#Salman Rushdie: 6 writing lessons from the writer extraordinaire

When Indian-born British-American author Salman Rushdie was “taken off the ventilator” and began “talking” a day after he was brutally stabbed at an event in New York, the world breathed a sigh of relief. Meanwhile, earlier on Saturday (August 13), 24-year-old suspect Hadi Matar, accused of attacking Rushdie, pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder and assault, although a prosecutor called it a “premeditated” crime.

Rushdie, often referred to as the ‘dean’ of the magical realism literary genre, came into the limelight when he wrote the classic ‘Midnight’s Children’ (1981), which not only won the prestigious Booker Prize, but also the ‘Booker of Bookers too. Eight years later, however, the fatwa against Rushdie came in the wake of ‘The Satanic Verses’, a death sentence by some Islamic authorities, which threw him into daily danger and consumed years of his life. His latest book ‘Quichotte’ (2019), which was nominated for the 2019 Booker Prize, tells the story of a lovelorn Indian-American man who travels across America in search of a celebrity TV host with whom he has become obsessed.

As the literary world prays for Rushdie’s speedy recovery, we bring you 6 writing lessons from the author extraordinaire.

1. Borrow from real experiences
In his memoir “Joseph Anton” (2012), Rushdie wrote that when he told his father he wanted to be a writer, he shouted “What shall I tell my friends?”. Interestingly, a similar scene appears in the novel ‘The Satanic Verses’, when Gibreel Farishta, one of the main characters, tells his father that he is going to become an actor. This is just one of the many real elements woven into Rushdie’s fiction. They give fiction the bit of truth it needs to be believable. Including parts of a real conversation can bring your dialogue to life.

2. Different characters are about distinctive voices
Rushdie always focuses on the voice. He wrote in the memoir that you need a sense of how people talk to tell their story. The way characters talk reveals a lot about them, their personality and their backstory. Therefore, writers must give their characters voices. While reading passages of character dialogue, readers should be able to tell the difference. Each character should have a different vocabulary, attitude and body language. Therefore, before you write, think about how your characters speak.

3. Research, research, research
Rushdie’s novels are known to take place in a variety of places in the world and in time. And to replicate these settings requires thorough research. In fact, the clearest evidence of his research is the four and a half page bibliography in his 2008 novel “The Enchantress of Florence”! Intimate knowledge of each setting is therefore required, which can be achieved either by visiting there, or by finding details on the internet, blogs, maps and satellite views.

4. How you write = What you write
Rushdie is careful with language and how he uses it to tell his stories. In his novel ‘Fury’ (2001), when the narrator is introduced to the female love interest, he completely loses touch with reality as he describes her: “Extreme physical beauty draws all available light towards itself, becomes a shining beacon in an otherwise darkened the world. Why should one peer into the enveloping darkness when one could gaze upon this friendly flame. Why talk, eat, sleep, work when such brilliance was exhibited?” That’s why it’s important to think and understand what your characters are going through and how your writing can reflect what they’re feeling.

5. Writing is a constant process
In an interview with Vinita Dawra Nangia, Delhi-based writer and managing editor, Times of India, Rushdie revealed that he was always set on becoming a writer. However, it took him almost 13 years to get going. Meanwhile, he also worked as a copywriter, and his first novel ‘Grimus’ (1975) was dismissed by critics. But the one thing he did constantly in the midst of all this was write. From Rushdie’s track record, it can be said that writing is not easy and sometimes the risk is greater than the reward. But there is joy in the creation process.

See the full interview here:

6. The first thing you do every day should be to write
In the same interview with Dawra, Rushdie said, “It’s always been my theory that every day we wake up with some creative energy, and it’s possible to waste it. If you call or answer emails, it’s gone. My vision is always to write first. Everything else can wait.”

Also read: His exuberant and defiant humor remains: Salman Rushdie’s son Zafar Rushdie on his father’s health;
Rushdie off the ventilator and speaking, the day after the attack: Agent

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