My good friend and editor of both my books 'The Men Within' and 'If You Love Someone...' (and currently 'The Misfit'), Keerti Ramachandra has many years of editing, writing, translating English fiction and non-fiction (and teaching English) behind her. Keerti is a thorough professional and I like her way of editing where she looks at the story as a whole and then brings up issues right from structural to characters to smaller errors that are consistently repeated by individuals. From editing and translating a number of books for all the top publishing houses in India, a long association with Katha and Indialog, Keerti now does editing and translating work on a freelance basis and also conducts creative writing workshops for aspiring writers.
I quickly seized the chance to get her views n some of the most common mistakes that new (sometimes even experienced) writers make before submitting their manuscripts to editors and publishers. Keerti just took off from where I started and covered the entire gamut of issues in a few minutes, something that showed to me how passionately she takes her job and how clear she was about it all.
I asked her first, what the typical problems are, that she faces when she edits new writers or rather amateurs?
Keerti said that typically first time writers are not sure of what they want to say, for whom and why. They are not clear about the purpose of writing whether it is for entertainment or information. This lack of clarity can mess up the point of view and add an element of vagueness to the story. In such cases sustaining energy in a novel becomes the problem.
Many times writers have enough content for a short story but blow it up into a novel and sometimes a short story has enough energy to make a full length novel. To illustrate Keerti said that it is like a slice of cake when all the ingredients are there, but its only a piece of the cake. It will only give you a crunch when you bite into it. A whole cake will make it complete. The slice is a short story, a keyhole view. The novel is a whole cake, which has elbow room and offers a panaromic view.
What would you like writers to do to overcome these problems, I asked.
Keerti says, read. Most have not read enough. Not everyone needs to have the technical knowledge of understanding plot, characters, setting, tone, dialogue, point of view, structure - which are some of the important things. These you absorb when you read. So read a lot. Also the range of expression is limited. Just because we speak well does not mean that one can write well. Mastery over the tools is important.
What tools would they need to develop to start with, I asked.
Read, read, and read again she said and you would absorb the tools. Find a sense of pattern, descriptions, adjectives, verbs. Very few people read aloud what they have written. Everyone should do that. Research is most important. Background, characters, hobbies. Anything should be backed by facts. You really don't need to use it all - but it shows.
How do we go about with writing a story, I asked.
Your theme must be clearly defined in your head. Love, revenge, greed, emotion - though they are basic themes, you must have your own unique perspective. One must know the path the story is going to traverse. The stops at every step must be relevant and not rambling off. One should be able to connect the dots and lead the story to its destination.
Your characters must be real people, have life. Not merely cardboard cut outs. They must have many dimensions and must be clearly defined. The writer should empathise with the characters. For their predicament. You write things which mean something to you because you care. Because you are passionate about it.
The story must certainly have honesty. Integrity. Complete. Don't try to impress. Don't write about yourself. The novel comes from the heart. The seed, structure comes from the head.
There should be integrity of the text. Everything in that world - what are you doing. Always prefer 'Probable impossible' to 'impossible probable'. (for eg. Maam can i go to the washroom? You can but you may not!) Most times when the integrity is there, articulating it, could be the issue. That can be handled.
You must feel. The story must have soul. It must move you.
Dialogue is one area when I have lots of problems. Not natural. If we wrote in our mother tongue we'd be much more natural. Phrases etc looks unnatural.
Use strong verbs, strong adjectives to convey because speech has supra linguistic factors. When you don't have access to that use verbs and adjectives.
What are the common mistakes that we could watch out for?
Keerti counted a few out for me.
1) Use of too many adjectives.
2) Watch out for passive construction. Watch out for two sentences which flow into one another when they are not connected.
3) Watch out for '..ing' forms of words.
4) In dialogue be colloquial
Before we submit a manuscript to the editor or publishing house what should the writer take care of, I asked.
1) Typos - clean up the manuscript. This is a must.
2) Be convinced that you can answer any question any editor may raise on the manuscript
3) Writing short stories or novels is hard work. It is not a 2 month or deadline driven project. The 1st draft has to be your mother. Revise it several times. Keep filling in gaps. But also be aware that over revision can kill spontaneity.
4) Don't be afraid of rejection slips
5) Be open to criticism, suggestions, other people's ideas and suggestions
That then is Keerti's advise in a nut shell to aspiring writers looking for publishing their works. All this took about 20-25 minutes which was one of the quickest I ever did an interview. For those who wish to contact Keerti you could email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. And thanks Keerti for the interview which I am sure would be useful to all of us who wish to write.