Chaitra Anumula is our writing platform author and has so far written five books on the platform. You can read her latest book Retribution – Mauli Abheek – Book 5 here. Her other books can be read on the Juggernaut website and app. To know more about her click here.
To write – Almost all of us use words to express whatever we want to say, feel, record and keep track of. But to write with an intent to hold the reader’s attention is a gift only few have. More so if one is writing about subjects, that are off the beaten track, on subjects that talk about civilizations, histories and mythologies, of great personalities and so on.
Here are my 5 cents on how to approach stories on mythologies and the rules I follow while I write my story The Legend of Sita
Step 1: Read, Read, Read
First things first, to write anything of any impact, the writer must have read voraciously on the subject, not just important or famous authors, but books that beg to differ, that give a different dimension to the subject at hand. It is only through reading that the passion to write manifests itself. If writing is the consequence, then reading is the cause. It is the same with mythology. While attempting to write about mythology, it is important to have read a wide collection of scriptures which includes not only the popular Ramayana and Mahabharata, but other texts like Upanishads and Puranas etc.
While the Internet and Bookstores are flooded with a variety of books by famous researchers and intellectuals like philologist Max Muller, Eugene Burnouf etc., there are also books that are written by lesser known, sometimes relegated to anonymity, writers. These writers did not have fancy education at world class universities, but have studied the scriptures in the ancient Indian tradition of Guru Shishya Paramapara (Teacher-Student Traditions). It is strongly recommended that one must read these versions of the scriptures alongside the widely accepted versions, to look at disparities and misinterpretations.
STEP 2: Know Your Readers
Secondly, it is wise to know who your target audience is, who your story or book is attempting to address. It is imperative that the author must tailors the story as per the audience it is being aimed at. Once you have identified your target audience, the writer must look at how the content can hold the attention of the readers. What is it that will entice the reader to push forward to the next page or the next para? This is where Step 1 comes in handy. Before writing anything, we have all been readers. If I as a reader find the content not worthy of a second or a third read, then chances are the target audience will not find it interesting too. The writer must place himself / herself in the shoes of the reader, while preparing the story. If the writer can’t read it, then no one else can.
STEP 3: Definitive Narrative
Third, there must be a definitive narrative, a sequence of events that stay true to the Mythology, while creating a sense of thrill in the readers. A case in point are books like Holy Blood Holy Grail and The Jesus Papers. The authors of these books have taken a widely read and known historical event and have deconstructed every incident leading up to the historical event, in a systematic manner. Although one is reading tragic, sometimes fatiguing tales about how humans have plotted and warred against each other, yet the research undertaken, the pace of the narrative gives the reader a feeling of like we are sifting through a thriller. One may argue that the authors must’ve undertaken humongous amounts of research to write these books. True indeed, but when writing about Mythology, that the author has undertaken research is a given. How in-depth your research is, will be directly proportional to how crisp and informative your story will turn out to be.
Like any story, a book on Mythology must have a definitive beginning, middle and an end. If you study the Mahabharata, the epic does not start with the War or how Pandavas lost a game of chance or not even with how the Pandavas were born. The Epic begins by tracing the ancestry of the Chandravanshi’s (Lunar Dynasty) at a Sacrifice being performed by the Emperor Janamejaya, grandson of Abhimanyu. It first explains the origins of Janamejaya, then traces the origins of the lunar dynasty and then explains the life cycles of all the heroes that fought the Mahabharata war. It explains why each of the personalities in the Epic behave as they do, why Draupadi had to marry five men, why Bhishma became Bhishma from Devavrata, why Abhimanyu had to die so young, every detail is explained, before launching into the main story. Of course, it is impossible to script another Mahabharata, but when writing on Mythology, it is an innovative idea to start with the origins and then move on to how the circumstances culminated into a grand finale.
STEP 4: Visual Appeal
You may say this should be at the top of the list. The readers today are exposed to multiple sources of information from videos on YouTube to programs on TV channels. Hence attractive, relevant pictures in a book or story, add to the visual appeal and help in converting the casual surfer into a reader for you. But this comes with its own pitfalls. There is no substitute for good content.
Once your reader has opened the first page of your book, past the images and colors, they WILL read the content of your book. If the promising pictures don’t translate into an equally promising introduction, the readers will call your bluff. Hence the best way to do this, is to tailor the pictures to the content. If your topic is Sita for example, look for dramatic, eye catching pictures depicting some of the most well-known incidents of Sita’s life. The picture must capture the attention of the reader as well as raise the reader’s curiosity about the book.
STEP 5: Interpretation of Mythology
Interpretation of Mythology is an age-old practice. The proof for the same is the existence of various versions of Ramayana, besides the Valmiki Ramayana. For example: Tulsi Ramayana, Molla Ramayana, even Indonesian version Kakawin Ramayana, etc. If the writer is presenting his / her interpretation of events, please be sure to substantiate your interpretation with verses and quotes from the original source. Interpretation per se is not an issue, but the intent behind the interpretation is what the readers will look for.
The author must use his / her creativity and emotional connect with the subject to be able to interpret a Mythological account effectively. A case in point is The Shiva Trilogy. Although loosely based on the Shiva Purana and Devi Bhagavatam, it has no connection what-so-ever with the original mythology. The settings, timelines, traditions etc. described are completely an interpretation of Shri Amish Tripathi. Yet what a flight of imagination it is. It throws you into a world you have never experienced before. A perfect marriage of mythology, imagination and sheer talent.
So, there it is, a few pointers to how one can write great stories and books on mythology. However, these are only pointers. There is only one golden rule to creative writing and that is – “There are no Rules”. If you want to be a writer worth your salt, then break all rules, make the impossible, possible, let your imagination soar, let the words flow and see the magic unfold.