Ravi Shankar Etteth is an author whose prose flows beautifully. His latest book, The Brahmin, is proof of that. The language he uses in the book is lyrical at its core and has a wonderful effect on the readers. This is rare, especially from an author with a background in journalism.
Ravi Shankar Etteth, in this candid interview with Writers Melon, reveals the secrets behind his beautiful prose, his writing secrets, and much more.
The Brahmin – Writing Style:
The first question that comes to mind when an author comes up with an interesting format of storytelling is whether it is the author’s natural way or whether they consciously chose to write it that way. When asked about the relation between his writing style and process, especially as a journalist, Ravi Shankar Etteth had this to say:
“I had made no conscious decision on which style to use. It’s simply how I write. Journalism enables you to focus better and write tighter over a period of time. In fact, the lyricism has come down a bit compared to my first novel, The Tiger by the River. As one evolves as a writer, one realizes too much of a good thing is bad. No style is the same, though the undercurrent remains, like a melody continuing to play though the words of the song are long gone.”
Ravi Shankar Etteth – The Plotting and the Writing:
Plotting a story usually means that the skeleton is ready and it’s the details that need to be fleshed out. Ravi Shankar Etteth has a slightly different idea when it comes to this and tells us that he does not plot in detail. It is all the more interesting because there it works amazingly well for his stories.
“No (but) I do have a broad outline, though the main characters have already taken shape in my mind. The plot has basic contours, within which I let the story run. It is amazing what epiphanies happen. I love the surprises that wait for me as I tell the story; the scenes and their outlines shifting like a landscape being revealed by the sun dissipating the mist on a seashore or a mountainside. Silhouettes of characters and events become sharper, their emotions are better defined. What amazes me is that they take on a life of their own, taking you to situations you had not ever imagined. It’s like a haunting. But it’s a delightful possession. I have strong relationships with my characters, some of them like Lord Suma in The Brahmin who I hate. And I could’ve killed him off, but it was a sadistic pleasure getting Ashoka to cut his limbs off. I felt sad when a favorite character died. But it could not have been helped. A story is like fate, which takes its characters along a route that we all share.”
Favorite Characters from ‘The Brahmin’:
The characters in The Brahmin are wonderfully portrayed. Some of the scenes are pulsating and applause-worthy. Asked about which of the characters and scenes he is partial to, Ravi Shankar Etteth tells us this, with reasons one cannot refute.
“The Brahmin is my favorite character, of course. The encounter between Queen Asandhamitra and the Brahmin on the palace ramparts is a favorite scene; it resonates with power, desire and loyalty as death, defeat and treachery casts a lengthening shadow.”
Combining History and Mythology:
The life of a writer is based on experiments. If something works, it works. But if it doesn’t, there’s nothing like a few choice negative thoughts about it that might demotivate an author. Similarly, the combination of history and mythology must be tread upon lightly, says Ravi Shankar Etteth.
“Crossing the No Man’s land between history and mythology is the greatest adventure of a writer’s life. It is a land populated with legends which have become myths and visions that have expanded the realm of fantasy through time and space. It’s not for weak stomachs because a writer can get lost there. Though getting lost is the ideal test of the imagination; discoveries change your life and your writing. My advice, tread carefully. Especially after Dan Brown’s books became a success, the template was followed by many. Hence it is very difficult to be original now. I feel staying in one time period is safest, and with a great deal of research and some imagination you can tell a decent tale.”
The Writing Bug:
“When did you realize for the first time that you wanted to become a writer?” we asked. And he responded quickly saying, “I’m not sure. I’m not even sure I decided to become a writer. I don’t plan things in my life, I like to go with the flow. Thankfully my boat has so far landed on safe shores, irrespective of which storms I have weathered.”
Ravi Shankar Etteth and his Influences:
“I grew up in Palghat in the 1960s and ‘70s, when Kerala was relatively uncomplicated and its landscape was breathtakingly beautiful. The rivers had not been drained and choked by check dams, ugly concrete housing colonies had not come up. Endless paddy fields, violet mountains afar and banyan tees meditating in temple compounds. Yakshis still lived on palm trees. That Kerala is an idyll that is lost to today’s generation and in a few years will be lost forever because there will be nobody left to tell its stories. I tried to bring that age back to life in The Tiger by the River, The Village of The Widows and The Gold of Their Regrets. I don’t know whether I succeeded.
Both my grandmother and mother were great story tellers, who would narrate tales of wild feudal times, dashing heroes and devious villains. They would also tell me folk tales, stories from the epics, fairy tales from abroad and family stories. Both women had strong opinions and a very visual way of telling stories. They also had strong opinions on characters, even the famous ones in the epics, which is not wise to put down now. Grandfather would talk to me about his war experiences and his guns. My father brought me classics to read, which shaped my taste for the poignantly conservative. My uncle too had a great creative mind and was a master story teller. I liked to observe how he looked at things, a story forming around a perspective and the influences that kept shaping his thought process. A writer is born through the stories of others which he re-tells in his own voice, in his own fashion.”
Writing as a Profession in India:
With so many aspiring writers in the country and so many coming out every day, the question of course nags whether one can make a living by writing books. Ravi Shankar Etteth tells us what he thinks of writing as a profession in India.
“I don’t think so (one can make a living by writing books). Unless you have cracked the right formula and the right audience like Chetan Bhagat and Amish Tripathi have. Volumes are too low to get a decent royalty, competition is high. There are many imitators who are mostly ships passing in the night. But some writers, like Vikram Seth and Arundhati Roy, cannot be imitated. This is because they first tell stories, not sell them. Nonfiction sells, but you need the right curiosity and perseverance to become successful.”
Views on Self-Publishing:
“Self-publishing is a great idea, so long as you can afford to promote it widely. Considering the cut throat competition in writing, it can be a good way to gain exposure. And who knows, you may be writing the next few Shades of Grey.”
Advice to Aspiring Authors:
“I am not sure I’m qualified to give anyone advice. If I had to say something from my limited experience, it would be: Don’t try special effects. Don’t try too hard with language, characters, and scenes. Be as simple as possible. And be clear why you want to write and what you want to write. The how will follow.
We all like fame and money, but if that the primary reason to write a book, you are likely to be disappointed often. And above all, do thorough research on subjects, atmosphere and places. I remember when I wrote my first book, there was a street in Berlin whose name had changed. The traffic direction was also wrong. I didn’t know that. My agent Martina Dervis hired an expert to find out. That was so cool and we got it right. Details are very important. And above all, don’t be lazy. Live the story.”
Author(s): Ravi Shankar Etteth
Publisher: Westland Books
Release: March 2018
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