The Writing Soul – with Suneetha Balakrishnan

Suneetha Balakrishnan had ‘just a job’ until she began writing full time. Now she combines what she calls work-write and write-write as her career.

What sort of career did you have before becoming a writer?

It was not exactly a career, I would call it just a job with vertical escalations people call ‘promotions’. I worked with the public sector in insurance, a job I got at the age of twenty, and held a senior administrative post when I quit. I suppose I was good at what I did, but I was always restless. I never understood why.

Was there a triggering event that prompted you to begin writing?

I think I have always been reading, and then writing, for myself of course. The trigger must be good books. My mom, a voracious reader and an academic, introduced me to the classics early on and made sure I had plenty to read all the time. I guess that never left me, and it was a natural escalation to writing.

Do you now write full time or part time?

Full time. I left my steady, well-paying and secure employment 12 years ago and I had 20 years of service left to enjoy. I don’t get a pension from that tenure. So now I work-write to make a living and write-write in response to what my writing soul demands.

What parts of the writing career do you enjoy the most/the least?

I suppose I enjoy all sorts of writing, so being able to write for a living is a rare skill I fully acknowledge and am thankful for. And working from home means you have a universe to yourself. The parts I least enjoy are when I have to chase payments, and when people don’t understand I am at work and think it’s okay to barge into your physical and mental space.

What parts of your former career do you miss/not miss?

I think the job I left behind is not even a memory now, it’s like a previous incarnation. I miss nothing about it, not even the steady salary cheque and the perks. There are so many compensations in this life, freedom being the first and best of it.

Do you have any regrets?

I will gladly and proudly say, None. There was no better decision I could have taken.

What advice would you offer other second career writers?

Developing the right skill suited to the sort of writing you want to take on is as important as being disciplined. Your value will be your steady output delivered on time. And nothing can replace that, I have experienced. And ASK for money, please. People will pay the plumber, the electrician, the cook and the driver, but the writer they use for a crucial part of their work is usually expected to work for little or nothing. Develop bargaining skills, network with others who work like you to find out about ground realities and arm yourself with the right information. It’s a great thing to be a writer, just find how to manage the stress points, every career has it. 

Many thanks for sharing your journey, Suneetha.

The Guest by Suneetha Balakrishnan – Sameer is a ‘catch’, he is qualified, comfortably off, well-employed, young and has no bad habits. And when Sameer was proposed for serene Kavitha, she thought he was too nice. But is a girl allowed to say No because the groom proposed is unexciting? Then she met his mother…

The Guest is a day in the life of Mama, Sameer and Kavitha. A story of ordinary, everyday people.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Windmill Point author Jim Stempel on writing historical fiction

Windmill-Point-Jim-StempelThe grit, tragedy and bold strategy of the American Civil War play out in Jim Stempel’s Windmill Point. Am I glad I read it? You bet. Stempel’s writing is vivid and meticulous. He tells the story of the pivotal events that took place in little more than two weeks in such a compelling fashion that even knowing what happens, you still feel the inexorable pull of tension.

But this isn’t a book review, rather Jim Stempel is here to talk about the writing of historical fiction. So, over to you, Jim.

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I have written nonfiction, satire, and historical fiction, but when you asked me to write a post for your blog it immediately dawned on me that I had never spent much time (honestly, any time at all) thinking about how I actually go about writing. So first I had to step back and analyze my own approach, and secondly I wanted to be sure that whatever I came up with was not going to waste someone else’s time – as in, thank you Captain Obvious! I say that because I take writing very seriously and, as an extension, I take the efforts of other writers seriously too. I would like to treat every author’s efforts – whether that means a first or twentieth novel – with the same consideration I would like my own work to be treated. But writing is a personal business, we all have our unique approaches, and I know that the way I go about things may or may not be of use to someone else. With that disclaimer now a matter public record, I will suggest a few things that I hope someone might find helpful.

Research: The importance of this aspect of writing historical fiction has been amply documented on your blog before with detailed and excellent lists of elements to consider, but I would go those even one further. To write compelling historical fiction I think you need, not only research a particular time period adequately, but literally immerse yourself in it. I write about the American Civil War, for instance, but I have never technically researched it. I didn’t have to. I have been fascinated with history since I was a kid, and I read and wrote about the Civil War from the time I was in junior high school, through college, and (obviously) beyond. I read hundreds of books on the topic – fiction, nonfiction, memoirs, and biographies – traveled to all the major battlefields, attended lectures, reenactments, etc., and all of this before I had even thought about writing a single line. I would recommend that anyone interested in writing historical fiction choose a time period that fascinates them, then immerse themselves until they feel entirely comfortable calling themselves an authority. Then write.

Character Development: Much has been written about character development, and I have but a few thoughts to add. We come to know people slowly in real life, and I think it best that we come to know them slowly in fiction too. Give the reader a little at a time, with twists and turns that will make the character far more interesting than if the character was entirely divulged at the outset. Also, actions speak far louder than words, so the way a person moves, or sits, or responds to a statement or situation can say far more about a character’s persona than an entire descriptive paragraph.

Less is often more: Likewise, in describing a scene or situation or character there is often a tendency to initially overwhelm readers with details, when less would be far more effective. Pick out the key elements you need to convey then add to those as the scene develops.

Visualization: Lastly, I tend to visualize the scenes I write then jot them down just as a newspaper reporter might describe an actual scene he or she is witnessing. If you are truly familiar with your topic, characters, scenes, etc., this can work wonders. If you don’t like the results, you can back it up and run it over till you get something that you feel is right.

Mary, I hope these few suggestions prove helpful for some of your readers.

Many thanks, Jim. I wish you great success with Windmill Point.

Windmill Point is gripping historical fiction that vividly brings to life two desperate weeks during the spring of 1864, when the resolution of the American Civil War was balanced on a razor’s edge. At the time, both North and South had legitimate reasons to conclude they were very near victory. Ulysses S. Grant firmly believed that Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was only one great assault away from implosion; Lee knew that the political will in the North to prosecute the war was on the verge of collapse. Stempel masterfully sets the stage for one of the most horrific battles of the Civil War, contrasting the conversations of decision-making generals with chilling accounts of how ordinary soldiers of both armies fared in the mud, the thunder and the bloody fighting on the battlefield.

The Mystery of Storytelling – Julian Friedmann

Source: Blake Friedmann website
Source: Blake Friedmann website

Some time ago, I listened to a TED talk given by Julian Friedmann on The Mystery of StorytellingJulian Friedmann represents both book and script writers through the agency he established in 1976, now called Blake Friedmann in partnership with Carole Blake.

I’m sure each of you would find other memorable points from this talk, however, these stood out for me.

Storytelling is about the audience – it’s not about plot or characters and certainly not about the author.

Writers have to be experts in human behaviour – why people are who they are and do what they do

Stories define us and Aristotle defined the formulapity, fear, and catharsis. Pity for the characters – an emotional connection. Fear for the characters – readers have to care in order to be fearful. Catharsis when the character is released from the fearful situation.

Pity, fear and catharsis can be reframed as suffering, struggle and overcoming. The triad extends to the notion of beginning, middle and end. Clearly three is a magic number.

How do audiences use stories? Julian’s answer is readers use stories to rehearse their fears. Fears about death, failure, marriage, parenthood, loss, tragedy, aging, disease, disaster, and so on.

To be effective writers need to:

  • develop accessible characters
  • provide upbeat endings
  • think movie and offer less dialogue
  • create strong visual aspects because we believe what we see more than what we hear
  • create shorter scenes to allow your audience to fill in the gaps
  • enable readers to look at themselves

A great list to post on my bulletin board the next time I develop a story.