUSE — DAY

 

ANGLE ON

 

Seven potted plants lined up against a wall.

 

BAASI (O.S.)

                                     Number seven suits me.

 

Reveal BAASI, sitting on two chairs. He wears two watches, two necklaces, two shirts etc. OMI sits respectfully in front of him. Seeing Omi’s quizzical gaze, Baasi explains,

 

BAASI (CONTD.)

                                    I do everything in twos. As you can see I wear two

shirts, two watches, I even eat from two plates.

 

OMI

And sleep with two wives?

 

BAASI                  

      (IRRITATED)

How dare you? And so loudly? What if my first wife

heard it?

 

OMI

                                           (EMBARASSED LAUGH)

You’d have to die twice?

 

BAASI

     (GLARES AT HIM)

Let’s get on with it, shall we? What’s your name?

 

OMI

Omi.

 

Baasi looks pleased.

 

BAASI

                                     It’s a good name. It will lead to good things like

                                     celibacy and nirvana.

               

                                                 OMI

                                     Good God!

 

BAASI

                                     Yes, he definitely is.

               

                                                OMI

                                    No what I meant is I don’t want all that. In fact, the

very reason I came to you was so that..that…

 

Omi leans closer and whispers into Baasi’s ear. Baasi smiles widely.

 

BAASI

Why didn’t you say so?

 

Baasi throws a pair of dice, shuffles some cards, makes some calculations.

 

BAASI

I’ve got it. What you need is the letter K.

                                        CUT

INT. CANTEEN — DAY

 

ANGLE ON

 

RADHIKA, MANOJ and PIDDI looking bewildered.

 

RADHIKA

       (CRACKS UP)

KOMI?! You are going to call yourself Komi?

 

OMI

                                             (GRIMACES)

What other choice did I have? The other options

were Omik, which sounds like a milk brand, and

Okmi, which sounds like a Japanese geisha.

 

We go into scene 1 late, dispense with the introductions and enter scene 2 late, thereby avaoiding duplication of infomation. 

 

In fact, these days, with more and more emphasis on keeping manuscripts tight, even novelists are taking screenwriting classes to learn tips on how to hook their readers from the word go.

 

Excuse the formatting errors. I’m still not getting it!

 

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I had a most frustrating day yesterday. I typed about a 1000 words three times, only to delete each draft. I couldn’t figure out if chance had a role to play in a detective novel. It’s relatively earlier on in the novel and it’s not as though the protagonist is solving anything major with the help of chance.

Even so, normally I steer clear of the trap of stumbling onto something by sheer luck. (Where are your dicking skills if that’s the case?) But then, given that it is a funny detective story, like its predecessor, Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions, couldn’t one take some liberties? After all we do have a Jacques Clouseau whom people devour with amusement.

Anyway, couldn’t make up my mind so I typed out both scenarios, where the protagonist stumbles upon a clue by chance and where it’s logically thought out. And a third scenario. Wasn’t happy with any so I did what I do in these situations.

I set is aside and put on my running shoes.  The rain had lightened into a light drizzle and running in such weather is always fun, if you overlook squishy shoes.

In any case, I figured a 10K run would clear the mind somewhat.Alas, it wasn’t to be. All I could think about was Kkrishnaa. My baby, all grown up, refuses to let go. Rather, I refuse to let go of my baby.

On a different note and taking up from where I left off yesterday, film is more glamorous than it is lucrative. As a struggling writer, without a ‘produced’ film to your name, you cannot hope to make more than Rs. 2-2.5 lakhs per film script. Rs. 5 lakhs if you’re wildly lucky. And a film script will take at least 2 months (It should take more but we’ll discuss that later) to write.

Why I call it unprofitable is because you may never get to write more than one film. Or you may never get paid anything beyond the initial signing amount. There’s nothing you can do about it. Having said that, there are celebrity writers – Anurag Kashyap, Neeraj Vora, Jaideep Sahni, Abbas Tyrewala who can pretty much command their price. But it takes years of struggle and genuine talent. 

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Television pays well. Really well. And on time. And by time I mean there could be a delay of about 5-10 from the pay day but in the larger scheme of Indian Stretchable Time, it’s fine. You may miss out on a car or a housing payment because your cheque didn’t arrive on time that’s all 🙂

Writing in TV is divided into – Story, Screenplay and Dialogues. A writer may work any one or all three on a particular show. A daily show has at least 3-4 writers.

As a newcomer you can expect to earn Rs. 2000-3000 per episode for the story, Rs. 4000-5000 per episode for screenplay and ditto for dialogues.

You will be paid this money with a lag of 30-60 days from either the date of approval (from the channel) or telecast, depending upon your contract.

All, in all it works out to a tidy sum at the end of the month, once you enter the payment cycle. Plus, as you grow in experience, you can pretty much command your price. I know writers who walk home with Rs. 4 – 5 lakhs (Rs. 4,00,000 – 5,00,000) a month. But then they are good. They know the pulse of the viewers and can guarantee TRPs.

These are the kinds of writers who usually come up with winning pitches – the concept and initial story document for winning shows. And get paid huge amounts of money for the same.

Personally, I’m not a fan of pitches. I prefer to take on shows that are already on air. That’s because the success rate is 1:20, one show in twenty presented gets the nod.  And if yours is one of the shows that has been rejected, as is likely to happen, all you would have ended up doing is wasting a lot of time and money in developing the concept and story, going for narrations etc.

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Every show on air begins with a premise, or what we call, a concept. What is the show about? It is a different matter that sooner or later every drama goes the same way. After about 50-100 episodes you cannot make out the difference between a Kyunki and a Kahani.  But by then the stickiness factor come into play.

But to grab eyeballs initially you have to have a differentiator. So we had Saat Phere: Saloni ka Safar which was about an otherwise accomplished girl but who has a dark skin. Banoo Main Teri Dulhan was about an illiterate girl who is conned into marrying a mentally challenged guy. The main protagonist of the show, and therefore, the concept is always, always about a woman.

The concept is accompanied by a broad storyline for six months and detailed story, screenplay and dialogues for a month.

So there is this girl who is dark skinned. She is otherwise accomplished and affectionate, an ideal Indian woman, but all efforts to marry her off are in vain. No one wants to marry a dark skinned girl and infuse the bloodline with her swarthy genes. And then comes along. End of month 1.

Nahar wants to marry her but he faces opposition from his family. Nahar eventually overcomes the opposition and the two are married but Saloni is made to feel unwelcome in the extended family. There are numerous efforts and attempts to belittle and humiliate her. Saloni faces everything with stoicism. And then she saves the family from dishonour on one occasion. This leads to her acceptance in the family. End of month 2.

(Disclaimer: I’m not very familiar with the show so I’m mostly making up the story. But yeah that’s how the broad, broad storyline goes.)

Based on this document, the channel takes a call. Though they usually hear out the concept and story, it is usually the concept that hooks them because the story can always be modified. Sometimes as soon as they hear what the story is about, they tune off. It happened to me once. We were pitching to a major channel for a show about a woman who becomes widowed on the day of her wedding and how she survives, thrives and eventually even finds love again. But as soon as the channel heard ‘widow’ they said, “Next.”

Yeah you do have to go with more than one. But never more than three. It’s never a good idea to present too many choices. I hate it when that happens to me. I can never make up mind about which jeans to buy.

Later, the story is fleshed out and we add incidents. How is Saloni humiliated? Does someone add excess salt to her daal when she is not looking? How does she save the family’s honour? Doe she save the unmarried sister from getting raped by reaching in the nick of time?

After the story is fleshed out – in minute detail for a month, we get into the screenplay stage. This usually takes a lot of time and involves a lot of back and forth with the channel. That’s because at the beginning of the show everyone is struggling to find a look and feel of the show. Ditto for the dialoguing stage.

And then there is casting to be done, sets to be built, costumes to be designed and a bank of 20 episodes to be shot (which usually never happens). It could be anywhere between 6-9 months (more if it’s a comedy) from initial approval before a show is ready to go on air.

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Apropos my post about authors’ contribution in promoting their books, one of my readers has a peculiar problem. And that is that in spite of doing everything to promote/raise awareness about his book there is little movement on sales.

Another reader, Dr Arun Kumar, posted a comment in response which basically said:

“In the field of literature, mode and role of publicity is limited. If your creation is interesting and meaningful it will get response sooner or later. When there were no means of publicity, great literature was created by unknown persons and the society noticed it. It will be fruitful to send books to critics and editors of the literary pages.”

While in most parts I agree with what Dr. Kumar says, I would be reluctant to label any product “uninteresting.” I have seen bad, and I mean really BAD, products do really well.  

Which brings me to the next subject in marketing. While it is important to market your product, it is more important to market it well. Which basically implies identifying your target audience and accordingly providing hooks to engage them.

My book, Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions, is chicklit-meets-crime and I am quite clear that my target audience is Male/Female 16 – 35, SEC – A and B. Accordingly the most important media for me are magazines like Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Femina, JAM, Fad, Seventeen, Marie Claire, national dailies, and social networking sites on the Internet. And even within these, I work out different pegs for different publications.

For Vogue/Femina/Marie Claire, my protagonist is one of their readers – smart, sexy, confident. And that goes for me too – a sexy ex-investment banker turned author. For Fad and JAM, the irreverence and street-smarts of my protagonist matters, as well as the fact that I as the author am a multifaceted person – marathon runner, mountaineer, MA in Economics and MBA in Finance who’s chosen a career based on my passion; for trade related media, Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions is a tongue-in-cheek look at the TV industry and a great inside joke….and I belong to that industry.

While book reviews never hurt, I am not really pushing for them. Let’s face it, while it is exteremly well written (yeah, even if I say so myself. You can form your own opinions after reading the first chapter. ) and racy, it is not nobel prize winning category. Plus, young readers don’t go much by reviews. 

Beleagured authors try and even succeed in getting media space devoted to them (media companies as as hungry for content as we are for space), but if they don’t maximise the platform given to them they may have limited success.

As for the rest, I agree with Dr. Arun Kumar. If it is interesting and provides value it will get a response sooner or later. The important thing is to keep pushing and pushing it right.

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Asian Age asked me to write a column for them in their Books Plus section. I said sure and asked the editor, what I should write about, knowing instinctively, and fearing that she would ask me do a book review of a new release.

When she said, “It’s your column. You can write anything you want to.” I was just about to jump in air and click my heels together when she added insidiously, couching it as an innocent suggestion, “Maybe a book review?”

“Let me guess, it has to be a current release right?”

“Well, yes, that is the idea, you know behind the page.”

Uh-oh, I thought. I’m in trouble. You see what happens is that I normally go once a month and buy a bunch of books. But by the time I get to reading them they’re way past their current status. As of now I have some three thousand ‘current books’ to be read. I have only just finished Ashok Banker’s Siege of Mithila, book two in the Ramayan series. Just to give you a perspective, Ashok Banker has written and released Demons of Chitrakoot and Armies of Hanuman, books three and four respectively, since then. That should give you some idea of how far behind I am in my reading.

Plus I always get sidetracked by a good murder mystery and am currently devouring Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum mysteries.

And through this I have to write my screenplays (at the average rate of an episode-and-a-half a week), watch and review Sarkar Raj and Sex and the City, write a blog and my next novel.

My editor could sense my hesitation and added hastily, “We’ll put a picture of you next to the column.”

Always a winning argument with me. Sigh. I prepare to read Cherie Blair’s autobiography.

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Your job is by no means over once you’ve written your book or your screenplay. In fact, it has just begun. After that you have to get it produced. which means writing several query letters and endless rounds of submissions and rejection letters.

Say, you manage to get your baby produced, then you have to promote it. One word of caution to wannabe screenwriters. There are several production houses which are routinely on the lookout for scripts. Resist the temptation to drop your screenplay in an anonymous drop box or leave it at the reception. Chances are it will never be read and after two years or so you’ll get a call to come and collect it. Try and meet someone and narrate the story to him/her. If the story grabs him/her then get into the screenplay.

Meanwhile, coming back to publishing, once your book is published, the onus of marketing is on you. Publishers in india, especially English language publishers operate on wafer thin margins and their keenness to control expenses on the marketing front is understandable. So learn the art of marketing yourself.

When I was just starting out in my career and contemplating which field to take up, a senior colleague advised me to get into sales – the door to door kind. His theory being that once you’ve learnt to take door being slammed in your face gamely, you develop either a thick skin or a winsome personality. Both are handy. And you are ready for anything in life.

Moreover, it’s all about selling. Think about it. Whether you’re in a job interview, a sales call, matrimonial interview, you’re always selling something.

Some authors are the retiring sort who would rather die than ask journalists to write about them. They are horrifed at the thought of tomtomming themselves. Well, if you are that sort, you can do two things here. One, you can lose that cloak of modesty and pick up the phone. Or two, hire a publicist to do it for you. Of the two, I prefer the former. It’s cheaper and it builds relationships.

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My hard disk crashed, taking a week’s quota of writing with it (You got it, I hadn’t made a back up). That’ll teach me to surf crack sites for free Bollywood songs! Still, I suppose it could have been worse. Instead of losing 5,000 words I could’ve lost 50,000. And then I discovered that my maid, in a fit of pique, had sold my handwritten notes to the local paper recycler!

Everything just made me so…well, I was too far gone to be angry, so I suppose bemused would be more it…. so I decided to Google just why it is that people write. Came up with some interesting quotes. Here are a few of them:

What a writer wants to do is not what he does.
Jorge Luis Borges

If you’re a freelance writer and aren’t used to being ignored, neglected, and generally given short shrift, you must not have been in the business very long.
Poppy Z. Brite

Coleridge was a drug addict. Poe was an alcoholic. Marlowe was killed by a man whom he was treacherously trying to stab. Pope took money to keep a woman’s name out of a satire then wrote a piece so that she could still be recognized anyhow. Chatterton killed himself. Byron was accused of incest. Do you still want to a writer – and if so, why?
Bennett Cerf

Writing is the hardest work in the world. I have been a bricklayer and a truck driver, and I tell you – as if you haven’t been told a million times already – that writing is harder.  Lonelier. And nobler and more enriching.
Harlan Ellison

The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with.
William Faulkner

I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within.
Gustave Flaubert

Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.
Robert A. Heinlein

The quality which makes man want to write and be read is essentially a desire for self-exposure and masochism. Like one of those guys who has a compulsion to take his thing out and show it on the street.
James Jones

It’s tougher than Himalayan yak jerky on january. But, as any creative person will tell you, there are days when there’s absolutely nothing sweeter than creating something from nothing.
Richard Krzemien

Writing is not a genteel profession. It’s quite nasty and tough and kind of dirty.
Rosemary Mahoney

A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.
Thomas Mann

All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.
George Orwell

A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it to be God.
Sidney Sheldon

People are certainly impressed by the aura of creative power which a writer may wear, but can easily demolish it with a few well-chosen questions. Bob Shaw has observed that the deadliest questions usually come as a pair: “Have you published anything?” – loosely translated as: I’ve never heard of you – and “What name do you write under?” – loosely translatable as: I’ve definitely never heard of you.
Brian Stableford

Writing is the flip side of sex – it’s good only when it’s over.
Hunter S. Thompson

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.
Red Smith

Follow the path of your aroused thought, and you will soon meet this infernal inscription: There is nothing so beautiful as that which does not exist.
Paul Valery

Writing is so difficult that I feel that writers, having had their hell on earth, will escape all punishment hereafter.
Jessamyn West

I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.
Oscar Wilde

If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do.
William Zinsser

Easy reading is damned hard writing.
Anonymous

A person who publishes a book appears willfully in public eye with his pants down.
Edna St. Vincent Millay

Well, my pants are down here. Do look and tell me what you think:)

For more such quotes on writing click here.

On a more positive note, after the early morning fiascos, the day got progressively better. I only had to shell out Rs. 60 when I went to receive a friend at Mumbai Airport, not because I had to park but because the airport is being renovated and in the meantime one has to drive through parking to reach arrivals; then my car car got towed away, but only from parking; and three, after I had paid the fine and retrieved my car from impound, I developed a flat tyre…Just another day in the life of a writer. Sometimes I feel God does these things only to give material for my writing.

 

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