Coming Home

Chennai Rains

The dousing squall greeted me with soft sweet drops on my face and a churning sludge around me feet, spoiling my slippers. I quickly hurried to the car park. Rain, sludge or bog, this was home. The smell of the city is always the first thing I notice stepping out of the Chennai airport. I revel in my olfactory trail trying to separate individual scents – the various trees, shrubs and flowers, the humid air, exhaust fumes and a unique scent of civilization; of having lived on this part of the Earth for more than 2000 yrs. A taxi was waiting for me. After dumping my belongings, two massive suitcases and folding myself into its frayed seat, smelling of diesel we set off. “Shall I turn on the AC?” the cabby asked “No. I like the city air” said I. We sped on towards dawn, through my city that was still asleep. The soft rain created a gauzy curtain and blurred out the details but I saw through my mind’s eye, memories of this busy city that would spring to life in a few hours. A rush to work, school, and college mixed with the shouts of vendors, kirana stores and little temples at every street corner. As we came towards my street corner, I knew my mother would be waiting, filter kaapi freshly brewed, smiling from the balcony. An act so simple yet so profound in its permanence. Do I love my city for the journey it is or for the destination – my mother’s smile?

What is Creative Writing

Anything creative is an art form and is subjective; hence a straight forward definition is difficult.

We can say, every creative and imaginative thought, idea, feeling and narrative expressed in the written word is creative writing.

What is not creative writing?

This is easily explained than what is creative writing. Written content that simply conveys information cannot be called creative writing.

Have you read the terms and conditions or the privacy policy of websites? That white colored booklet that accompanied your latest camera? T.V? Washing machine? You of course remember your boring history text book! These books at a glance tell you they are definitely not creative writing material.

What is creative writing?

By the above logic, all works of fiction be it a short story, memoir, novel, or a kid’s picture book are works of creative writing.

Poetry is creative writing in verse. So are playwriting, screenwriting, drama etc forms of creative writing.

Creative writing requires the writer to travel uncharted territory in the realms of fantasy creating alternative worlds, strange characters, giving life to inanimate things and emotions.

Shades of Grey

Often the obvious is easy to define. Likewise it will be hard to pin down works in journalism, essays, memoirs and biographies as strictly non creative or creative.

A piece of news may not be considered creative writing but a feature or editorial has a big element in creativity.

A biography written with such a personal touch that it takes right into the life of the character must have a lot of creative zeal.

When nonfiction transcends the boundaries of style, excellent research and approach and when it is written with a personal approach instead of merely factual, it becomes creative.

Read like a writer – Part 2

In the earlier part ‘To read like a writer’ I discussed how a writer should look for the theme and organization of a story. Let us continue this journey.

Let us strip writing to its bare bones, down past the genre, idea, theme or audience to study them at word, phrase and sentence level. A set of well chosen, well placed words create a sense of magic within the book. Look for the patterns in the language, the passion in the character, the striking adjectives. Look for;

Voice – It is the individual writing style of the author. The quality that makes writing unique. When reading like a writer, let us try to answer questions like ‘How does the author demonstrate the emotions of the protagonist’? Or how does he bring out the personality of the character? Now Wodehouse wrote in humor, using a unique blend of slang and elegant, classically-informed drawing-room English. Roald Dahl on the other is known for the devilish twists in his story.


Word Choice – What words and phrases does the author use to bring across the story? How does the author use striking adjectives, verbs, proper nouns? Evena simple ‘and’ in a sentence ‘And then he fell down dead’ creates the required impact.  Do these word choices make the story more memorable?

Sentence Fluency – the rhythem and flow of the sentence as we read it, is there a rhyme? Do the repeat in pattern? Repeating sentence structures, like

Night in the Country (1986) by Cynthia Rylant: “There are owls. Great owls with marble eyes who swoop among the trees and are not afraid of night in the country. Night birds. There are frogs. Night frogs who sing songs for you every night: reek reek reek reek. Night songs”

Conventions – Conventions are the usage of grammar, spelling and other such things that make writing consistent. Does the author follow convention in writing? Do you newer words like blacksurround, magicated etc? Are the sentence complete? Are there artful fragments and one word sentences?

The next time you read a book, pick up your pen and read like a writer.

Read like a writer – Part 1

What happens when you read a story?

The thrill of being transported to an enchanted kingdom,  the awe of being a princess, the adventures on the ridged back of a dragon and the gnawing fear before the book ends – an exhilarating journey indeed.

To be a writer, even an insipid one lacking the courage to paint true reality or the imagination to create a whole new world should read avidly.

A good book is the best writing institute, but one needs to understand how to read like a writer.

‘There is a difference’? One might ask. Yes. There definitely is.

A reader, even a thoughtful one who tries to understand not just the story but the context, theme and the underlying emotional undercurrents also looks predominantly into WHAT the writer is saying.

But as aspiring writers, we need to use a good book like a reference. To read like a writer is to move away from WHAT and towards, HOW the writer captures the story.

Now as a reader, one will question the genre of the story, infer the characters by the action in the book, feel the emotion, connect with the characters and evaluate if the story is well enough to continue reading till the end.

While a writer needs to approach a book from a completely different angle.  When reading like a writer, pay attention to  –

  1. Ideas – Look into the main idea of the book. How does he reveal it? Is it stated or implied? Look into the theme of the story. For e.g; Pride, family, prejudice, woman and marriage, society and class are the theme present in Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”.
  2. Organization – this refers to how the writer moves between these ideas. How does he build his characters, plot and setting around these themes. Here the writer learns pacing, sequencing and detailing. Compare a thriller and a drama for better understanding.

Part 2 of this series will conclude the other points of reading like a writer.