As a writer, if you have struggled to define a genre for yourself – or aren’t sure if you should be experimenting, read on to know a veteran’s take on the subject.
On March 24th, during the Bloghchatter Writing Festival ‘18, Author Chitra Divakaruni was interviewed by Blogchatter on the importance of finding your genre.
Chitra, an award-winning and best-selling author, poet, activist and teacher of writing, was interviewed by our team member. Her work is often inspired by India’s history and culture, which is a recurring theme in her popular books. Chitra’s immigration to America was a big influence on her creative expression. The distance from her home culture helped create awareness of the culture and values by comparison in her non-Indian environment. Experiencing immigration first hand also created a keen interest in the topic of immigrants, leading to a deeper connect with her motherland, resulting in the theme occurring frequently in her literary works.
When asked about the importance of research in literary work, she stressed its importance and gave viewers a practical and exemplified guide:
Research is primary for a writer’s work to be authentic, believable and to be able to write from a position of strength. While writing ‘Before we visit the Goddess’, Chitra had to research the grandmother Savitri’s life carefully since the character belonged to an earlier generation. The author spoke to elders, conducted research in the library, examined images, old photographs, and movies of the time.
Chitra conducts essential research ahead of time, to get her started on the sketch. She looks for the essence of time, place, and the issue pivotal to the story, to commence writing. This helps her get to know the characters in the story, which helps her start writing.
Secondary research is often about a specific incidence or part of the narrative. For example:
In the novel ‘Oleander Girl’, a scene set in a Kolkata nightclub in the 90s, required research, which was planned ahead and required field visits in addition to reading up on the history of night-clubs and regular research, before writing was commenced. Whereas, the novel ‘One Amazing Thing’ required research into what an earthquake does to a building to bring authenticity to how the building was collapsing. This could be furnished later, letting the author focus on developing the rest of story.
Another example of essential primary research she provided, was about the her work exploring distinct interpretations of mythology. For ‘Palace of illusions’, her research consisted of extensive reading, from the period-specific works of academics and archaeologists to reading translations of Vyas’ Mahabharata, to take it all in. Finally concluding her main research by reading the many books written about the Mahabharata.
The next step was to find the differentiating, original theme or exploration of this well known topic. The author realized that for her, the most important thing was the voice of Draupadi. She then had to work a lot to get the voice right, even re-writing the first chapter almost 50 times till she was happy with the voice. In this case, her research explored the other Draupadis that had been portrayed already to ensure hers had an independent, individual and original voice.
Defining the voice can be the most important and intense part of writing. Beginning with a paragraph, putting it aside and then revisiting it by reading aloud would help answer key questions about the voice: ‘What kind of person would say this, is this the kind of person I am trying to portray?’
If the answers aren’t completely satisfactory, Chitra would write a new passage in a different way until it gets close to the voice of Draupadi in her mind. Fixing the character in her mind is crucial and she feels that everything flows from there.
When asked about the process a writer undergoes to select a genre, Chitra had a more intuitive expectation of new writers. She found that an awareness of one’s most liked and admired books reveals a connection which can help the writer select the right genre. Upon selecting the genre of interest, the writer will then need to conduct research, know what has already been done, and aim to write at the top of the genre.
For her current project, she’s reading some prize winning books in the same genre to see what people liked about it. She suggests being close to the current and past literary work in the genre, to learn from and eventually better the field of work with one’s own contributions.
As for Chitra, she likes to try different things, as chronicling her work within one genre would get boring. She says it is essential for a writer to not be bored, so that the reader doesn’t feel the same. From magical realism, to family sagas, from mystery to mythology, it is important for Chitra that her next project is completely different, something previously not attempted which allows her to grow as a writer.
Chitra opines that this is not the only mode of building a body of excellent work. If a writer is happy and doing well, and wants to stay within one genre, this also helps one build repute and popular regard. Many wonderful prize winning novelists and writers fully explore one genre over multiple projects.
A few questions from the attending audience helped inquire deeper into Chitra’s world-view and literary style. To know more about her answers, click here.
2018 is the Blogchatter Year of Impact toward this, the first online literature and writing festival is a key milestone in the journey to take your blog to the next level. Genre: the importance of sticking to one Facebook Live with Chitra Divakaruni was one of our sessions at Blogchatter Writing Festival. We have many more different author-sessions planned ahead under this. You can screenshot the below schedule: