Of murders and unpredictable twists: Author Ravi Subramanian on thriller writing
A look at the top 10 highest-selling "Crime, Thriller and Mystery" writers on Amazon India introduces us to the likes of Agatha Christie, Dan Brown, Sidney Sheldon and James Patterson. The only two Indian writers in the list are Ashwin Sanghi and Ravi Subramanian.
While a larger chunk of Sanghi's works draws upon Indian mythology and targets readers who also read the likes of Amish Tripathi and Devdutt Patnaik, Ravi Subramanian is perhaps the only true practitioner of the art in the Indian "Crime, Thriller and Mystery" space.
A banker by profession, Subramanian has written popular thrillers about banking and bankers, including an award-winning trilogy -- "The Incredible Banker", "The Bankster" and "Bankerupt" -- and is now back with a fast-paced novel, "In the Name of God" (Penguin/ Rs 299/ 405 Pages).
So what are the rules for a successful thriller?
"Have a murder in the first page of the book. It always hooks the reader. Ask a question at the end of the first chapter. Do not reveal too much in the mid-chapters but build on your characters to keep the interest of the reader intact, and end with a powerful twist," was the author's answer during an interview at the IANS office here.
"I can come and kill you but that is not enough. What if after stabbing you I begin to twist and turn the dagger inside your body? It is the final twist which makes a thriller -- 'Oh damn! What a book'."
Subramanian also believes that a thriller is an overall experience. A reader would not want to finish it in 20 days; he wants to read it now and would be happy to finish more chapters in a day.
"So we keep the chapters very short. The reason for that is most people read books before going to sleep and normally they tend to think that I will sleep after finishing a chapter; if you are able to end that chapter on a high note and raise the curiosity of the reader, he is going to turn the pages and see that the next chapter is only three-pages long. And so the pages turn by themselves; without realising it, the reader is almost through 200 pages," he added.
Subramanian clearly practices what he preaches -- there are a whopping 121 chapters in the 400 pages of his latest novel.
On the process of writing, Subramanian said It is a matter of deciding the subject of the book; once he has decided on that, the intuitive writer takes over without a set plot in mind. The plot gradually builds up as more and more chapters keep coming.
"In this book, for instance, even when I had finished 90 per cent of it, I had no idea who the villain was going to be," Subramanian revealed. While this surely lends a layer of unpredictability to the plot of the novel, isn't it a painful task for the writer?
"Of course it is, but it is an advantage nonetheless," he opined. "It's painful because you often have to go back and rewrite a lot of stuff as, when I ultimately decide the villain of the novel, I may have to change something somewhere earlier in the novel. The advantage is that if I do not know who the killer is, there is no way that the reader will have the slightest idea about it."
His latest work is titled "In the Name of God" and previously too, in "If God Was a Banker" and "God is a Gamer", he has used some sort of a reference to God in the title of his books.
The author said that it does not have anything to do with the high that mythological writing is witnessing in contemporary Indian publishing because one look at the cover of the book and you are sure that it has nothing to do with mythology and similar stuff. All events of the latest book happen in the "house of God", the Anantha Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, and it was because of this that he used the word "God" in the title.
"What usually happens in thrillers is that you have a good and a bad guy, everybody doubts the bad guy and ultimately the good one emerges as the villain. But if everybody is grey, how will you pick who the villain? When I, as the writer, reached the end of it, it was only a matter of deciding who was going to be the villain and then making some changes here and there to suit the needs of the plot," he contended.
"In the Name of God" is currently the number one bestseller on Amazon India's "Crime, Thriller and Mystery" category and is expected to draw more readers in the days to come.
The author hoped that thrillers would develop more prominently in the years to come and regretted that many publishers and authors are driven by what he called "market compulsions" that prevent them from considering thriller novels.
(Saket Suman can be contacted at email@example.com)
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