"Why Are You Writing This?" Part II

Writers will tell you that they are asked this question often. Or maybe it's just that they're asked it once in a while but the question hangs over their shoulder like a Betaal, that original zombie-vampire character that hung over King Vikramaditya's shoulder, whispering stories in his ear and always ending them in riddles the king couldn't answer (if you haven't read the Vikram-Vetaal stories that originated centuries ago and were originally written in Sanskrit, do it at once. Here's a start).

Vetala, Betaal...this creature that hangs from trees and was carried by King Vikramaditya on his shoulder has inspired many fascinating stories. He is a riddler. (Image courtesy nicolezoltack.blogspot.com)

Vetala, Betaal...this creature that hangs from trees and was carried by King Vikramaditya on his shoulder has inspired many fascinating stories. He is a riddler. (Image courtesy nicolezoltack.blogspot.com)

So, riddle me this: Why are you writing this?

This time around, the person asking me the question meant well. She was my editor at Random House India, Meru Gokhale, who had acquired the book for publication. She wanted to know why I was writing this as a novel and not a non-fiction book. No, it wasn't she that wanted to know. She wanted me to know.

In getting me to riddle myself with that question, her purpose was to get me to the heart of storytelling. My original draft was unable to shake off some of the straitjacketed norms of journalism and academic writing. My characters may have been 'intellectualizing' a bit. My narrator might have been keeping a distance, dipping her toe into the swirling waters of a frightening story, but not quite jumping in with limbs and head and, most of all, heart. The storyteller cannot dip a toe. There is no such thing as a toe. Shoot the toe. Bite it. That would be a story.

Meru's point is something all writers can benefit from. In asking the question "Why are you writing this?" the focus is on the two words 'you' and 'this.' I'm still answering those questions. And as I begin my next book, I'm trying to use that question to sharpen my focus. Of course, on some days, it can paralyze me and jump shrieking on my shoulder. I feel for King Vikramaditya.