Do not write, illustrate your story

September 2, 2020    Raja Singho

Do not write, illustrate your story

In my initial days, I often sat at my writing desk with a blank page or a blank word document opened in front of me. I used to find it so terribly difficult to write my first line. As those blank ivory white pages continued staring at me, I felt very nervous. I just sat idle, holding my pen for hours. It was similar to those winter days during my childhood. There was no geyser at my place, actually there was no electricity connection at home. And it was mandatory for us to take a bath every day. I used to stand for hours inside the bathroom with a mug full of freezing tap water, which was turned ice-cold overnight while stored in an overhead water tank. The fear used to grip me every time, how to pour the first mug of water on my body, that was the biggest challenge. I found the similarity between writing the first line to that of pouring the first mug of cold water in those winter days. The challenge is pretty much similar, how to start.

Then I found my own way, and it really works like a miracle. It solved my initial hitch with the first line, and also helped me to structure the entire story in a more systematic manner.

I structure the story idea in my mind from start to finish with important turns and twists or plot-points. I take time to think it through. And when it’s in my head, I do not go to my writing table and pick up the pen. I just illustrate the story to those whom I consider to be my target audience. I narrate it in a manner that can evoke people’s reaction. This technique works brilliantly for me. I describe the sequence of events in a linear manner. While narrating, I notice with every changing plot point, how people’s reaction changes. I observe how my audience engages themselves with every action of my character/s. I realise how the nuances of the characters generate an interest level.

When finally I finish narrating the story, I already have a structure that naturally formed one after another. I realise that I already have plot points where the story is taking an unexpected turn. While narrating it to a different group of audience, I also change the climax and notice which one suits the best.

I start illustrating my story with a logline. Describing your story with a sentence or two is called a logline. The logline is the hook. It’s ‘why’ people will listen to your story.

Take this as an example ‘A bunch of unemployed Brits decide to put on a striptease act to earn some money.’ It’s the logline for the film ‘The Full Monty’. Your logline should be intriguing enough for the audience to commit their attention to the story.

Now let me give you one more example. This is from ‘Postcard golpo’, my collection of short stories written in Bengali, which are now getting translated into six regional and four international languages. The English title of the book will be ‘The Postcard stories’. The uniqueness of these stories is that while these are very small, they still maintained the characteristics of a proper story structure, demonstrating the proper CAR factor – ‘the conflict’, ‘the action’ and ‘the resolution’. And that is what is most challenging. And of course it brings in the final twist of the story which is another major challenge.

In a small hi-tea session, I narrated the logline first, ‘When a pair of lustful eyes of a few local goons transformed forever’.  Then I narrated the story ‘The Surma seller.’

The Surma seller | Raja Singho

The girls quickly crossed the narrow alley, cramped between a couple of aged three to four storey buildings from the colonial eras. The alley connects two main roads. There is the finest women’s college in the other side of the road. This passage is the shortcut to the college; otherwise the students need to take a longer route. The half dark alley smells of damp and does not have much traffic. Being the backdoor of these old buildings, most of the doors and windows are closed all the time. But crossing this hundred meter passage is like a nightmare to all these college going girls.

As the girls rush, Lakha, sitting on a cemented staircase, makes a sound with his tongue and upper wall of the mouth, similar to the sound people make while licking a jiggery laced mango murabba, ‘Look at them man’, Lakha’s licentious gesture draws Daya and Nando’s attention. Nando pushes Daya with his elbow, ‘Go ask that middle one, what she applies on her skin? It’s just buttery smooth. A fly may slide off of it. And look at her breast, what an amazing shape… Daya feels his hardened manhood under his jeans. ‘Guru missed all the fun today.’ they missed their most vicious partner.

They are the right hand of the corporator, Mahesh Yadav. And no one messes with Mahesh Yadav’s men. Its half past four which is the time for these students to leave for home. Daya, Lakha and Nando ogle at those butts and panty lines while playing Indian Rummy, ‘Teen Patty’ that’s what the game is called. Every day and every passing evening, they almost strip these girls with their eyes.

A voice emerges from behind, ‘Would you like to apply some Surma Sir?’ The trio look back with amazement. There stands a tall elderly Muslim in knee length white kurta-pajama, his long white beard almost touching his chest. Deep eyes laced with black eyeliner – Surma. ‘Try some Surma sir, it’s very good for your eyes,’ The elderly man pointed towards a small wooden box he was holding. He carried a soft calming smile.

Lakha stepped forward, ‘Is it? Well! Let’s try your Surma’. Daya and Nando stood in the queue.

The man took out a cotton ball and cleaned their eyes with much care. Then with a slender metal stick, he adorned their eyelids with dark Surma. He took out a tin framed hand mirror from his small wooden box and put it in front of Lakha’s face. They all looked at the mirror and nodded their head with affirmation, ‘not bad, it actually suits us…’ they laughed. Lakha forced a 10 rupee note in that elderly man’s palm, his face lit up.

‘Aadab’ the elderly Surma seller nodded humbly. Daya and Nando nodded in utter surprise. Nobody ever showed such civility to them.

Next morning the news spread like a wildfire. They crossed the alley again and again with much surprise. They laughed amongst each other; they spoke at the top of their voice, the alley filled with light hearted talk and laughter.

Lakha, Daya and Nandu neither gazed at them, nor did they utter any filth. Today their eyes are filled with admiration.

Well, the elderly Muslim Surma seller did mention, ‘it’s honestly good for the eyes’. END

As I mentioned I started narrating this small story, with the logline, ‘When a pair of lustful eyes of a few local goons changed forever’.

I illustrated the story in a way that made it seem like I had witnessed it firsthand. I added every small detail description of the alley and the characters and their actions, to create a visual impact. As the climax unfolded, there was an overwhelming rejoinder from my audience.

The visuals are already illustrated in my mind, so then it is just a cakewalk to pick the pen up and fill up those ivory white pages with vivid description. The more I narrate the stories, more I rehearse for my books, my storytelling workshop as well as for the audio books.

I use the same story illustration for my novel as well, though in a summarizing form. But it helps me to structure the series of events one after another in a linier form. Which I of course re-structure later.

For the non-fiction writers or motivational book writers, I suggest that narrate the content of a chapter and record the video on your mobile phone. It’s always easier to talk than write. It is really beneficial that you narrate everything you want to capture in that chapter. Listen to it a couple of times. It’s a fabulous preliminary editing method. You will be able to knock off the portion that you feel is unnecessary.

This is a great way for you to start with a talk about your subject and then put it on paper. This way you can reconstruct your lines easily, ornate with better choice of words and most important part is that you will never be stressed with the thought of, ‘how to start the first line?’

(Excerpt from Raja Singho’s upcoming book ‘How I sold my first book, even before it was published)

At Write to Rise2.0 you will learn the science of visual storytelling. For program detail visit www.rajasingo.com

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