The Soul behind the Story

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16/12/2014 by Siddiqui Fayesal


That’s the word for today. The how and the why comes later. The what comes first.

What is Layering?

Layering is the weaving of the story and the characters in such a way that the reader sees glimpses of the character’s mythology, his history and how his past has a shadow in the very movement of his gait, the stoop of his shoulder and in the mannerism that he possesses. Of course, layers in a story isn’t a crazed out fad employed by writers and poets to showcase a wonder in their works. I’m not saying I thought about it for the first time a month back. What I’m saying is that the premise was so beautifully done that it hit me immediately!

I was seeing Leon: The Professional a month back and I was amazed at how the small tiny information that barely make a beep on a radar can add so much to a story. The way he sits in an almost empty and dark theatre, eyes glimmering with the enthusiasm and happiness and that childlike wonder on his face, all contribute to what Leon is. The way he walks around; it is the walk of a man who has work to do and important work at that. The 2 rules of his job that he follows.

The best, one was the way he cares for his plant.

Carefully taking them off the window ledge, spray watering it every morning and putting it back, without fail, on the window ledge again the next morning! It speaks louder than any background score that could have been used to underline the… I don’t know what word I’m looking for, this persona. An adjective fails me. What exactly is Leon? He’s not just a ‘cleaner’ now is he?

Jean Reno says that Leon was the way he was because he was slightly mentally slow and emotionally repressed. It did seems that way to me when I saw Reno play the part. It makes one wonder about the astute nature of the script writer and the clarity with which he sees the part in his head. How else, I ask, would a person portray it so perfectly?

Layering was a memory that branched out like a splinter when I saw Reno playing the part. It reminded me what amarllyis told me once about writing. It was something that she had read by Chuck Palahniuk. It had made sense when she had told me this. After I saw Reno’s rendition on screen the voice of amarllyis screamed through my senses. Suddenly, not only the article from good ol’ Chuck made sense, but it also made me want to go through it again as soon as possible.

Of course, on re-reading it I found that it was not as easy as he made it sound. Unpacking a verb? But what the heck IS a verb. I’m weak at the technical detailings and the rules of grammar!!!

Heck, I’ve even spelt “grammar” wrong many times. I’m not saying I’m hopeless but to understand the technical aspects with the confidence of being able to “unpack” them is going to require some hard work. While I roll my sleeves and dive in deep into the world of commas and periods, there is one thing that I should also keep in mind that a friend told me over a chai a week or two back.

I can’t get lost in the language. There are times when writers get lost in the language and lose the plot instead. I’m in writing for the language, no questions asked, but I can’t lose the plot and with it the basic requirement that a reader wants. mostly. I look up to Amitav Ghosh as a stellar example. His language weaves in and out of coarse fabric and layers its Universe with beauty. His characters can be imagined with their physical abnormalities not because he lays it out in front of you but because he writes with the proficiency of a wizard. The very first thing that I could think of when I read Palahniuk’s (apart from the fact that I suck at grammar) was Ghosh’s ‘The Shadow Lines’. That book made me sit up and take notice of how fluidly the author makes me imagine the narrator’s position among the many involved in the saga. It makes Tridib come alive and it is not because Ghosh had a very nice physical description of him dancing in front of my eyes.

Tridib was everything that the narrator told me. I picked aspects from every chapter. I loved this particular scene from the book where Tridib tells the narrator how the roof of a particular house was slanting and how flying a kite would be impossible in a house with slanting roofs! This was layering at its best.

It told me a little about the narrator, a little about Aunt Ila’s house and a lot about how Tridib thought about the slanting roofs.

A storyteller and a wordsmith! The guy is simply awesome! I suppose one can be a wizard with words and yet unpack the verbs and be a hell of a story teller.

Anyway, I’m working on my technical skill set assuming it can be learnt at the age of 27 and hoping that it’ll pay dividends when I meet Amitav Ghosh with my published book!

Siddiqui F.

Read Chuck Palahniuk’s awesome article here.

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