Dos and Donts for MBA-turned-writers

Many of us want to be writers… internationally published… bestselling authors. Some of us write well or believe we do so. Some of us have our manuscripts ready or strongly feel so. Some of us do not know how to proceed, approach publishers, impress editors, etc. But many of us get hold of the wrong end of the stick. Blame it on or acknowledge Chetan Bhagat. The Five Point Someone author kick-started a mini-revolution with his extremely popular novels, thereby inspiring a generation of engineers/MBA me-toos to go ahead and write their own novels.

Readers are very difficult to be fooled. They always have it in their minds that the account they’re reading is a story… a made up fabrication of lies and falsehood. This might sound disappointing but sadly, readers know that stories are stories. Now what? Take the challenge of fooling them and winning them over!

See, any story or novel has its base formed by the characters. As writers, you need to build the characters live and strong… make sure that the readers might forget the name of the book after three decades but not the characters… the characters should come and talk to them… haunt them in their dreams… make them cry… make them laugh… make them feel as their individual selves… make them believe in them. And it is here that your blood and sweat will be shed and it is tough.

Showing and not telling: This is important. If you say that Sameera was old readers will take it as information. But in their minds there wouldn’t be any appropriate picture for her. Show it by what she does… say:
Sameera took her steps slowly as she walked down the hills. The sunrays touched the wrinkles near her nose as she stooped downwards holding her stick. “Oh! The sun!” she said to herself as the corners of her lips drooped down.
Now this serves your purpose better!

Dialogues: They are very effective and you’re almost there near perfection if you’ve used them efficiently.

Dreams: Yes… This is a great tool.
Sreeparna turned his head with a creaking noise and hurled towards me. She picked me up and threw me from one corner of the room to another. I was sweating and struggling for fresh air. The telephone rang and I opened my eyes. It was a dream.
This makes an impression that Sreeparna is a bully.

Letters: If suddenly in the middle of the plot you realize you need to share background information about a character, you’ve got it… you can always use letters. They’re a fabulous way to help your characters come out open with their thoughts and feelings, letting the reader find out more about them.

These are the few tricks that I’ve used to build characters and there are many more. But yes, the basic rule is you have to know your characters. Think about them. Interview them. Talk to them. Make sure that every aspect of the character has been covered. And be prepared to let your characters surprise you.

Also, new writers must know things which I never had any idea about and had to learn in the harder way.

1. Avoid using unnecessary adjectives – ominous, ill-fated, calamitous world… I know, I know the world is indeed a bad place… anything else????

2. Stop using anthropomorphisms and I really mean it since you tend to do this especially if you’re a new Indian writer. Fate was giving a vicious smile? Who told you that Fate is a woman and can smile!!? This will only weaken your writing.

3. Dialogues should sound real. Read them and read them again. Use I’ve instead of I have, should’ve instead of should have and likewise.

4. It is always better if Harry says than Harry remarks, answers, questions, etc… New writers, note it down.

5. Don’t tell that Robin was angry. Instead, show how his face gradually turned red before he tightened his jaws.

6. Shelly was gullible? I don’t believe you. Bring this out in a series of dialogues.

7. First time novelist? Don’t get over ambitious with your first novel even if it is a bitter experience you’re writing about from your life. Be polite, use your brains.

8. Don’t leave loop holes in between your story line. Readers are lazy mombies and they just hate to guess.

9. Don’t put an abrupt ending. They never work. Bring out a clear conclusion.

10.  Using overwrought language? You’ve got hold of the wrong end of the stick. Be simple and correct.

11. Also, “very” in between sentences sounds lame. I am hungry. I am very hungry. Read both the sentences again and again. You’ll get my point.

12. And do not repeat words… The old man remembered the old custom and remembered the old saying… The old man remembered the antique custom and recalled the ancient saying. Which one sounds better?

13. Think of a title… make sure that it is subjected to change. This will have a magical effect. You’ll see how you get more responsible and committed towards it.

14. New novel writers must target a word count of 75000 (+/- 5000)… No more and obviously no less.

Good writing is concise, clear and economical. Bad writing is obscure, muddled, long winded and full of adjectives with disconnected flights of fancy. Keep writing to explore them. Meanwhile, I’ll write about what I figured out about editors and how NOT to impress them.


This article is written by Debalina Haldar, class of 2015 student at IIM Lucknow. Her novel, The Female Ward, was published in May, 2013. She is the Creative Head and Core Coordinator of the Media and Communication Cell at IIM Lucknow.


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Debalina Haldar

an 'unlikely uncommon quintessential' engineer


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