As part of the Readomania Crime Writing Festival, Readomania brings to you readers and writers the opportunity to understand the workings of crime and thriller plots and how to craft better stories.
Today, Anurag Anand talks about Political Thrillers in current times.
Q. You’ve written several books in different genres. When did you first know you wanted to write? Tell us something about the journey so far.
Anurag: Writing a book was never a goal for me. My journey of writing began as a reader during my early years. I loved to read and owned an enviable collection of comic and storybooks. Writing was simply an offshoot of this love for the written word. I did contribute small compositions to my school magazine, but largely writing remained a personal affair for me. It was a medium of expression, almost cathartic at times, and I had never really considered it as a career or a commercial alternative.
My first book happened by pure chance. I had just completed my MBA and had started working with the Gujarat unit of an FMCG major. My base location was Rajkot, an entirely unfamiliar city where I had no prior acquaintances or friends. This left me with a lot of free time and I decided to use it judiciously, devoting it to my passion of writing. The result was Pillars of Success, my first self-help book, and there’s been no looking back ever since.
Q. Your last two novels, To Hell and Back and The Assassination of Rajat Gandy, have been crime thrillers. How different is it to write about crime as compared to other genres?
Anurag: Writing crime fiction certainly takes a lot more focus and concentration than slice-of-life or contemporary fiction. Readers expect a work of crime fiction to be taut and crisp, a demand that goes against the natural tendency of a writer to be liberal with words. Also, this genre requires a precise amount of information to be revealed at each turn of the story. Any unwarranted revelations and the plot might become easy to guess, and if you are stingy in what you reveal to the readers, it might hamper their engagement with the story.
Q. What are the pre-requisites for writing a crime novel? Could you give us the essentials of writing in the crime genre, using examples from your books?
Anurag: The first requirement is a well fleshed out plot and characters. The time that an author spends in crystalizing disparate pieces of the puzzle and deciding when and how to fit them into the larger picture is worth its weight in gold. A well-structured plot with characters that raise curiosity and intrigue is half the battle won.
Another significant dimension of a crime story is the research that goes behind it. It should be an author’s endeavour to dive deep into the subject and provide readers with insights or knowledge that they might not hitherto possess. The appeal of an espionage novel is much more if it delves into the latest advancements in the area being deployed by international agencies, just as a political thriller which captures the undercurrents and pulse of the people is likely to find greater fervour among its readers.
Q. Real life is said to be the biggest and the most creative source of ideas and inspiration for a writer. This is certainly true for your last two books. What made you write stories that are based on true events? How do you source new ideas for plots or scenes?
Anurag: Our life is a canvas peppered with stories. All that one needs to do is observe intently. Every individual that we come across in our daily lives – our boss at office, the maid or the security guard, or a random passer-by on the street – leads a life that is different from our own. The challenges they face, their motivations and their fears, if keenly observed, are a never-ending repository of plot ideas. And ideas sourced from lives of real people have a greater propensity to create a connect with readers than something that originates solely from the authors imagination.
Q. What are the pitfalls a writer must watch out for when fictionalising real life people and incidents?
Anurag: It is important for a writer to be able to separate the general from the specific and steer clear of any controversial events or happenings that can be traced back to a person in particular. While it is okay to focus on issues and concerns that people face in general or to borrow unique personality traits from people around us, it is certainly not right to talk about happenings that we might not be completely aware of. And if the story does demand the mention of any such real event or occurrence, it should be dealt with objectively and without any biases. This was a challenge I faced while penning The Assassination of Rajat Gandy and I had to approach certain sections of the story with kid gloves to ensure that the narrative retained its fairness and impartiality.
Q. You juggle a demanding full-time job along with writing. What are the challenges you face with such a packed schedule and how do you overcome them? How does your life in a corporate job impact your writing, if at all?
Anurag: It is not always easy to balance two vocations and do equal justice to both. Despite being employed with an organization which is supportive of my writing and colleagues who are encouraging and helpful, there are times when I am unable to write with the pace or involvement that I would want to. But then, it is only fair that the demands of the workplace take precedence over my personal endeavours. It is by having a clear prioritization for allocating my time to various aspects of my life that I am able to achieve a balance. This balance has worked for me thus far and I hope that it continues to do so.
Q. Among the different elements of a plot, which one is the most important while writing thrillers? How important is the ‘setting’ while writing a thriller?
Anurag: The setting is the heart and soul of a thriller. Imagine a book like Sacred Games set in any other city but Mumbai or imagine Shankar’s Chowringhee set in any other city but Kolkata, and you will get the drift.
Apart from the setting and the conflict that make up the body of the plot, another significant element is its resolution or the ending. It is in the final pages of a thriller that the author looks to deliver his knock-out punch, and when he succeeds, the story stays with the reader much after he has put the book down.
Q. Bringing in the suspense element is the backbone of any crime thriller. What strategies do you employ in order to create suspense? How do you create a balance between creating suspense and giving enough clues to keep the reader engaged?
Anurag: I review my stories from the lens of a reader before finalizing the working framework of the plot. Between my wife, my brother and certain close friends, I coerce one or more of them to act as a sounding board while I am framing my stories. This is not always easy and sometimes I end up having to bribe them adequately for their time, but this exercise certainly helps in giving the right structure and shape to a story.
Q. Do you think writing is an instinctive process or can it be developed? How important is it to study the craft of writing thrillers?
Anurag: I haven’t had a formal education in writing or storytelling and neither do most of the authors that I know personally. However, this skill set, like any other, can definitely be developed over time. I try and read as much, taking notes of sentence constructs or descriptions that appeal to me, in a bid to hone my writing. But different things work for different people, and if a formal certification or course is what it takes, then why not?
Q. Which authors do you follow? Being a crime novelist yourself, what has been your biggest learning while reading other authors’ novels?
Anurag: My list of favourite authors transcends beyond crime writers and is a long one, ranging from John Steinbeck to P. G. Wodehouse, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez to Milan Kundera. In crime fiction, some of my current favourites are Daniel Silva, Keigo Higashino and Tom Clancy.
Every book that I read leaves me richer, teaching me something or the other about stories and writing. Hence, it is very difficult to identify any one learning I have had from these masters of the craft.
Q. What advice would you give writers venturing into the crime/thriller genre?
Anurag: The one advice I have for aspiring authors is for them to enjoy the process of writing and not hurry through it to meet deadlines, self-imposed or otherwise. Writing is an art that requires patience and perseverance, and by mulling over a plot adequately, giving it the time inside your head that it needs to ripen, you will be setting yourself up for delivering your best.
Anurag Anand is the author of To Hell And Back and The Assassination of Rajat Gandy, published by Readomania.
Anurag can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org and will be happy to respond to any further queries.