Sunday, August 12, 2012

Rasana Atreya Shares Her Tips To Writing a Novel

Plotter, Pantster or Something Else?
Guest Blog by Rasana Atreya

If you’ve been writing for a bit, you’ve probably heard these terms bandied about:

Plotter: someone who plots the story out – from the storyline to chapters to character biographies – everything is worked out, sometimes in great detail. The writer might even have summaries written down for each of the scenes, so come time for writing, it is just a matter of fleshing everything out.

Pantster: someone who writes by the seat of their pants. A pantster, for the most part, has no clue where their story is going, because the writer is merely the medium to convey the story to the page – the fingers just do the typing (or writing), while the tale is telling itself.

I admire plotters because I’ve tried their way, and I can never be them. Pantsers swear that plotting kills their creativity, and I have to agree. I’m not a genuine pantster, though, because I can’t go where the story goes. I am, what I blushingly call, a plodder.

On to my journey:

One fine day I decided I wanted to write A NOVEL. What about, I had no clue. So I placed a young girl in India. A not-very-educated girl. In a village. Now, I’ve never lived in a village. And I have a college degree. And my family is not superstitious, or dirt-poor or anything else. But I decided to place my character bang in the midst of all these. I added greed, and jealousy and corruption, and I was on a roll.

I wrote a couple chapters. Decided my character needed a friend. So I went back and found all places I could add the friend. Then I decided she needed a grandma, so I went back and inserted all over again. Then I decided my character could do with a couple sisters, so – you got it – I went and inserted appropriate references. I did this till I got to 60,000 words. Then I realized that the character wasn’t comfortable in her skin; third person just wasn’t cutting it.

So I hemmed and hawed, agonized, bit my nails, generally drove myself and my long-suffering husband crazy, before deciding that the character needed to tell her story in first person. So I went through the darned manuscript, did a global search for my character’s name (Pullamma) and replaced it with ‘I’. Because this was first person, right?

It didn’t take me very long to see the folly of this method – when you’re writing in first person, you have to write only from the point-of-view (POV) of the character. That means you can see/write/talk about only what the character can see/write/talk about. That was quite a revelation, and of course required a major rewrite. I never do things by halves, you see.

Then I started to query in the US and the UK. Agents seemed interested, but 60,000 words was too little, they said. So I wrote and wrote and wrote – and it ended up at 120,000 words. Too long, they opined. Cut, cut. Sigh.

And so it went for three years.

Then my unpublished manuscript was shortlisted for the 2012 Tibor Jones South Asia prize. An offer from one of India’s biggest publishing houses followed. Since we have no agents in India, and I could not accept the publisher’s terms (which was, essentially, sign on the dotted line, no questions asked), I self-published.

It’s been a wild ride, but also a slow one. Contradiction in terms, I know, but true. In the four months my book, Tell A Thousand Lies, has been out, I’ve garnered 68 reviews, netting me 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon. Goodreads has been similarly kind.

How did I do it? By begging friends and family.

Nah, just kidding.

By approaching book reviewers, one blogger at a time. It’s been a long process, but my book is forever (or as long as Amazon or whatever is next, is around), so I figured it was worth the effort.

To all you newbie writers out there – if you’ve got to this point in the post – don’t try my writing style at home. It hurts. There are easier ways, believe me (hint: it is called plotting.)

You have to work real hard not to be able to find me on the web: [Amazon US link for Tell A Thousand Lies]

I’m also on Facebook, LinkedIn, Shelfari, Twitter, Google+ etc, but enough about me. ###

Rasana Atreya just gave you her blueprint to success. Start your's today and follow it to success!


Guilie Castillo said...

Absolutely excellent post, Mona & Rasana--thanks for sharing! There's plenty of self-pubbed people out there that will benefit enormously from this. I'll do my best to spread the word (and hopefully, Rasana, you'll garner some new reviewers too).

Guilie (another pantster that wishes she was a plotter)

Rasana Atreya said...

Thanks for hosting me, Mona, and thanks for the comment, Guilie. Tried leaving a comment yesterday, but I've been having trouble accessing the site from India.


Anonymous said...

Rasana, great story of persistence and, well, courage. It probably didn't feel like courage at the time! I smiled when you described changing the character's name to "I" and then realizing the POV was all wrong. In so many years of working on my novel, I have learned the most basic writing lessons mostly by falling over them. Thank you for your candor, and best of luck with the novel!! I'm going to purchase it.