Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A long interview about the composition of Arzee the Dwarf

Late last year I met a reader and writer in Delhi, Juhi Basoya, who later sent me a list of quite specific questions about the composition of Arzee the Dwarf. One evening I found myself quite free, and sat down to write the fullest and most precise answers I could manage. If I link to the interview here, it's only because I feel it exists on a continuum with all the other thought about writing and composition in fiction and non-fiction that is featured on this site. The only difference may be that here I've applied myself to thinking about my own methods and not someone else's, and can speak in a more personal and probably more confident way. The full exchange is here, and here are a few excerpts:

On the writing process
For Arzee I worked in a very unstructured way, and mostly by instinct, because I’d never done work on such a large scale before. This made it is a very labor-intensive book. Often I didn’t know where the story was going but went ahead all the same just to see what came of it. Once I’d gone all the way to the end (even if it wasn’t a very good end), I kept going back over and over, cutting, changing, and reworking, till slowly the hues and the structure of the story became clear. For future books I hope to work in a more organized manner. But no matter how organized you are, a story always seems to discover its own structure and tone in the actual process of composition. Writing is always full of surprises even for the most methodical and organized writer.

On the title
The name was just one of those things that arrived in my head out of nowhere, and seemed exactly right. As far as I can remember the book, was always Arzee the Dwarf, and the title of the work came before everything else and was a spur for all that followed because it focused the point of the book. Many times, when work wasn’t going too well, I would murmur “Arzee the Dwarf” three or four times to myself like a little mantra, and tell myself that, no matter how the novel turned out, I’d at least managed to write a simple, striking, and intriguing title!

On language and metaphor
In my view similes and metaphors are one of the great joys of language. But of course in a novel they must appear in a disciplined way, in a way that enhances the pleasure of the story and of a particular moment in that story. If you think about it, language itself is spontaneously metaphorical. When you say “I’m feeling down” or “feeling blue”, you’re not actually standing lower or turning a different color, but everyone knows what you mean. Metaphors are mind-expanding; they can make a sentence seem like it grasps the whole world. I would say they are one of the many weapons in a writer’s arsenal, and every now and then he finds a moment to shoot.

And some older posts and interviews about Arzee the Dwarf are here.

1 comment:

B said...

Reading about metaphor and language (and the example quoted) reminded me of

upama kaalidaasasya
bharaveehe arthagauravam |
danDinah padalaalityam
maaghe santi trayo guNaaha ||