One June 20, I celebrate the first anniversary of publishing Bound by Life, my first ebook.
Normally, I do not revisit anything I have written unless I am editing. After I had published the book, I had kept it aside in a folder on my desktop, never bothering to read it again. When my roommate was reading it, she mentioned bits and pieces of the stories, telling me about which parts she liked. I felt a growing curiosity to revisit the stories. But I was certain I had done a below average work and did not want to upset myself with that kind of work. We writers are just so skilled at underestimating ourselves!
But a few days ago, quite late in the night, I felt a sudden urge to read one of the stories in Bound by Life. It was the title story.
Reading it for the first time in months, I realized how nuanced it was. The epistolary format attracted me always, and I felt it worked perfectly for this story. It struck me how the old man weaved the tale of his past with his present life. I especially liked how Sacred Heart, the home where the old man finally leaves for, becomes a character itself in the story – it is as if it has a personality of its own, like a haunted house.
That does not mean the story or the story-telling seemed perfect to me. I kept wondering if the voice of the old man was genuine enough. How did I want to portray him when I was writing the story? Did I want him to sound guilty because he had not cared for his son in a better way? Or did I want him to sound complaining, scathing his daughter-in-law? I do not remember the reasons exactly now. But one thing I know: through Bound by Life I had merely wanted to show how old men and women are mistreated by their children in the old age. My sympathies lay with the old man in the story and not the son or the daughter-in-law. Did I ever put myself in the shoes of the son/daughter-in-law and try to imagine what it might be to live with a grumpy old man like that?
That is what made me suspicious of the old man’s voice in the letter-story. If he were really apologetic, would he really write in such harsh manner, knowing that it might be his last communique with his son? Maybe, or may be not. For human nature is a mysterious thing, and it takes a lot of understanding to portray it accurately. But in some ways, at that point, I felt that the old man was merely a child in a big man’s clothes – not understanding, not sympathetic to anyone but himself. Even in his last days he was a selfish man.
Re-reading this story taught me a great lesson: a writer must think all his characters through – their inter dependencies, their emotional balances, before fleshing out a character. Because in the end you are striving to recreate reality, and the onus lies on you to be authentic and unbiased. In spite of how much pain motivates you to write a given story and feel sympathetic to the protagonist, all the supporting characters are as important. Once you have written them out, they cease to exist on paper. They live on in the readers, and the author must bear responsibility for that.
Have you ever revisited a character that you written a long time back and felt differently about his/her motivations? Share your thoughts with me in the Comments below.
A lot of you have been asking me questions on writing/magazines to send your writings to on my Facebook page and this blog. This June, as I revisit Bound by Life, I have decided to answer questions on Bound by Life, self-publishing, indie publishing and on writing in general. I would love to share whatever I have learned as far as writing is concerned with all of you. So this May, compile all your questions and email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Depending on the number of questions I get, I will be publishing a series of posts in June. Look forward to hearing from you!