By: Keyur Seta
Art goes beyond boundaries. In other words, the geographical difference between two people ceases to exist if they share the same passion towards the same art. This was proved right once again yesterday at the literature festival Tata Literature Live when the well-known Israeli thriller author Liad Shoham shared useful tips for writing a thriller/ mystery story to a group of aspiring authors.
Shoham is an advocate who got into writing accidentally. Hence, he has no qualms in labeling himself as ‘The Accidental Writer’. It was his wife who encouraged him to pursue writing by meeting people and editors when he was hesitant. So, naturally, he gives a good amount of credit to his wife and advises, “You should keep talking to people and if your wife asks you to do something, just do it.”
Likewise, Shoham displayed his sense of humor throughout the session. These are the important advises he had for budding thriller writers in his own words:-
Follow your heart: Write about things you are interested in. Other people will care about your story only if you care. In my last three books, I have described social problems through thrillers.
Enlighten: It is very important to know everything about your subject. Of course, you should entertain the audience, as that is the motto of thrillers, but at the same time you can also teach or enlighten your readers. For one of my novels, I went to places in Israel were African immigrants live. I also met police officers and UN officials.
Authenticity: I once wanted to kill a person at the start of my novel. I came to know from someone that a person in some hospital knows this. So I met that guy and straightaway said, “I want your help in killing somebody.” Naturally he was shocked!
Just listen: It is not necessary to do extensive research. Just listening to people is enough. So my family members and relatives go away from me when they speak because they know I will steal from their talks. I have stolen stories that way (laughs). One close friend told me how he proposed his wife. He made me promise that I won’t use it in my novel. But later I used it. He didn’t mind as he is my close friend. But once his wife called me up at 3 am expressing her displeasure for it.
Characters: After research, the most important thing is to shape your characters. Characters evolve the story by themselves.
All important climax: I don’t always know the end of my story. Sometimes, the general idea of the story becomes different due to the characters. You wish to advance the plot in certain way but your characters take it elsewhere due to their nature. So you don’t need to know the ending always. I use real characters but I don’t copy them. They go through a lot of changes.
Minimizing errors: Thrillers are bound to have loopholes. So you should give your book to people you trust before getting it published so that they can point out errors.
Don’t fear: Don’t be afraid to be bold thinking what if someone gets upset. Once my editor told me, “When people write about sex, they think of their mother.” (confused laughter followed this). “They think, what will our mother and aunt think while reading this?” My mother said she skips the sex part in my novels. So I asked her, how she knows when it ends? She answered, “Your father tells me that.”
Be original: Some authors re-write American novels into Israeli. But that doesn’t work as there is a huge difference between both countries. Our detectives don’t drink whisky and people don’t disappear here as it is a small country. Due to the second reason, we also can’t show a character travelling from one city to another.
Be domestic: When your story is more domestic, it becomes more international. People will understand you are more attached to your story and there is more realism. For example, we can’t show bank robberies in Israel because it seldom happens and the robbers would be stuck in traffic. Similarly, there are also no serial killers.
Believability: Write stories people can believe. In Israel, there was a President who used to rape girls in his office. Although this is real, you can’t show it as it sounds unbelievable.
Surprise element: You should surprise the readers by showing them possibilities they thought could never happen. So I feel being a thriller writer is like being an engineer; you should know the start and ending but work your way in between.