When Himmat talks, his work and life seem inextricably entwined. It is the work of a writer to separate these two strands, tell two distinct stories, and yet connect them as and when needed. Art that he creates today, is often inspired from something he saw or heard decades back.
How does one decide the tone and voice of a book? In such cases, the text must reflect the spirit and personality of the artist. In this case, it was a deeply philosophical, creative, yet young at heart and thoroughly modern personality. The text has to explain the work and build an image of Himmat in the reader’s mind.
If the writer’s individual style dominates too much, it dilutes a reader’s understanding of the artist. It is the writer’s responsibility to make sure that the book allows Himmat’s voice to come through clearly. Writing involves expressing your own thoughts in words. In this book, we were expressing another person’s thoughts in words. Himmat has a unique and whimsical way of putting things across, and we used some of his statements as quotations to support the text.
How does one want to tell the story of a person’s life? Are we looking at his life through the lens of his work, or the lens of his personal life, or the lens of a philosophy? To answer this question one has to first answer these primary questions:
1) Why are we creating this book?
2) Who is going to read this book?
Once you have a clear answer to both these questions, you’ll know how you want to tell the story.
Then again, there is the all-important question of time. Do you want to start in the present day and move to the past? Do you want to tell the story chronologically, as it happened? Do you want to ignore time, and narrate events in the order of their importance?
Finally, are you going to tell this story in the first, or third person? We experimented with both these narratives before we settled on the third person. The first person narrative narrowed the point-of-view, and gave too much importance to Himmat the person, which he did not want. The third person narrative allows for better work descriptions.
All these decisions are influenced by the answers to the two primary questions I mentioned earlier. Before writing, one has to have the structure of the book in place. This includes the chapter, sub-chapters and any other sections. The structure is the skeleton, which lends support to the entire body. Embarking on a book without this is like heading into the Amazon alone without a compass, map or tent. You aren’t likely to come out of there alive. It is essential to have this structure at the back of your mind at all times.
The structure also guides the graphic designer, and keeps the designer and writer on the same page (quite literarily). In this case, the book was visual in nature. A rough sequence of the photographs was decided first, and the text was written later. Sometimes, the text is written first, and photographs are plugged in later. It all depends on the nature of the book.
Once you’ve got some clarity, you simply have to put your fears behind you, the paper in front of you, and start writing!
In my next post, I’ll talk about the process of writing, and the final proofreading and signing off on the content.