Story from the end of the world
With Indian publishing houses announcing apocalyptic fiction writing contests, here's your chance to get published. Before that, some expert advice
Mumbaikars with masks, empty streets, and no sight of children—our current social upheaval caused by the Coronavirus outbreak seems like a scene out of a dystopian book. As we experience the calamity around us, publishing houses across the globe are inviting writers to pen a story on apocalyptic fiction. From Juggernaut's Love in the Time of Quarantine, to Roli Books' Life in the time of Corona, publishers are promising that the best stories stand a chance to be published as e-books or win writing contracts.
However, before you put pen to paper, hear what three authors have to share about what makes for a good read.
CREATE A FORMULA Author Bilal Siddiqi, who has written Bard of Blood has a different approach to apocalyptic fiction. He suggests, "choose your theme—love, revenge, survival, etc—then reimagine the same story against the backdrop of an apocalypse. Ask would this situation affect the decisions of the protagonist, or how there would now be a sense of urgency in everything the characters do or behave. A pandemic will change the beat of the story."
READ THE GENRE Author Kiran Manral, who has dabbled in the genre through a short story and micro fiction on the post-apocalypse scenario that will soon be published, says that apocalyptic fiction has long been popular. "Noah's Ark and the flood that wiped the Earth clean of wicked mankind is an early example of post-apocalyptic work. There are several examples of it in mythology too. From the modern ones, The Road is a good read. Do make it a point to read the genre before you attempt it," she adds.
The author of best-selling thrillers, Ashwin Sanghi of The Rozabal Line, Chanakya's Chant and The Krishna Key fame, agrees. "There are quite a few good ones written by authors who are masters of the craft. When you read their works, you'll know the story that clicks for you, so it is best to start here."
GET YOUR FACTS RIGHT Make sure to do enough research before you put it out in the story. "Your story—though fiction—must be credible, so get your facts right. For instance, you should know that antibodies cannot cure viruses. Wrong facts can be off-putting for the reader," says Manral. Sanghi adds, "Your fiction must sound real. There is an old saying, 'When you tell a lie, tell it so close to the truth that you make it sound real.' Follow this when writing your story—make it utterly believable."
INPUT LEADS TO OUTPUT Sanghi suggests following a two-point rule. "First, know the science - why would something occur, what's the science behind it. Spread it well across the storyline. For instance, if there was a great flood [which is quite possible due to global warming], what places would be affected first—your story should be set or must have reference to that place. Next, focus on the outcome. What happened due to the apocalypse? For instance, you can't say that your protagonist—a regular man—went out of his house and started firing with his AK-47. The question is—why was he carrying it in the first place? Regular people don't carry ammunition, do they? Also, make sure you have a proper vision of the post-apocalypse period and include it in your tale," he adds.
CREATE TANGIBLE CHARACTERS The reader must be able to relate to the characters of the story. "Focus on the individual story. Remember that the character is not just a statistic; his or her story is that of survival. It is important to identify with the protagonist," says Manral. On similar lines, Sanghi says, "While research is important, don't get caught up in it. Make sure to explore human nature—that's the only constant in good times and bad. Of all the people who survived the apocalypse, your story must be of the five underdogs and of their primal instincts. That's how a story of survival will click."
BRING IN SURVIVAL AND REDEMPTION A good story must be one of hope. "Let there be an element of chance and that feeling of redemption that we are in the situation because of human greed and that the same mistakes must not be repeated. Your story must be a journey—of survival of the few who make it but it must also be a story of collective consciousness of those who survived and escaped," says Manral.
STAY ORIGINAL While it is easy to catch on to another author's style, Sanghi warns to avoid repeating their story. "For instance, avoid talking of the same 'ghisa-pita' formula of totalitarian regimes, cannibalism, cavemen, etc.
Talk of newer things that sound familiar."
Siddiqui says, "Every story that needs to be told has been told already, it is how you tell it that makes the difference. Make sure you don't copy, and feed originality to the story. Personally, I am not a fan of fantastical zombies and unicorns, and I'd steer clear of reading such stuff, unless it is written by those who are experts."
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