Indiwrite Journal

Transitioning from Short Stories to Novels

Writing a novel is like running a cross-country race. You have to keep the pace, but in order to make it to the finish line, you have to make sure you don’t run out of steam too soon. Cross-country is a better analogy than a racetrack because along the way, there have to be alternate paths, diversions, scenic routes and pitfalls that need to be avoided. The finish line doesn’t need to be crystal clear, or anywhere in your line of vision when you start, and the road itself need be neither straight nor smooth.

A short story, in contrast, is a hundred yard sprint. It’s equally acceptable for the track to be crooked, but the finish line is always in sight. All that’s needed is that last burst of energy at the end that pushes the story into a glorious explosion of shock and awe.

The differences between the two forms are clear. With athletes, it’s rare to find someone with the training and adrenalin for short runs who is also a long-distance runner. One requires speed, the other requires stamina. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen—sprinters undoubtedly run long distances to stay fit, and triathlons and decathlons require speed and endurance to win.

There’s no precedence that says a runner can’t cross over into a different format, and when it comes to writing, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest a writer can succeed in any format he or she chooses.

Lewis Carroll wrote full-length tales that included poetry, as effortless and brilliant as his stories—his lesser-known Sylvie and Bruno is a prime example of the versatility of this man. C. S. Lewis, best known for his children’s tales, wrote several adult fantasy novels. As well-known and beloved as Asimov’s greatest novels are (Foundation, I, Robot), his short stories are extremely powerful (The Dead Past) and in some cases (Nightfall, for instance), far outweigh the value of his longer works. Just as talented, Kurt Vonnegut is known for Slaughterhouse Five and Cat’s Cradle, but also has several short stories to his name (Welcome to the Monkey House). George Orwell wrote novels (1984), novellas (Animal Farm) and short stories (Shooting an Elephant). Jane Austen is rarely known for anything other than her novels, but like other great writers, she wrote poetry, prose, short stories, even essays.

All these writers (and more, undoubtedly), were prolific, exploring all forms of writing not because they were exploring the form, but because their muse drove them in a certain direction. In some cases, they even crossed genres, because when a story needs to be told, it’s the tale, the plot, the characters, that dictate the length of the work. It’s the ideas that determine the number of words. Orwell’s allegorical Animal Farm would probably have lost much of its impact if he had forced it into a longer length.

The transition from one form to another is not a matter of skill so much as it is an understanding of how best to tell a story. If there were a set of rules for making the transition—and I’m sure there are—the first must definitely be this:

  1. The idea for a short story does not always work for a full-length novel. Short stories don’t necessarily include complete plots, and can be based on a moment in time, a quick glimpse that leads to something profound. So give your novel its own idea. Make it a big one.

The idea for a novel has to have (though not necessarily in a linear fashion) a beginning, a middle and an end. It should take a reader on a journey, preferably one that takes more than a few hours to read! Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is just a longer short story—it isn’t. The difference isn’t just in length, it’s the entire concept. But, because it’s a longer format, don’t approach it like a challenge. Look at this as freedom:

  1. Create subplots. The freedom you have in a novel is that it can be richly layered, with multiple characters, so you could conceivably create a network of short stories that work together, connected through a main character(s) and adding depth and consequence to the novel.
  2. Know your characters. Step inside their skins so that when you write, you’re examining several layers of personality. They’re going to be around for a long time, so make sure you love them too, just don’t make them perfect, because people never are. Or, kill them off early if you feel they can’t evolve. Because your characters, along with the plot, should evolve.
  3. Draw a map. Know your plots, subplots, characters and settings inside out. Use this knowledge to avoid lengthy exposition and work with dialogue and action instead. You may be a master of putting together a short story in your head, but novels are meant to be complex. Don’t make the mistake of leaving it all in the air. Put together a plan and stick to it as much as possible. Imagine that you’re putting down the sequence of events that happen in a movie you’ve seen. If you’re a planner, take the time to plan the details. If you’re not, make sure the broad strokes are in place before you start.
  4. Don’t worry about the word count. Short stories have boundaries, limitations that are a reassuring handicap and force a writer to establish discipline. When you start a novel, relax that discipline. If you’ve always wanted to write, then let the words flow. You can always edit it later. This leads naturally to another rule:
  5. Let your characters and plot dictate the next move. Sometimes, in the middle of a sentence, an idea will grab you by the throat and refuse to let go. Listen to that idea. There’s nothing wrong with letting characters write themselves, or plots unravel and destroy a plan you may have in place. Because rules, as you know, are sometimes meant to be broken.
  6. Once you’ve done that, however, keep track of the different threads you have flowing. At some point, either at the end or in a logical sequence, those threads need to be tied together. Unless you’re writing a series and intend to leave cliffhangers and unexplained threads that will find answers in the next book, your readers will want to know what happened.

Finally, have a little confidence in yourself. There’s no shame in taking ten drafts to write your first full-length novel. It’s not always going to write itself, but giving up is never the answer.


The One-Year Indireads Crash Course in Writing, Publishing and Reading

generic-roadIndireads turns one today. This statement doesn’t seem very momentous, or earth shattering, but for me it is both. June 12th, 2013, a year ago today, we launched the Indireads website, bringing over 18 months’ worth of hard work to fruition and publishing 30 books simultaneously (that has got to be a record for a brand new publisher). I hadn’t slept in months, my house was a mess and my husband was on cooking duty—but euphoria held me up and kept me going.

And then, reality set in. Book publishing is a tough business. Writers can be difficult and demanding, editing is never-ending, the world of e-books and social media is evolving by the minute and loyal readers seem to be in danger of extinction. And although there have been more times than I can count when I have asked myself ‘why am I doing this’, I did not stop. Could not stop is more like it. And the thing that kept me going and going and is simple—the sheer joy of seeing (not holding) the finished product. Someone’s story, translated into words and dialogue, edited, tightened and polished to become a book that we can all be proud of. A feeling of achievement that is unmatched.

One Year Later…

An entire year filled with high highs and low lows, accompanied by an extremely steep learning curve. Learning everything about the business, from contracts to marketing and from social media to sales. While there is too much to pack into one neat blog, I do want to share the top three things I have learned about writing, publishing and reading.

  1. Indireads came about because I felt strongly that the times were changing and that people, especially women, wanted a chance to express themselves and tell their stories—their kahaanis—for themselves and to the world. Everyone asks me how I went about finding writers and whether it was difficult. Finding writers has never been difficult for us, right from the beginning. Blogging and social media have opened the floodgates of self-expression and have swept away inhibitions. People want to tell the stories they have carried inside them and are not afraid to share them with the world. In this new world of connectivity and sharing, our stories are important, timely and deserve to be heard. And we are proud to play our part in helping people achieve their dream of becoming a writer.
  2. This plethora of people wanting to tell their stories also means an explosion of books coming out, with vanity and self-publishing, hitherto unheard of, playing an increasing role. Gone are the days of a handful of established publishers dominating the landscape. New, innovative publishing companies are coming up, offering writers new avenues. These new publishers are needed in order to serve the demand from the writer’s ranks, creating original and inventive content. Others, however, are mere facades that front the business of self-publishing and demand payment from the author, adding no value in terms of editing or vetting. It is easy to get lost in this deluge of books and it is often disheartening to be lumped together with all sorts of unscrupulous publishing firms. But throughout I have held firm to one tenet—that hard work and attention to detail will win out in the end. Time and again, readers and reviewers have come back and praised the quality of our books, the writing and meticulous editing. Quality shines through, good writing trumps bad writing every day of the week and readers will come back for more, if they like what they got the first time.
  3. And finally we come to readers—the one person all the writers and publishing houses are searching for. Where are they and what do they want? In this time-strapped world of live updates and hyper-social-connectivity, do people even have the time to read? And how do they go looking for what they want to read next. I know that readers are out there—as addicted to books as other may be to Twitter and YouTube. Looking for a good book and a satisfying read. They are, at the same time, more exacting and less critical—they will research and read reviews before buying one book, and purchase another simply because someone else has. But the bottom line is that they exist, they buy books, they read and they will come back for more. And the more they read, the more they can differentiate and the more they will hone into what they like and what resonates with them. Which, in the end, will be writing that they can resonate with, written by writers from amongst themselves. This is what I know and I believe.

And so that, summed up, is my learning over this year as a new publisher on the block. Many people have told me that while South Asian literary fiction can compete with the best in the world, popular fiction, the space that Indireads occupies, is unoriginal and unexciting for the discerning reader. I know that the times are changing. Popular fiction writers from this region can and will compete with the Sidney Sheldons, the Danielle Steeles and the John Grishams of the west. We—South Asian writers, publishers and readers—are all growing, learning and competing. What will emerge from this apparent chaos are strong writers, worthy publishers and readers who will demand homegrown, quality fiction.

And that is what our aim is, one year along at Indireads. Join us on the journey.


From Idea to Story by Devaki Khanna

Readers often wonder how authors get ideas for stories. You can get ideas for stories from your environment. If you are an observant person, the habits, behavior and motivations of your social circle could give rise to ideas for several stories. If you’re the imaginative sort, an image—of someone driving on a road late at night, or of children finding wolf pups in the snow—could be the basis for a story.

How can you tell if your idea can become a story? Begin by asking questions. For instance—who are the children who find the wolf pups in the snow? Where do they find these pups? What do they decide to do? Why do they decide to do what they do?

Can your story be written as a novel?

That depends on how you develop it. You could choose to focus on just one incident, and write a short story. Or you could show how the plot you create leads to your characters’ development. For instance, the children who find the wolf pups in the snow could decide to drown them—this makes a rather grim story about childish cruelty. Or they can decide to raise the pups, which leads to all sorts of developments.

You have an idea for a story, based on the concept of the Good Samaritan, which you want to write as a romance. A person who is left for dead on the road is assisted by a passerby which eventually leads to a relationship. You begin by thinking of appropriate characters. Your heroine is a young woman, driving home late at night, coming across an unconscious, wounded man lying in the middle of the road, with no identification or money.

You can develop scenes—the almost empty, dimly lit road; the speeding car with its blazing headlights that brakes suddenly as the driver spots the body lying in the middle of the road; the driver getting out and revealing herself as a woman…

How do you develop characters? Characters develop in response to conflict. For instance, the woman driving the car. Is she coming home late from work or from a party? Is she a doctor or a nurse or just a passer-by? Does she have a mobile, which she can use to call an ambulance? Will she go with the wounded man to the hospital? How will her family respond if she comes home late, and tells them the story of the wounded man? Will they let her visit him in hospital? The answers to these questions, and the reasons why she behaves as she does, will lead to her development as a character.

Suppose you decide that you don’t want this woman to be the heroine of your story; she disappears after calling the ambulance and handing over the wounded, unconscious man to the paramedics. You want the wounded man to suffer from amnesia so that he can be helped by a sympathetic nurse or psychiatrist at the hospital. You could then choose to start your story in the emergency room when the man is brought in, or begin the story when the man regains consciousness in the ICU but has lost his memory. Your story could be told from the point of view of the nurse who’s assigned to care for him, or the psychiatrist who undertakes to help him recover his memory. You will then concentrate on the relationship between the nurse/psychiatrist and the patient, focusing on how she helps him recover his memory.

How do you build the storyline, after you have developed the idea so far? Try to think through what might happen in the real world if such a situation took place. Perhaps the hospital would have the man’s photograph put on news channels—print and television—within the city, and then nationwide, to discover his identity. The police might also get into the act, by taking fingerprints. What would they discover if they did so? Is the amnesiac just a pedestrian who was unfortunately knocked down while returning home from work? Or is he in possession of dangerous information, dangerous enough for him to nearly lose his life and endanger anyone else (including the girl in the car and the psychiatrist) helping him?

It’s up to you where you choose to take your story. However, you have to build up to the conclusion carefully and cleverly, using all that you have told us about your characters and their circumstances so far. Perhaps the wounded man’s parents have already been to the police and registered him as a missing person—in which case, they’ll arrive at the hospital within a day or so after he regains consciousness. He’ll still require psychiatric care, because he can’t really recall everything that happened before the accident took place. Or, the woman who rescued him is attacked in a drive-by shooting—and someone tries to kill him while he’s still in hospital. This means that his psychiatrist has to race against time to save him, while she helps him to remember why he landed up in hospital. Since we’re talking about writing romance novels here, it will lead to the development of a relationship between the wounded stranger and the psychiatrist assigned to his case, in both instances.

So, the basic rules for getting ideas for stories:

  1. Keep your eyes, ears and mind open—ideas for stories can arise from observation or imagery.
  2. When you get an idea, put it in context, using questions. Use the words who, what, where, why and how to get your answers.
  3. It is up to you to develop an idea into a short story or a novel. You have to decide how to express the idea suitably.
  4. The two major characters—hero and heroine—have to be put into situations of stress or conflict, so that we can appreciate their true worth.
  5. Select the major protagonists of your stories—you need to focus almost exclusively on them, giving us glimpses into their motivations and actions by telling the story from their point of view.
  6. Develop the story keeping in mind what might happen if your characters actually existed in the real world.
  7. Build up to the conclusion carefully, basing it on what you have revealed about your characters so far.

Travelling to the Land of Butterflies

A few years earlier, a scandal ran through Karachi’s middle classes when several cyber cafés released videos of couples necking (and a lot more) in the small private booths of their establishments. The couples were unaware that they were being filmed and some of the videos were incredibly explicit. To the sensibilities of ordinary Pakistanis, the videos were more than scandalous. They were horrifying, especially since all the women in the videos were covered in burqas or hijabs (which, to most Pakistanis, is what distinguishes the pious Muslim woman from the herd). The only upside to this fact was that the women were unidentifiable and therefore safe from stampeding mullah brigades out to dispense their own brand of justice.

But it caused a small sensation in the country. Even my own mother, whom I consider to be fairly liberal (she’s a fan of Harold Robbins. If you’ve read any of his books, you’ll know what I mean), was vocal in her anger at the actions of the women in the cyber cafés. It struck me that almost all of the condemnation was for the girls—no one seemed to care that all the videos included young men, all easily identifiable, all equal participants in the clandestine affairs.

It was a hot topic of discussion for days after the media ruckus had died down. Every conversation I had, even among my own friends, was about the audacity of these burqa-clad girls meeting men in private booths at cyber cafés to have sex.

Why all the anger towards women only? Weren’t the men equal participants? I would have understood a violent reaction to public indecency—that’s a matter of civic duty, not to disrupt public sensibilities. But these couples were seeking out cyber cafés with closed booths for privacy. They weren’t flaunting their affairs; they weren’t out in the streets encouraging other men and women to abandon their principles and espouse sexual freedom. And at the end of the day, what they do, or their morals, are none of my business, or anyone else’s for that matter. Individuals define their own morality, and while we are in our rights to try to convince someone that they may be wrong, we can’t condemn them for having a different morality (unless, of course, they believe murder, rape and crime in general is morally acceptable).

It formed the basis of my story—the anger people have towards female promiscuity, as opposed to the complete acceptance of a man’s affairs. Double standards exist in this part of the world, and it’s not based on the physical differences between a man and a woman (as most people here like to point out—men and women are physiologically different and should be judged against different criteria). If you think adultery is wrong, then your anger should equally apply to men as it is to women.

I had my conflict. Sex outside of marriage for a Pakistani woman. Rumi had to be strong enough to withstand condemnation, possible incarceration (though I decided that wouldn’t work well in a romance so I didn’t go that route at all). And the hero would have to be totally worth the uproar. I don’t know if either came across that way—I leave it to my readers to decide!

Because I knew nothing of how to put a novel together (such a massively different beast from writing a blog post or article), I needed guidance. Indireads didn’t have a formula for their books (unlike Mills & Boon and Harlequin who are very clear on what must or must not happen in their books), and all I knew was that it needed an introduction to the characters, a powerful conflict and a happy resolution. So, I searched online and found a series of articles on The Guardian’s website. It broke it down for me, segmented and boxed up into neat sections: character development, plot development, dialogue, conflict, resolution, scenes. It gave me a structure, a starting point on which I could actually plan the book.

It took me less than three weeks to write the book. It took considerably longer to edit and polish, but obviously this was a story that I wanted to tell, which is why it came pouring out. By the end of it, I had completely discarded all the worksheets and advice provided by the Guardian articles. I’m pretty sure that none of my characters came out the way I planned them, and the plot did several twists after two or three people had read the book.

That’s because I am impatient. I like to think I am organized and analytical, but the fact is, I’ve degenerated. I look at everyone and everything around me now for potential ideas. I store away mannerisms and patterns of speech. I don’t want to get up and go to a meeting when I’ve got a story to write. I don’t want to be doing boring housework or feeding the cats when I could be pounding away at my keyboard. That’s where writing one book has left me.

Short journey. Long repercussions.


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Research is Boring, but Essential

One of my favorite authors of espionage novels is Helen MacInnes. Most readers today will find that name unfamiliar, but about a year and a half ago, Titan Books announced that they would be reprinting and digitizing her works. I’m hoping she’ll be as popular this time round.

Her last book was published (a year before her death) in 1984—Ride a Pale Horse. Her first, in 1941 (Above Suspicion). In forty-five years, she wrote twenty-one spy novels, a prolific rate considering the exquisite detail in each of her books. Her books are long—averaging 300 pages in standard small-print paperbacks. They are set around the world, from sultry Spain, to icy Poland, to the majestic Wyoming mountains (though that particular book, Rest and Be Thankful, was not among her espionage works), and each book takes you so deep into its location that you feel as though you’re actually there.

If you ask me what Delphi and Athens looked like in the sixties, I could easily direct you to the best tavern for political debate, or what the Parthenon looks like against a golden sunset. I could describe the crisp summer air of Malaga, or the narrow streets of Venice that, even in the sixties, was drenched in the stench of stagnant canal water.

She travelled extensively before she started writing, giving her a solid foundation for the exotic backgrounds to her stories. It helped, I am sure, that her husband was a bona fide spy (MI6), because her complex plots were layered with subtleties and mundane details that seemed inconsequential at first. It was often the smallest details, the little flash of memory—a laughing woman’s outstretched arm, a book someone was reading, a word in a newspaper article—that would turn the tide in the plot.

Her heroes weren’t dramatically exceptional like James Bond or Jason Bourne or Jack Ryan. They were often just ordinary citizens caught up in a desperate game, and they each bought their own particular talents into the fray.

What set her apart from her peers was the depth of her research. Her stories were vivid and authentic. So authentic, in fact, that her third novel, Assignment in Brittany (published in 1942), was required reading for Allied spies working with the French resistance against the Nazis (Wikipedia). This wasn’t something I knew until I looked her up (doing my own bit of research) for this article, but I am not surprised. I learned a great deal of history from her books, histories of the West, admittedly, but history nonetheless. She used existing and current events as backdrops to her stories. She researched political and ideological concepts, using them to strengthen her characters’ dialogue. Accordingly, when her nihilist propounded his theory of the new world order in Decision at Delphi, he did so with passion and accuracy. When her journalist heroine explained the subtle differences between disinformation and misinformation, she was authoritative and confident, not fumbling and pretentious.

And the crux of the matter comes down to this: if you want to create a character that your readers connect with, if you want to give your characters words that resonate in the minds of your readers, you have to know not just what they look like or what they do, but how they think. And you can’t do that without research.

Helen MacInnes died in 1985. She never had the power of the Internet at her fingertips; she did her research the old-fashioned way. With all the amenities of unlimited sources of knowledge available to today’s writers, it isn’t too much to ask that if you don’t know something, look it up.


Dear Diary

diaryI like the idea of a journal because I write it for me, meaning am my Target Audience—this gives my imagination a lot of free rein.

Take a look at some of poet Bernadette Mayer’s journal concepts: Dreams, food, finances, ideas, love, ideas for architects, city designs…even telephone conversations. There are six pages of journaling ideas and concepts that Bernadette lists. It is a landmine of prompts and I’m thinking of posting it in my room. You should too.

The list reads like a catalog of observations we could make while we go on with our lives—while going for work we can change that jumpy bus ride into a poem or talk about the saddest things in our lives in prose. You could have a journal for your sweetest dreams and one for your fears. There is a format designed to portray every experience in our lives.

The journal and me

I started journaling when I was a teenager. I guess it was the worst time to start as I ended up burning my diary. Teenagers don’t usually store their diaries in case they want to write a book some time in the future. After burning the diary, which didn’t have any acute observations of the world around me but was more me-centric, I abandoned the concept of the cute little diary from Archie’s with the hearts and teddy bears and the Lock.

There was a Lock. I really shouldn’t have burnt it.

The next time I started writing a diary was when I became a Mom. This journal was different as I was obsessive about scrawling down feeding times, potty frequencies, fever occurrences, doctor’s appointments, vaccination dates, but all in a very disorganized fashion. At the same time I was typing in entries. When I typed, my journals were different and when I wrote by hand they represented some other aspect of me.

Getting Past IT

“I hate what I write,” a journaling novice told me. “When I look at what I’ve written, all I see is pages and pages of rubbish, trivia, blah blah blah, and I start thinking how I could be this way. How do you get past that?” It happens when you write. I was ashamed too at some point (now don’t come looking for my diaries!).

A lot of you comes out. In the beginning, your diary could be about the things you hate the most, the people you never want to see but who keep showing up, the life you don’t want to live but are living anyway.

Even years later, when you think you are over IT, IT raises its head and you lambast IT all over again. You got to get yourself out of you before you see the rest of the world. I guess that is why people who write are very introspective at some point or the other in their lives. Once you write yourself out in your diary, a lot of room will enter your writing space—and you will start to do word dances. The free writing finally starts becoming meaningful writing. I promise you that much.


So Excited!!!!

profanityI once read a novel where a protagonist points out that the use of profanity is the sign of a stunted mind. Not only is the person swearing ill-mannered and boorish, but he (or she) obviously does not have the words in his vocabulary to effectively convey his real meaning. Hence the over-use of slang or offensive language to cover his deficiencies.

This made sense to me—after all, if you can’t come up with sufficient insulting words in your normal vocabulary, you’re very likely to resort to swear words that you’ve heard so often.

In today’s age of mobile phones, two words are better than fifteen. It’s so much cooler to say (and easier to type) ‘f**k off!’ to someone than to tell them to ‘take that narcissistic ego of yours and feed it to your troglodyte of a brother’. The same goes for expressing oneself on social media platforms, such as Twitter, where you’re limited by the technology. Even with the over-prevalence of expletives on the internet, you need to shout to be heard online, and profanity normally gets people’s attention.

It did surprise me, therefore (considering the age we live in), that there were very few expletives in the manuscripts we received at Indireads. The sheer lack of profanity, in fact, stands out in our books—something I would normally consider a welcome breath of fresh air.

Sadly, that range of emotion, so easily expressed in two words, hasn’t been replaced with eloquent wit or powerful intellect. It’s been replaced with the exclamation mark. Everything, it seems, is more powerful when said with an exclamation mark at the end. A symptom of the times we live in, perhaps, where expressing emotion concisely and powerfully through an impersonal channel (such as email and text messages) is a challenge. Add several exclamation marks to a word—‘Hello!!!!’—and you easily convey anger, sarcasm or exasperation.

As with profanity, there is no need to tax your vocabulary with unnecessary explanations anymore. Apparently, the exclamation mark says it all.

Except that, when over-used in a novel, no matter how serious the subject matter, or how down-to-earth the story, all the characters come across like thirteen-year-olds embarking on an Enid Blyton adventure. Everything they say, from a normal ‘Hi!’ to an emphatic ‘Stop!’, is punctuated with an exclamation mark.

Nothing, consequently, has any emphasis to it at all, and everyone in the book needs to be heavily sedated.

Back in the Stone Age when I was in school, our teacher taught us that if everything is emphasized then nothing is. In 1926 (I did mention the Stone Age, didn’t I?), Henry Watson Fowler published ‘A Dictionary of Modern English Usage’, in which he says: “Except in poetry the exclamation mark should be used sparingly. Excessive use of exclamation marks in expository prose is a sure sign of an unpractised writer or of one who wants to add a spurious dash of sensation to something unsensational.”

Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I agree with Fowler. The Chicago Manual of Style says this about exclamation marks: “An exclamation point (which should be used sparingly to be effective) marks an outcry or an emphatic or ironic comment.”

Unless all your characters are overly excited, habitually over-emphasize everything they say, or are chronically ironic, the exclamation mark should be conspicuously absent from your writing.

Spurious sensation is what it’s all about. As far as I’m concerned, using the exclamation mark is the equivalent of swearing, and I am beginning to reconsider the breath of fresh air in the ‘f**king’ clean manuscripts I’m getting!


From Blogger to Author?

Are you a blogger? Many of the writers we work with are dedicated bloggers who have been putting their thoughts out there for the world to see. Whether their following is large or small, the blogger’s central purpose is met—to bring their voice, their thoughts and their words in front of an audience, to someone other than just themselves.

After consistent blogging, one’s thoughts start falling into place, and one recognizes oneself differently. Writing skills improve, self-expression come to the fore and feedback from readers boosts confidence. So what is the next step? Can a blogger take a leap of faith and move from random thoughts and opinions into creating a coherent, sustained story?

Many of our writers have had the courage to take their writing and creativity to the next level, going from blogger to author. How many of you would like to do the same?


That Irresistible Journey

When the Return of the Jedi was released in 1983, we were a group of 27 people lining up in cinemas around Central London trying to get tickets. When we finally got in, we were blown away. We’d been waiting, you see, since 1980, to find out what happens to the rebel forces.

My brother and I had toy light sabers, the millennium falcon, x-wing fighters, and the force was strong within us (with two years between us, being Luke and Leia was no big issue). We made sure that our little sister, six years younger than me, loved the trilogy as much as we did.  When we moved to Pakistan, we gravitated towards Star Wars fans almost naturally.

In 1977, when the first movie came out, it was groundbreaking in terms of special effects, and memorable for its epic story. Over the years, however, I have constantly come across analyses and reviews that pick on the fact that the dialogue was simplistic, the plot was trite and predictable and the movies weren’t well made.

No doubt, they are right—but a generation of moviegoers has, nevertheless, immersed itself and their next generation in this legend. Becoming a Jedi was actually a life goal for many young children. Thirty years later, I still love the movies, the story, the characters (of the original movies, mind you—the subsequent movies should never have been made, in my opinion), and if I ever find a way to harness the Force, I will give up everything else and train to be a Jedi, for real.

Star Wars garnered its loyal fan base because it was simple, not in spite of it. The theme, good vs. evil, was complex in its own way (after all, Darth Vader eventually ended the reign of the emperor he served for so long), and the characters may have been unoriginal, but were still loved.

George Lucas was free, within a broad context, to layer his theme with sub-plots and an entire universe of new species and characters, but there were clearly the rebels in the white hats on one side, and the empire in the black hats on the other. Good was meant to triumph over evil.

These are universal themes, ungoverned by borders or religions, races or class. And they are eternal, like ‘Love will Prevail’.  The journey towards this theme will always vary—keeping in mind, for Indireads, the South Asian audience—but the destination won’t. Romance in literature has existed in some form or the other for centuries, and the destination hasn’t changed.

The goal is to make the journey so irresistible, so interesting, that the overarching theme is merely the satisfyingly expected ending. Your reader should be rooting for the cheesy finale, and they should be disappointed if it changes course.

If, for instance, Leia had rebuffed Han in the Star Wars trilogy, there would have been bloodshed. And that’s the bar—our audience has a wealth of stories embedded in their minds, and writers have to supersede old memories with new ones.


Sticks and Stones

I’m reviewing a manuscript where the heroine is the recipient of some nasty comments from a rival, and the author is refusing to let her heroine be affected by these comments. Our editorial panel has tried, in various ways, to gently explain to her that it doesn’t matter how self-assured a person may be. Some things just hurt, and you shouldn’t be afraid of recognizing it.

But she was adamant that words should have no affect on a strong character, on a woman’s self-confidence. That, however true their mark may be, words have no power.

I have to respectfully disagree.

I was very self-assured when I was younger (we’re so certain of ourselves when we don’t know anything, aren’t we?), even with the occasional skin breakout that left a scar now and then. I rarely worried about this because the people around me never commented, and I had everything else going for me. Until this hot young journalist came to intern at the magazine where I worked.  I enjoyed working there—with the exception of a snobby little sub-editor, the place was routinely populated with tough journalists, important analysts and the kind of conversations that, I imagine, shaped our world. We even received death threats after a particularly daring cover story, resulting in a brief police investigation, and a temporary armed guard stationed outside the office.

Never a dull moment!

But, back to my story…

My skin wasn’t something I was thinking about when I sat down and spent a good hour chatting up the intern. He seemed to be as interested in talking to me (we were discussing something extremely important—the increasing use of gangland imagery among urban youth, I think. Yeah. Right up my alley.), and the pesky sub-editor was neatly kept out of the conversation with a little deft maneuvering on my part. All it took to dethrone me, however, was one sentence.

In a lull, she leaned forward and looked at me intently. Then, loudly, and with a hint of condescension, she said, “You know, you could clear up those acne scars by putting some lemon juice on them.”

It was a masterstroke. If I had been standing, I would have fallen, she cut out my legs so effectively. I forgot what I had been talking about, and everything vanished from my head except the sudden clear vision of my face covered in scars. She had the intern out the door before I recovered. I never found the courage to approach him again.

I don’t believe in the old adage, ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words…’ Words will wrench your gut in a second, and lay your soul bare. Words will bury themselves deep inside you and attach themselves to your skin. They will drive you to despair, and fly you out to the heights of ecstasy. Words have power.

And we are all affected by them.