We know readers tend to be writers too, so we feature writing tips from our authors. Who better to offer advice, insight, and inspiration than the authors you admire? They’ll answer several questions about their work, share their go-to techniques and more. Now, get writing!
How would you recommend creating and getting to know your characters?
I construct my writing on two pillars—ENTERTAINMENT and MEANING. The meaning comes from a deep, personal question I’m wrestling with and my novels help me articulate the answer to myself. That’s why I recommend creating characters that are asking your deepest questions. If you start from that foundation, you’ll know the back-story that led to the question and the journey the character has to embark on to answer the question in a very personal, visceral way.
My best advice to get to know your characters is to push them from the ordinary world into the extraordinary world quickly! Their reactions to the extraordinary world will help you both unpeel the character and give the story the propulsive entertainment it needs to keep the reader glued.
Did you always want to write? How did you start your career as an author?
I’m an engineer-MBA and hadn’t written a single non-technical word until the age of 28! Yet my first novel was published in India at age 29. What happened in that year? I took a sabbatical from my job at Procter & Gamble and backpacked and lived in places I’d always fantasized about like Bhutan and Mongolia. Both the adventures that came from the journey and the sudden space and silence in my life compelled me to write. I wrote without a goal but ended up completing a novel that did quite well in India.
Since then, I’ve constructed my life around what I call a 4/1/4 principle:
-4 years of goal-directed working in a corporate environment while writing with discipline on the side.
-1 year of complete slack where I travel, meditate, work in an orphanage, live in an ashram, write a little, basically do whatever I feel like without goals.
-4 years of goal-directed living again.
…and so on.
I think this tight-slack model is allowing enough adventures to inspire new ideas while ensuring the discipline to commit them to paper.
What clichés or bad habits would you tell aspiring writers to avoid? Do you still experience them yourself?
I tell aspiring writers to never have a single coincidence in their story. Nothing should happen by chance or destiny to your protagonist. The moment destiny plays a role in a story, the reader senses the presence of an author writing the story and the fictive dream breaks.
Indeed, I still experience it myself because I like my novels to be fast-paced and often make things “happen” to my characters in the early drafts so that the story moves along quickly. I have to weed those incidents out in the subsequent drafts to make every incident organic to the story. Let me give you an example from my new novel, The Yoga of Max’s Discontent
, which is about a Wall Street banker who becomes a yogi in the Himalayas. I wrote and re-wrote the beginning thirty or forty times to make his decision to leave his job and go to the top of the Himalayas extremely authentic to his past rather than a result of a chance encounter as I’d originally written it.
Describe your writing style in 5 words or less.
Pacy and unpretentious yet layered.
What are three or four books that influenced your writing, or had a profound affect on you?
This will probably be a surprising answer but the one book that had a profound impact on me was Forrest Gump (the book not the movie). I grew up in a small town in the Himalayas in India that people rarely left. My aunt who was visiting from the US left a copy of the book by accident in our house. I remember reading the book when I was fifteen and feeling deeply transformed by the idea of a life that has no limits and a world that knows no boundaries. Soon after, I left my town for New Delhi, then moved out of India and lived in Philippines, Singapore, then Europe and the US, and have been traveling since without any permanent notion of home or a fixed sense of my own abilities and limitations. I think Forrest Gump may have something to do with it!
Other than that, the books I keep re-visiting again and again and shape my writing are perennial Eastern philosophical text like The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Dhammapada and the Upanishads, since they always deepen me as a person and a writer no matter how many times I read them.
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