We are so excited to welcome our newest contributor to Writer Unboxed – Rheea Mukherjee! Rheea is the author of The Body Myth, which is releasing this month from Unnamed Press. Rheea is the co-founder of Write Leela Write, a design and content laboratory in Bangalore, India. You can connect with Rheea at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.
I spent the first fifteen years of my life thinking I was quite stupid because I didn’t do well academically. It took as many years to rewire this thinking and understand how wide the spectrum of intelligence is. It took even longer to identify my own intelligence on that spectrum, which happened to be emotional intelligence. This is precisely why I’ve added quotes to the word ‘smarter’ in the title of this blog.
When I started writing my novel, The Body Myth, it quickly became apparent that Mira, the protagonist, had a certain bookish intelligence that I did not possess. Mira had read a wide variety of dense philosophical books and could link historic dates and anecdotes to present-day issues. The memory of everything she read was living and breathing and on the tip of her tongue. I panicked when it dawned on me that Mira was way smarter than I could ever be. While I had the same curiosity she had, especially about the past in context to war, oppression, feminism, and culture, I hadn’t read as fastidiously as she had, nor did I have the ability to connect the dots of the past or explain philosophical ideas and theory to a layperson.
How do we write characters that are different from us intellectually? Here’s what I did to create a character that was smarter than me, or rather had a capability that was very different from something I possessed. While the jury is still out on my success, I certainly learnt a lot about what a writer is capable of and tested my own preconceived limitations.
Study the conviction you have in your character
I didn’t make Mira smarter than I was just because I wanted a challenge. The story demanded it. Her trauma manifested as a need to validate the world through intellectualism. Her cynicism and emotional instability emerged from this form of validation. Once I knew this, I realized I had to put myself in her shoes. I also knew that it would be an artificial process for me, but one that had to flourish authentically on the page. All this to say: allow your story to demand a character’s abilities and worldview first and then research accordingly.
Prepare to temporarily rewire your brain
My process of rewiring my own mind took about 2 months. This was a period of time I filled a thick notebook with handwritten notes. I watched youtube videos on philosophy and history for hours. I read articles, processed names and dates, and jotted down eras and influencers of certain time periods. In order to soak in the information I was hearing or reading online and in print, I had to write it down. For these two months I was another person, a person who could read and listen to subject matter I would not have had the patience to go through on a regular basis. I reread my notes everyday, letting the information sink in while simultaneously wondering how Mira would use this information to build her world view.
Ditch most of your research and new knowledge as you write [Read more…]