Cliches and curry: Writing fiction in Pakistan

A novelist must entertain every shred of doubt without being weighed down by it. It's not easy!

Taha Kerar February 16, 2011
As an aspiring novelist, I have found it increasingly important to understand the literary merits of contemporary fiction in Pakistan.

This entailed a thorough investigation of genre, themes, stylistic elements and above all, the implementation of creative ideas.

The purpose of examining these features is not to understand what standard is expected or what is being read. On the contrary, the intention of this exercise is for novelists to determine how this standard and readership can be diversified through their literary contribution.

The challenge

I began writing a novel when I was  seventeen. After two years of constant labour, I set the manuscript aside and started thinking about how it could perfected.

Armed with these doubts, I chose to examine the works of renowned literary fiction novelists in Pakistan. I had three motives in mind:

a)     I wanted to explore the themes being addressed in fiction

b)    I wanted to understand the different ways in which ideas were executed

c)     I wanted to analyse writing styles

My focus turned inevitably to the following best-selling novels:

Mohammad Hanif’s clever concoction

I picked up The Case of Exploding Mangoes, a political thriller based on the plane crash that killed General Zia. The theme presented in the novel was of immense socio-political relevance and the ideas were portrayed with tactful restraint. More significantly, the journalistic style of writing added a measure of clarity and elegance.

Upon completing the novel, I returned to my manuscript and found some interesting political undertones that could be tapped. However, I was certain that I would not allow the anathema of politics to influence my work too strongly.

What I intended to write was a character-driven novel. I wanted the psychological confusions of my characters to surpass the need for a political commentary. Hence, I chose to strike a feasible balance between the two.

Adding to my confusion

My second book was Ali Sethi’s The Wish Maker. Written in an unaffected tone, the novel boasts an absorbing simplicity of style and an original plot. I was so impressed with the narrative that I was compelled to discuss the work with friends and family. This, in itself, proved to be quite an ordeal since people had mixed feelings about the book. Some thought the style to be unreasonably dull whilst others were captivated by its minimalism.

These mixed feelings put me in quite a muddle about my own narrative. What style was preferred by readers?

Could content and style be negotiated at will?

When I came across H M Naqvi’s Home Boy, these questions grew stale. For the first time ever, I realised the risks associated with writing a novel. Content, style and implementation weren’t fixed categories. They could be separated at will and re-integrated at the writer’s discretion.

Similarly, Home Boy, which explored a rather clichéd theme, was perhaps the most intelligently written book on the terrorist attacks in New York simply because it involved many risks where these factors were concerned.

Unfortunately for me, these questions acquired an unnecessary resurgence when I came across Khadija Khan’s The Mind of Q.

Written by a young novelist, the book revived my fears of taking risks when writing. But in all earnest, it did manage to get me permanently hooked on my own manuscript.

Now, after over two months of extensive self-editing, I still find the manuscript incomplete and unfit for reading.

I guess this is the biggest challenge of being a budding novelist. One wants their work to be well-above-standard, different, inspirational and, at most, perfect.
Taha Kerar A blogger on social events and has previously worked as Assistant Editor for a media magazine. He is currently pursuing Law Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies. He tweets @TahaKehar.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Saba | 13 years ago | Reply Being a writer myself and struggling with similar doubts, I have only one advise for you that you need to keep going without over-stressing yourself that whether your book will ever make a hit or not. It takes years and years of reading and writing to achieve the spark in your writing that would ultimately make you stand in the line of writers who are paid enough to make it a source of livelihood for themselves. Your work will be criticized no matter how good you are. All the great writers had a shaky start, encountering dejection after dejection. Many of the bestsellers were actually turned down initially. So, just keep writing. Even if you don't like what you write, (a writer is never sure of his writings and that is what helps writers to grow and mature) you might want to share it with someone who is close to you and is an avid reader. It is always good to use a reader's advise too.
Raqib Ali | 13 years ago | Reply Don't follow others... try to live some aspects of the lives of your characters and put that experience in words. Rome was not built in a day. Trying to make your first novel Booker winner may add only stress, rather it should be an enjoyable experience.
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