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Posts Tagged ‘mystery’

How to write a Novel

I have had a successful writing attempt…so naturally people ask me how I write stories. Mostly I just follow my instincts. For instance I take care to address those issues which leave me feeling cheated in other people’s works. 

But these questions led me to wonder whether there are any rules for writing, especially mystery / suspense. By rules I mean apart from the usual stuff you get on how to build a character, how to plot a novel etc.

In this respect I came across an interesting post by a net friend:

Vonnegut gives some excellent rules of writing a short story in his book, “Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction”. Of course, the rules are unconventional, but if anyone knows a thing or two about writing it’s Vonnegut. and I thought I’d share them, so here they are:
1.Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2.Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3.Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4.Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
5.Start as close to the end as possible.
6.Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7.Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8.Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

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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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I’ve finally had a break through! I’ve been grappling with the plot of my second novel for the past one week and nothing worthwhile was coming out. There were all these bits of paper strewn about some covered in ink from top to bottom (one of my good days) and some with barely a line written on them (one of the not so good ones). I don’t know about you but I find writing on paper easier when I’m outlining my novels/screenplays. Basically paper works best for me when I’m clearing out my head.

Anyway, frustration was creeping and I had begun scratching on walls.

And finally, yesterday things fell into place. I’m really excited about the story and cannot wait to begin to plunge myself in writing it. There are still some snags and loose ends but I’m sure those will also work themselves out once I start writing and getting into my characters heads – their motivations, deep dark secrets, insecurities etc. Right now they are still just outlines on paper.

When you are writing a murder mystery, there are many things you have to consider. You have to answer at least four basic questions before you can even begin writing. The questions are – What, Who, Why, How. The reason is simple – you have to start seeding it right from the beginning. Even if the crime does not take place right away (though it should, but more on that later), the characters’ actions and whereabouts have to detailed.

Once you have answered what, who, why and how, the rest of the work is relatively easier. You can embellish it with other characters, other prime suspects and their motivations, alibis and red herrings.  It is usually the former that takes much of your time, partly because detective/crime fiction has evolved over the years and every conceivable plot has been done.

So there’s pressure to come up with something novel (read: convoluted plots) without resorting to murdering evil twins, butlers and monkeys/snakes. Also while we are at it other big no-nos are strangers, burglars and the detective himself/herself unless you can come up with an intriguing way of handling it. Impossible, usually. Jeffrey Archer has done it nicely in one of his short stories (it’s about a courtroom drama around a crime of passion. I forget the name of the story and the anthology.).

How I envy Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle. Those were simpler times.

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