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Posts Tagged ‘story’

I know promised to write this yesterday but then Man proposes and God disposes. Yesterday was a terribly hectic day and I got no time at all. Anyhow, here it is. Enjoy!

My next story is going to be about a vampire who’s in love with girl who’s human. The antagonist is going to be a Marathi Manoos werewolf who wants to kill the vampire because he’s a Bhayya. He wants to kill the girl because she called Mumbai Bombay to express solidarity with her lover.

How this helps:

Raj Thackeray takes affront and decides to express his outrage by vandalising bookstores and burning copies of your book in illustrative / intimidatory bonfires. Of course, this results in loss of revenue but it also guarantees publicity. Publicity that you can’t otherwise buy. Your book starts getting talked about and people who otherwise wouldn’t have bought it queue up to buy. It all works out.

Now, the flip side:

What if Raj Thackeray isn’t interested? What if the issue is not worth his time?

Enter the failsafe:

The vampire-girl duo are on the run and take shelter with some friendlies. Did I say friendlies? Not quite. You see, those friendlies are actually Jehadi Lychans who have an agenda of their own.  And their plan is to drill a hole all the way into the Earth’s core and plant a zillion megaton nuclear bomb there. Of course, you can’t drill a hole all the way to the Earth’s core but figure out a revolutionary new technology that does it anyway. For ideas, look up the film The Core.

Now, why would the Lychans shelter our protagonists? There can be two reasons. One, well, the werewolves with their heretic ideology are their enemies and any enemy of an enemy is a friend. Two, the journey to the centre of the Earth is fraught with peril and they need stooges to do it for them.

Meanwhile the Sun is flaring up out of control, and shooting tiny neutrinos into the Earth which is heating up the crust intolerably.

While our protagonists are with the Lychans, introduce a brilliant, sensitive Lychan painter who paints nude werewolf goddesses. 

Meanwhile, the werewolves catch up with the protagonists. While they are in Lychan territory, they stumble upon the painter’s works. Of course, once that happens, they do what comes naturally to them. They destroy the paintings. In the midst of the destruction, however, in a fit of petulance, the werewolf leader, an accomplished cartoonist, stops to draw some offensive sketches of the Lychan god.

How does it all end? How do I know? I haven’t thought of everything yet.

All I know is your book gets released. All castes and communities unite in calling for a universal ban on the book. Now join hands with a pirate on a revenue share basis. Now sit back and watch your bank balance grow.

Sigh. If only I could get someone to publish it. Sigh, maybe I’ll go to the Danish cartoon guys.

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I was watching the telly a couple of days ago and I happened to catch a 100 richest celebs kinda show on E!

Now, most of them have had to work for their supper but some, like Steven Spielberg get paid on just waking up! Royalties etc, you got it. And guess who was next on the list? JK Rowling. According to the show she’s worth a billion plus pounds. And the show was produced in 2007! Since then there’s been Stephanie Meyers, too.

Now, I was  filled with envy. Cross that. My new age guru will be horrified to hear that. *affirmation to self: Day after day I’m getting better and better and better. The world is filled with abundance and I live in this abundance. I deserve my good fortune and celebrate it*

Anyway, envy or motivation, call it what you will, but I decided to do something about my own, shall we say, considerably less salubrious pecuniary state. I called upon all my experience (and it is vast, spanning investment banking, adventure sports, publishing and writing) and arrived at a winning formula.

As you know, writing a novel is hard work and takes a lot out of you. Added to that is the uncertainty that it will be published. And even if it is, there’s no guarantee that it will sell, let alone be a best seller.

First things first. We have to begin the project by de-risking it. A good way to do that is to attempt a romance. According to the latest trends in fiction, romance still sells. In the wake of the Twilight series, a spate of vampire novels have hit the market but thre’s appetite for more. Well written conspiracies, spelling the doom of mankind, still work.

So, a good beginning premise would be a vampire romance set against the backdrop of an impending disaster.

Now that we’ve de-risked the model, we have to turn it into a multibagger. To do that you have to get attention. And not just the odd newspaper interview/review kinda thing. I’m talking serious, reams and reams of newsprint. The kind that’s devoted to the controversy of the day. Enter Raj Thakeray.

But. But, we can do one better. And that is, we can try and get the book banned. Based on all the above analysis, I’ve decided on what I’m going to write next. Watch out for it tomorrow. Meanwhile, do write in your thoughts on the subject.

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After I wrote my post yesterday, it occurred to me that I was being a tad unfair to producers. When you’re making a film, there are multiple risks at different stages involved.

The first is at the story level. Writing a story/screenplay is quite an art. Just because someone has a good idea doesn’t necessarily mean they will be able to translate it into a good story. A good story is driven by characters and conflict. There are ebbs and flows of emotion in the narrative and a good story paces them out well. An intensely emotional or suspenseful sequence needs a comic relief or downer immediately afterwards. You cannot pile an emotionally charged sequence on top of another.

Then there’s the direction. Just because you have a good script doesn’t mean it will translate into a good film. The director’s vision can either lift the script to a subliminal level (Lucky # Slevin) or reduce it to trash (Richard Kelly’s Domino). It has to be said here, though, that the chances of a good script turning out to be a bad film are rare, no matter how bad the director. As a caveat, I have to add that judging something like this is highly subjective. What I may consider a good script badly executed may well be someone else’s bad script made better.

Assuming the director’s vision translates the screenplay into a gem of a film, the marketing and promotion of the film may fail. The communication may leave the audience cold or target the wrong consumer group altogether.

Assuming everything turns out well – the script is good, the direction exceptional and the publicity succeeds in tweaking the viewers’ interest – the film may still turn out to be a box office dud.

You see, a film is a commercial venture involving millions of rupees. So, perhaps, the producers are not wrong to back winning horses against untested ones.

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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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A story always has a beginning (setup), a middle (confrontation) and an end (resolution), though not necessarily in that order (Pulp Fiction/Kill Bill). In the beginning of a story you have to have a protagonist or protagonists who all have motivations and goals. Towards the end of Act I or the Beginning, something happens to them which interferes with their objective. This creates a conflict. In screenplay parlance this is called Plot Point I.

The Middle is all about managing the conflict, viz., trying to defeat the obstacles that prevent them from reaching their objective. Usually in the middle of the Middle or Act II, something dramatic happens which spins the story in another direction. It could be a shocking discovery by the protagonist or her capture by the villains. Anything. This propels the story towards the end of the Middle or Plot Point II, which is again an event that spins the story yet again in another direction and leads to the resolution.

The End as is all about resolution, viz., defeating the obstacles or coming to terms with them. It is the solution of the story, not the ending. The ending is the scene just before you see THE END.

Think about it. All good stories have these ingredients. Suppose you have a protagonist and nothing ever happens to her. Where’s the story? Suppose something does happen, say something wonderful and from then on life is smooth sailing. Nothing interferes with that, again, where’s the story? As Syd Field says, “All drama is conflict. Without conflict you have no character, without character you have no action, without action you have no story.” And without story, you have pretty much nothing.

When I start writing, whether it is a screenplay or a story, my objective is to get to Plot Point I as soon as possible. In a screenplay I want it within the first twenty pages. When I write a story, I envision it as a screenplay and try and get to Plot Point I within the first three-four chapters.

That is why an understanding of screenwriting is so helpful even to novel writers. It helps with the pacing and prevents them from being over indulgent.

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I know it’s rather late in the day to be commenting on Taare Zameen Par, but as they say, better late than never. I also know it’s not fashionable to unfavorably critique TZP, nevertheless I’m going to do so. At the outset, let it be understood that it is a good film, an extremely effective film. My criticism is based on other factors.

I guess by now everyone has seen the film so I needn’t go into the story. So, I’ll just begin with what’s good and what’s not.The script: The script suffers from three major flaws. One, it is simplistic portrayal with no layering. All characters are caricatures. The good are very good and the bad are very bad. Two, Nikumbh’s character does not have any conflict (external or internal) in the second half. Apart from a token resistance from the school principal, there is no obstacle in his path. Three, it lacks a certain punch in the gut in the end. Ishan’s improvement is miraculous (except for him misspelling enough and struggling with the digit 8, there was no evidence of him being dyslexic), he wins the painting competition, all’s well with the family and so on. For films like TZP to be effective, we need a tragic or semi tragic ending. Just change the ending to Ishan wins the painting competition but is still forced to normal school, doomed to a fate of special schools forever and just see the reaction. I guarantee there won’t be a single dry eye. And it is believable. If we can show limited understanding of dyslexia in India, it is quite believable that Ishan could be expelled.

The script is contrived in several places to up the emotional quotient and the effort shows. For instance, in the scene between Nimkubh and Ishan’s parents where Nimkubh informs them that their son might be dyslexic, the father raves and rants about how such a person will survive in the outside world while Nimkubh listens in hapless silence with his teeth gnashing to convey his frustration. Yet, in the very next scene, he tells the boys in the school that famous personalities from Einstein to Edison to Agatha Christie were dyslexic and that dyslexia is not an inhibiting problem. A case of selective memory recall, Mr. Khan?Then, what was that with the inane confrontation between Mr. Khan and Ishan’s dad when the dad comes to school prove a point and score one over Nimkumbh. I thought that surfing the internet for information at least shows an effort to understand. Agreed, that it is more important to show support in other ways; a hug here, a pat there, but Mr. Khan almost makes it sound like a crime that the mother is surfing the Internet for information on dyslexia!

For a teacher of special children and a former dyslexic himself, Nimkumbh is easily overcome. Whenever he is sees children who are challenged in some way, he is always lachrymose. How about a little stoicism and good cheer, Mr. Khan?On the other aspects of the film, the dialogue is heavy and stilted. The lyrics are strictly average. Mr. Joshi, like Gulzarsaab in recent times, tries too hard. Yet, apart from the Maa and the title track which still pass muster, his lyrics are neither poetic not evocative. Contrary to popular opinion, I found Shankar Ehsaan Loy’s music good. Cinematography is competent. The script doesn’t require it and the cinematographer doesn’t try to unnecessarily wow us with snazzy angles.  On the positive side, Darsheel is endearing and a natural in front of the camera. He does justice to a demanding role. I hear he’s made dyslexia fashionable. He may do the same for big, buck teeth. Dakota Fanning, watch out, here comes Darsheel. Kudos to Mr. Khan for extracting a superlative performance from him.

As usual, Mr. Khan is excellent in an (again, as usual) understated kind of way. In many scenes, it is only after watching his reaction to a situation does that lump in your throat emerge. Having seen him act over the years, and now direct, I am convinced that he is the best film talent we’ve got. If only he’d let himself go. While TZP is an excellent film, a refreshing film, the likes of which we’ve seen emerge from Bollywood after a long time. But it still lacks that flash of brilliance which could have made it sublime. It’s not that Mr. Khan doesn’t try. His crime is he tries too hard. To play safe. He realizes that he’s dealing primarily with Indian audiences and accordingly ups the melodrama quotient to the overall detriment of the film. But maybe that’s just my perception. I am a firm believer of the minimalist school.TZP is a sincere effort and deserves at least a 4 on 5. But because it is Mr. Khan at the helm, I will give it a 3.  

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What is a screenplay?

Lots of people ask me what a screenplay is. So let’s get back to basics. For those who are familiar with the term, please bear with me.

Screenplay is just what it says: screen+play. Basically it is a description of how the story will play out on screen. It is essentially a story with time of day and location thrown in. Plus it is always written in the present tense.

One thing to remember here is that the term screenplay implies different things in Bollywood and in the rest of the world (ROW). In ROW, screenplay means a shooting script. It is a scene description and dialogues. In Bollywood, a screenplay is only a scene description. It becomes a script only after dialogues are thrown in.

Here’s a snap comparison:

Bollywood                          ROW

Screenplay                          Outline/Structure

Script/Dialogue Drft                   Screenplay/Script                                               

Here’s how a scene in a Bollywood screenplay would look like:

Int. Sakshi’s bedroom — Night

Sakshi is sleeping when her door opens softly and Rakesh enters. He gets into bed with her. Sakshi stirs and encounters another body. She wakes up. When she sees Rakesh her eyes open wide. She is about to scream when Rakesh clams a hand on her mouth.

Sakshi bites his hand and he curses in pain. Sakshi jumps up and runs to the door but he is up in a trice and follows. He lunges for her feet. Sakshi stumbles and falls. He is upon her in a flash. Sakshi struggles and wants to scream but he muffles her. He starts kissing her face, neck etc. Sakshi pleads with Rakesh to let her go. To no avail.

With one supreme effort she throws him off and drags herself to an IDOL OF LORD KRISHNA and throws herself at his feet. But he is upon her there as well. He pulls off her sari.  Sakshi desperately pleads with the divine charioteer for deliverance.

The soundtrack of shlokas from the Gita starts.

While they are struggling, in her blind panic her hand reaches the POOJA KI THALI where the DIYA and KUMKUM KA DIBBA is kept. She grabs it and flings it in Rakesh’s face. He is blinded by the hot OIL and the KUMKUM in his eyes. He screams and blindly gropes his way out. Sakshi is stunned for a moment.

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Here’s how it looks like in a finished script/dialogue draft:

Int. Sakshi’s bedroom — Night

Sakshi is sleeping when her door opens softly and Rakesh enters. He gets into bed with her. Sakshi stirs and encounters another body. She wakes up. When she sees Rakesh her eyes open wide. She is about to scream when Rakesh clams a hand on her mouth.

rakesh

(hisses)

Shhh! Shor machaya toh badnaami tumhaari hi hogi.

Sakshi bites his hand and he curses in pain. Sakshi jumps up and runs to the door but he is up in a trice and follows. He lunges for her feet. Sakshi stumbles and falls. He is upon her in a flash. Sakshi struggles and wants to scream but he muffles her. He starts kissing her face, neck etc.

Sakshi

Bhagwan ke liye mujhe jaane dijiye! Main aapki choti behen ki tarah hoon!

Rakesh

Behen toh nahin ho!

With one supreme effort she throws him off and drags herself to an IDOL OF LORD KRISHNA and throws herself at his feet. But he is upon her there as well. He pulls off her sari. 

Sakshi

Hey bhagwan meri raksha maro! Kripa karo bhagwan! Mujhe bacha lo!

rakesh

Aaj maa toh kya tumhaari pukaar koi nahin sunega.

Sakshi

Hey Krishna meri raksha karo!

The soundtrack of shlokas from the Gita starts.

While they are struggling, in her blind panic her hand reaches the POOJA KI THALI where the DIYA and KUMKUM KA DIBBA is kept. She grabs it and flings it in Rakesh’s face. He is blinded by the hot OIL and the KUMKUM in his eyes. He screams and blindly gropes his way out. Sakshi is stunned for a moment.

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(Please bear with me. I’m still trying to get the hang of formatting)

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