Do you have a story to tell? Here’s how to turn it into a book
Short story writer and Chetan Bhagat’s editor Shinie Antony lists the five essential checkboxes aspiring writers must tick off to hone their craft.books Updated: Jun 20, 2017 08:09 IST
1 Read, read, read
To read before you write is the equivalent of looking before leaping, though in the end both are acts of faith. Just as a surgeon trains to cut up bodies and a carpenter learns to make a chair, a writer of any genre is advised to pick up as many books as he can. Words are tools and what a writer fashions out of them – a novel, a poem, a short story or a restaurant review – depends on her/his ability to speedily sift through a vast vocabulary and pick the apt ones.
Apart from a basic grasp of linguistics, reading copiously helps the reader express herself/himself articulately, builds empathy by putting the reader in others’ shoes and act as unconscious research into situations, meanings and just about anything. The etymology of a book, the history of any written work, its pedigree can be traced back to each and every book read by the writer from when she/he first began to read. Every line you savoured, every conversation you had, everything that happens to you, it all goes into what you think and therefore what you consciously and unconsciously communicate. Nothing is wasted – not a drop of all you experienced, what you went through, what made you who you are – when you begin your story.
2 The no-bullshit clause
A book or indeed any piece of writing needs a soul, a point or moment of truth it is travelling towards. This in turn demands painful and infinite honesty and a commitment to all the truths as you know them. The word exists in the heart before it travels to the tongue. If you talk down to the reader or take a reader for granted, he will pick another book.
3 Write a bad book first
Rarely does a masterpiece fly off the fingers the minute one touches a keyboard. More likely some utter rubbish gets written at first try. Treat that as the airing of your head, all that gibberish and cobwebs that need to be blown out before you proceed to your actual story. A great song, a mesmerising painting, even a well-painted gate… none happen at first attempt. What we want to say and what we end up saying are two different things for the longest time. There are reams to be written and deleted before you actually go, ‘Wow, did I just write that?’ Then it all begins to come together.
4 Have a story to tell
One can seldom be passionate about second-hand feelings or something somebody else wants to write. To feel compelled to put it down on paper, the story has to be manufactured somewhere deep within you. It is you who arrives at a story and deems it worth telling. Own it. Run it through your head. Over and over again.
And then when you sit down to write, it will write itself. Without a story to tell, you will be left struggling with a hollow husk of brilliant words and not a single emotion between them.
5 Don’t write at gunpoint
As in, don’t set a deadline or word count or any dos and don’ts at all. Just write. Whatever comes to you. Examine plot, structure, ending, etc., after a while.
You could be coming up with a brand new genre, a never-before literary innovation. So relax, unclench those writing muscles, don’t compare self to Shakespeare or Neil Gaiman or whoever you are reading right now. When the story comes to you it should find you receptive, meeting it halfway. And once it does, give it your best shot. There will be magic.
Shinie Antony is a short story writer based in Bengaluru. Her books include short story collection The Orphanage for Words (2015) and Barefoot and Pregnant (2002).
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