Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Behind The Words






Long ago, in Bangalore, I had joined a writing workshop called ‘Still Waters’. Back then, writing was the last thing on my mind. The  idea was to make friends and emerge from the comfort zone of solitude in a new city. On the first day, when we met in the conference hall of hotel Ramada, I was visibly nervous. The other ten participants were working professionals, amateur journalists and literature students. On the second day, after informal introductions, we were asked to write a short story of less than thousand words. The prompt for all of us was similar – Meera, the protagonist wants to see the world but her aunt is an obstacle. Meera overcomes the obstacle, learns to dance, and gets to fulfill her dream.

An otherwise simple task was noteworthy on two accounts.

First, I was amazed by the fact that we approached the same story in ten different ways. With a common prompt, I thought our stories would end up being somewhat similar. But I was in for a big surprise. Despite a similar outline, our stories were diverse in terms of the treatment, setting and narration.

My Meera, became a part of an international troupe and performed next to the Eiffel Tower on a moonlit night. A college student’s Meera joined Summer Funk dance classes and visited several countries via exchange programs. Another Meera, performed Bharatnatyam in the back drop of an ancient temple in Bali. A working professional’s Meera fell in love with jazz and reached Venice after murdering her aunt. Despite diverse perspectives, we all arrived at a common goal. A happy ending.
 This made me wonder how our social milieu, our upbringing, our age and our culture impacts us in the way we treat the subject. Given that I am most comfortable in writing about what I know, I write from my own perspective. Most artists follow the same rule. So it is rare for a woman to write about a murder mystery or a man to write an emotional drama. Nonetheless, excellent work of fiction has emerged when writers have explored the alien.

Second, the ten of us were asked to e-mail our stories anonymously. So while we were reading and rating the stories, we had no clue about the author of the story. Funnily enough, despite not knowing each other we could easily guess who the author was. Except for one. This reticent professional on a sabbatical had introduced explicit sex in an otherwise staid story. When it comes to writing,  shades of our personality reflects in our words. Or maybe not. There are exceptions. I write humor and satire, and I am anything but funny. Or witty, or clever. Perhaps, I am so dumb that when I write serious, I appear a bit funny. Perhaps, it is because I enjoy watching and reading things that are funny. So clearly, being a funny person and being a funny writer are two separate things.

And yet, we do leave traces of our personality in our words. Unintentionally, of course. More so on social media. We create a certain image about our upbringing and our thought process when we interact on the internet. I interact with several virtual friends on a daily basis. When I meet them in real life, they turn out to be exactly as I had imagined them. We need not be mind readers, but it appears that creative writing can reveal several aspects of the writer’s personality. Written words are more transparent than we give them credit for.

What do you think?


Anshul a discerning reader and a prolific blogger could read the logical mind of the author in the anthology, Mango Chutney.She turned out to be a student of mathematics from IIT-Delhi. Read Here )

54 comments:

  1. Completely agree with you on that! Each story is a reflection of the writer and since no two persons can be same, hence no two stories as well. I feel, a writer can't write the same story twice!

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    1. True, I can't write the same story again.

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  2. Long ago I became a member of an Orkut group ... We interacted daily and then one day, about six months after I joined, I met the members. Not only did I know them at sight, but it was as though we knew each other for a long time. Yes writing and written interaction does reveal our personalities

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  3. Agree on most points as the writer is influenced from his/her own experiences and the personality visualized turns out to be same more often!

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    1. Yes, Rahul. Most of the time. But it's not a rule.

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  4. A very post-postmodern topic :) I guess in many ways a writer's work is shaped by personal identity, experience, view of the world, life etc...and yet there is something to be said about a writer's ability to move out of her subjective context and being able to create a highly different world and characters. I am not into fiction writing but if I were I would probably not want to leave traces of my life in my stories :) Though that would be difficult to do I suppose. But yes on social media certainly I think we can get some clues about people we regularly interact with. But do you think some people could be also faking it? ;) A very interesting post, Alka.

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    1. I have interacted with a blogger for three years. Though I had a hunch but he displayed his true colors recently. So yes, some people can fake it, but not for long.
      Also, it's not easy to judge a person from fictional work. However you can easily touch a person via blogs and autobiographies.
      Thanks Beloo.

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  5. I agree Alka most of what we write is a reflection of our personality and that too reveals itself unintentionally or subconsciously....

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    1. It's easy to know a person via blogs, even if the posts are not personal. Fiction makes it complex but shades of personality reflect unintentionally.
      Thanks Naba.

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  6. That's definitely true Alka. I think a good part of a personality can be understood by the person's social interaction unless a person adopts an elaborate facade. But that is bound to slip once or twice. Now as bloggers, even the posts or the topics we choose to write about and how we write , reveal so much about our personality traits.

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    1. Not easy to fake it for long, the mask slips. It's easy to know a person via blogs, even if the posts are not personal. Fiction makes it complex but shades of personality reflect unintentionally.

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  7. Very interesting experience about fiction writing that you shared, Alka. Since I don't really know the authors I love to read, it is hard to say if the stories reflect their personality. Definitely their interest or their background in some cases. For eg. some writers love writing courtroom dramas or some others in other niches. I think a good fiction writer is a great storyteller who may get inspiration from life as they see or read about but then eventually the tale they weave may or may not reflect who they are. About blogging and social media interactions, I have had both kinds of experiences. There are people who have completely baffled me with how they turned out when I actually met them. There were others who were just like how they were in their virtual interactions. So, I really don't know. As Beloo says above, many could be projecting a certain image. I really can't say. A very interesting topic that you wrote about.

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    1. Rachna, those who project a certain image are unable to fake it for long. Of course, I am talking about writing on social media. We have interacted for almost four years now. And when we met, I did not feel it was the first time.
      Fiction is a different ball game. And yet, a closer analysis of several novels can reveal certain traits. A possibility, but not a rule.

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  8. Fascinating post, Alka. A lot of what we write these days, are born from the wedlock of our experiences, our personalities, likes, dislikes, reading and interaction. And not just non-fiction posts. Since I predominantly write fiction, I can only comment on that. A lot of the stories that I write, is a reflection of how I view certain things. Not always, but a large part of it anyway. But then again, I've also written stories that have absolutely nothing to do with my life or my experiences. So I guess, coming to fiction, if you are a regular writer, you may well be able to "channel" your life out of it, and keep it separate. Thought-provoking post, Alka.

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    1. I get what you are saying Sid. Its a possibility, not a rule.
      But social media interactions and blog posts reveal a lot. Sometimes you can touch a person. We haven't met but I feel as if I know you in some ways.Right?

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    2. Absolutely, Alka. Good social media interactions can reveal a lot about the person. I know some people say it's often difficult to measure things like the tone of voice etc when communicating via text alone, but after a point, you start to read them better. Of course, exceptions exist for that rule too.

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  9. I think you are quite right. Our words are a faint reflection of our personality, but may not mirror it exactly. I think Woody Allen makes the funniest movies I have ever seen, but he is hardly a funny man. Personally, I have attempted to write a murder-thriller novel, but I am hardly the serial killer type.
    Or am I?

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    1. ROFL.....Rickie, may this "killer" sense of humour of yours, continue to make us laugh out loud. Always.

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    2. Rickie, you are a serial killer. You kill with your wit!

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  10. Wow....what a lovely post Alka. Like, completely true.
    Yes, I write out of my own experieces too, all the time :) Sometimes I think where is the creativity ? :P

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    1. Ghata, so good to see you here. Hope the little angel is doing good.

      Creativity is in telling the same story differently. The setting, the treatment and the narrative. I mean, how many new stories can we tell?Every generation has same conflicts, same obstacles and similar goals.

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  11. I agree with you. A whole lot of our personality and our experiences come out through our stories or our posts.
    It’s always interesting for me to compare bloggers when I meet them for the first time with the impression I have formed of their online persona !

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    1. I do that too. Facebook interactions reveal a lot. Not so much while reading fiction.

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  12. It is just natural.Every action of ours,including writing does reflect our personality.We write what we write is the character we own up to.
    I have not many friends on social Media,but,those which I have I seem to know them well and that was proved after I met a few of them separately on different occasions and different city.They were as I had imagined them to be.

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    1. Social media interactions provide a better picture when compared to works of fiction.

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  13. Words and the world they weave. Part fiction-part fact and it blends so perfectly that it's difficult to say what is what. I agree with you mam, a glimpse of our truce faces can easily be seen in the way we write :)

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  14. What a fun exercise! I too thought initially that the stories would be similar. I absolutely agree that we do tend to dig into our own experiences even when writing fiction!

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    1. It's easy to write what we know. A aim truly amazed by the work of Agatha Christie or JK Rowling.

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  15. Since I interact with few bloggers personally and from what little I know of them, I think their writing reflects their personality. Whereas, I cannot quote the same for authors. :)

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    1. True. We might not know about them in detail but they do leave traces of their personality.

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  16. yes that is true. Writing and/or art or any creation carries a part of writer's soul. it is his thinking wrapped in something like words or colours. Our upbringing is something we cannot hide for long. The things that make us laugh and bore us to death throw much light on the env. we have grown up in. Nice post. I wish to attend such workshops sometime too!.

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    1. Do that Ankita, such workshops are a great learning experience.

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  17. I feel people open up better to unknown persons in writing than to known persons in person... Whoa ! Am I making sense ? :)

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    1. In a way yes. Depends on the context and the person.
      :)

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  18. I've noticed people are different from the image they want to project through their writing.

    Destination Infinity

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    1. Now this so different from what all the others are saying. But I respect you opinion. Different folks, different strokes.
      I feel you can't portray a certain image or fake it all the time. At some point, the real you comes out.

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  19. Writing reflects a person's personality and his/her dreams perfectly. His different shades can be seen in the different characters that he writes about.
    I like to believe I am a funny person. :D

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    1. I so want to meet you Red. In person.

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  20. Most of the time the treatment of the story and narration and the character of protagonist depends a lot on the writer or someone who influenced the writer... Again like you said it is not a rule.

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  21. Creative writing bind hearts and I've felt a certain connect with fellow writers-cum-bloggers. I've tried my hand with fictional account, sometimes it works but most of the times it doesn't. In my short blog stories, there is a background of what I've observed in cities and places I've lived.

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  22. Even I was thinking that people would have a more or less similar plots, but yea that's what is interesting right. Each has their own version.

    And yes, I do feel that people do leave a bit of their personality in their words, unless they consciously try to stay away from it. When we read a person's work again and again, I think it would be easy to find out their writing style.

    And for this reason, I always always always stay away from confession pages :-D

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    1. Ha ha....makes sense. I stay away from them too!

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  23. I'm not sure if all of us fall into the category where writing is an extension of our personality. For many, writing is a release, an escape from reality and be what they can never be in real life. Me, I fall in the former category. I'm not sure if I'm funny in real life but what I know is, I love laughing :-)

    And you my dear are a lovely person.

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    1. There is something about enjoying a good laugh! Yes, that could be a valid reason.
      And thank you. Good to have you back.

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  24. This is such a lovely post . I can almost relate to every bit of it .

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    1. Welcome here. Glad you liked it.
      Thank you.

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  25. You can say that again Alka--that our own personality peeps through our writings.I once published a story but later on i felt it was too revealing of my feelings and shoved it somewhere.

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    1. I know what you are saying Indu. My story too.

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  26. Ahem! We all are different, even when we have the funny bone. Now - I can never be the life and soul of a party. I need to have a conversation going and, sometimes, I get fed lines that bring on quips. Most times I am a mousy non-entity.

    And, yes, we do put in a bit of ourselves into our fiction - IF we write from the soul. You can always write a B-Grade masala movie with cardboard characters (I, apparently, did exactly that in my story in Sirens, according to some reviews :) Not that I set out to do it :) ) on the five songs, four fights basis - which would reveal nothing of YOUR character except what you think about readers' tastes.

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