Often called the “dean” of the magical realist literary genre, Rushdie came into the limelight when he wrote the classic “Midnight’s Children” (1981), which not only won the prestigious Booker Prize, but also won the “Booker of Bookers.” . Eight years later, however, the fatwa against Rushdie came in the wake of “The Satanic Verses,” a death sentence by some Islamic authorities, which put him in daily danger and cost years of his life. His most recent book “Quichotte” (2019), which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2019, tells the story of a confused Indian-American man who travels across America in search of a famous television host with whom he has become obsessed.
As the literary world prays for Rushdie’s speedy recovery, we bring you 6 writing lessons from the extraordinary author.
1. Borrowing from real life experiences
In his memoir ‘Joseph Anton’ (2012), Rushdie wrote that when he told his father that he wanted to be an author, he exclaimed, “What am I going to tell my friends?”. Interestingly, a similar scene occurs in the novel ‘The Satanic Verses’, when Gibreel Farishta, one of the main characters, tells his father that he is going to be an actor. This is just one of many real life elements woven into Rushdie’s fiction. They give fiction that bit of truth it needs to be believable. Adding bits of real conversation can bring your dialogue to life.
2. Different characters are all about distinctive voices
Rushdie always focuses on the voice. He wrote in his memoir that you have to have an idea of how people talk to tell their story. The way characters talk reveals a lot about them, their personalities, and their backstory. So writers have to give characters their voice. While reading passages of character dialogue, readers should be able to tell the difference. Each character should have a different vocabulary, attitude and body language. So before you write, think about how your characters speak.
3. Research, research, research
Rushdie’s novels are known for being set in different locations around the world and across time. And to recreate these institutions requires thorough research. In fact, the clearest evidence of his research is the four and a half page bibliography in his 2008 novel ‘The Enchantress of Florence’! Thus, thorough knowledge of each institution is required, which can be obtained by visiting there, or by details on the Internet, blogs, maps and satellite views.
4. How you write = What you write
Rushdie pays a lot of attention to language and how he uses it to tell his stories. In his novel ‘Fury’ (2001), when the narrator becomes acquainted with the female love interests, he completely loses touch with reality as he describes her: “Extreme physical beauty draws in all available light, becomes a shining beacon in an otherwise darkened world. Why peer into the surrounding darkness when you could gaze upon this friendly flame. Why talk, eat, sleep, work when such a glow could be seen?” So it’s important to think and understand what your characters are going through and how your writing can reflect what they’re feeling.
5. Writing is a constant process
In an interview with Vinita Dawra Nangia, Delhi Times of India author and executive editor, Rushdie revealed that he was always clear about becoming an author. However, it took him almost 13 years to get his start. Meanwhile, he also worked as a copywriter, and his first novel ‘Grimus’ (1975) was brushed aside by critics. But all he was constantly doing in the midst of all this was writing. Judging by Rushdie’s track record, it could be said that writing isn’t easy and sometimes the risk outweighs the reward. But there is joy in the creative process.
Watch the full interview here:
6. The first thing you should do every day is write
In the same interview with Dawra, Rushdie said: “It’s always been my theory that we wake up every day with a little creative energy and it’s possible to waste it. If you call or respond to emails, it’s gone. My opinion is always to do the writing first. Everything else can wait.”
Also read: His spirited and defiant sense of humor remains: Salman Rushdie’s son Zafar Rushdie on his father’s health;
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