Diaries Magazine

The Perils of a Modern Writer

Posted on the 19 October 2015 by C. Suresh
You possibly think that these classical writers of the past were real geniuses. They had it easy, I tell you. All they had to do was to concentrate on their story and, presto, they were done and lauded. If they had been born in this connected world, life may not have been all that easy for them.
There you are, sitting and writing a nice little humorous piece and you introduce a character called the "Bishop of Bongo-Wongo" and put in a couple of quips into his conversation. If you are lucky, someone will only find that there is no Bongo-Wongo anywhere in the world, and tell everyone over social media that your geography is more fictitious than your story. If the fates really have it in for you, there will be a Bongo-Wongo; someone will put up the detailed statistics about its population; a pie-chart showing the percentage of people following each religion; and the fact that the lone Christian in the place has to trudge some twenty miles to Pongo-Longo to even see a church, leave alone one that requires a Bishop. Worse still would be the other guy, who picks up your quips and finds them against the cultural mores of Bongo-Wongo and, in no time, you will be pilloried from Twitter to Whatsapp as a racist, second only to Hitler. I bet P.G.Wodehouse never had to think of these things.
Or, maybe, you have been writing a nice little spy thriller. Your protagonist has traveled to some exotic locale - like, say, Bulandshahar - to get some information about the nuclear bomb that someone is smuggling in a suitcase to set off under the White House. You write something like "Jack whizzed past the Shivaji roundabout and turned left towards his hotel". Nice bit of local color, just to show it was not happening in the good old US of A. What ensues? There is someone on twitter who quips "Was Jack riding Pegasus? The only way to whiz past that roundabout is to fly, because of a flyover that has been 15 years in the making." And, with your luck, that will be the chap whose every word is a witticism to his followers and every sentence sends half the world into paroxysms of laughter. So, just because of some local color (Local color! Bah!) your edge-of-the-seat spy thriller becomes the laughing stock of the world. Do you really think Ian Fleming had to suffer this?
Then there is that other thing. Do you really think that, when Shakespeare wrote the love story of a boy from one warring family and a girl from the other in 'Romeo and Juliet', he was met with a chorus of 'cliched story'? Of course not. Those guys were happily operating in virgin territory and could write anything. And they did. Now that they have rung every change on the 'Boy meets girl' theme, there is hardly anything left to write that does not evoke the ridicule of its being cliched. The only way to avoid it would probably be to write a 'Boy AND girl love hermaphroditic alien' story.
Do not get me started on the English. If a writer were to spell 'humor', the English want to send him back to kindergarten to learn his spelling. If he spelled it as 'humour', the Americans think it is odd. If he uses 'lorry' in one place and 'truck' in the other, everyone thinks his English is quaint. It is getting so difficult that you are never sure which is an acceptable synonym and which will dub your English incorrect. I soon anticipate a situation where writers will be pilloried for misspelling 'hv' as 'have' and 'gr8' as 'great'. Bill Shakespeare had it easy - he practically made up words on the spot on quite a few occasions and got away with it.
So, now there is so much research that the author has to do - "Is that dress that I mention on page 20, worn by a walk-on character, appropriate to that time and place? Is the make of car that the protagonist sees as he is crossing the road something that was brought out later?....." AND so much political correctness to check for - "Did my protagonist, by any chance, say or do something that may be seen as disrespectful of a cow? Does any character, in any way, sound racist...as in saying that white people prefer their curry milder?...." that it is a wonder that he eventually gets around to actually plotting a story. (Or, should it be 'She'?)
AND you people seem to think modern writers have it easy!
P.S : In my humorous pseudo-history of marketing management - A dog eat dog-food world, I neatly got around the population stats issue and the flyover issue by setting my tale in an imaginary, unnamed but not fantasy land. As for the English, it is certain that, at least one half of the world will find it quaint or...what's that catch-phrase...'written by someone who is not a native speaker of English'. I cannot gainsay that, anyway, since I really am not a native speaker of English. And, the one thing I am sure about is that it will take a long search through the annals of world literature to be able to call it cliched. So there, I too belong to the foolhardy clan of writers.
P.P.S: If there is no Shivaji roundabout in Bulandshahar OR no flyover in the Shivaji roundabout, I do not want to know. I belong to the Isaac Asimov school of thought - "If you find anything wrong in what I have written, you can keep it. I do not want it." :)

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