Wednesday, May 28, 2008

How to Write a Crime Serial

Second in series of our “How to write a…” posts, we bring you a tutorial on how to write a crime serial. And by “crime serial”, we mean a serial with crime-fighters, and not criminals as protagonists (Elementary, my dear friend).

Now, before starting to write a crime serial, you need to decide what genre you want to visit: Crime/Action or Crime/Comedy (dark humour and unintentional jokes not included). The difference between these two is that the “serious” ones would include a government organization/team, while the “lighter” ones will normally feature an independent “consultant”, with either tense or friendly (sometimes both, with different members of course) relationship with the authority. Of course, given that there can only be co many crime-fighting organizations, you can place protagonist in some auxiliary field (clinical pathologist, psychologist etc.)

Next, if you are going for a government organization, you need a catchy name. After all, EIA1. So, the best way to approach this would be to think of a nice sounding acronym, and then create the name of organization based on that. The name should have some form of C-word in it, or failing that, words like “Special”, “Department”, “Squad2. Oh, one thing before we go on. Most of the three-letter combinations being already in use by now, you will need a four letter acronym.

Of course, your main protagonist needs a crime he wants to solve, but cannot. It can be against his near and dear ones (or at least, or against himself). This gives you plot points for the season finale, and maybe the “driving force” for your protagonist.

Now that you have all the basic things in place, you can go ahead and write the episode. (I know, I know. Too much prep. for a 40 min episode. But you need all this if you want to be back for a second season)

First you will need to decide what kind of crime you want in the episode: Theft or Murder. Theft can be information theft (and espionage), while murder always follows rape. Of course, you can combine these two crimes together, too.

Next thing, how many dead bodies you want to show? The established standard is 1-2 murders in "screen" time. If your props department goes crazy and creates more dead bodies, you will need a serial killer, and the “extra” bodies are previous murder victims.

If there is a person your protagonist (or one of the protagonists) can get attracted to, make sure that the person is either the criminal for the episode, or one of the victims. The only way for the character to avoid either of these fates is to make sure the actor can come back for next (at least a few) episodes.

Romantic attachments between two characters from same team are strictly for second part of last season. A little flirting and "resultant" tension can be introduced any time.

Also, the "team" will lose at least one member in one of the episodes. If the episode is not a season finale, the death will be a faked one, and the person will be back one or two episodes later. A death in season finale is usually permanant, and you will need a replacement for that member from next season.

And finally, here are some ideas for your stories which have stood the test of time:

  • The "team" is exposed to a deadly contagion and has to solve the case before one of them dies or they all can get out of quarantine.

  • The protagonist is (almost literally) "caught red-handed". The only thing is that, she3 is innocent, but cannot prove it because of stress-induced amnesia.

  • The protagonist wakes up in a container buried underground4, along with another person. They have to solve the case before the air runs out.

  • An obsessive "fan" develops (what may or may not turn out to be) a "fatal attraction" for the protagonist.

  • Serial killers are always a good bet, since they can come back for multiple episodes till they finally get shot. Then again, you have copy-cat killers and "apprentices" carrying on the legacy.

So, ready with your deerstalker cap, magnifying glass and pipe? May the "little grey cells" be with you!

- The Great Eagle Has Spoken

P.S. The first chapter in the series: "Anatomy of a Spy Novel".

1. Everything's in Acronym
2. You can sneak in "Wing" if nothing else is working.
3. It is usually a "she".
4. I think there is a redundant word in there, but I am not so sure.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

And That Was A Great Saturday

They say that everything happens for a reason. Missing a bus last week made me catch the metro (which adds 30-40 minutes to my travelling time, and triples the cost), when I saw the poster for Armed Forces Open Day, which included an airshow.

By now you must know that for me an airshow is like offering a chance for an average Indian man to go into the dressing room of Indian cricket team. Or like offering a backstage pass for a VS fashion show to an average teenager. It took me two seconds to find a seat. It took me considerably less time to decide to attend the show.

They say that the best laid plans never survive first contact with morning (I may have been paraphrasing). I saw my "planned" metro leaving the station while still outside. Which meant I was to reach the AFB half an hour later than I intended. But it was worth it.

Spending ages in front of a flight simulator doesn't even come close to seeing the actual fighters. You have to see them up close to see how superb F/A-22 looks. Or how JSF looks. Or a C-130, F-4, Hurricane or Spitfire. Or a Harrier, F-14, cockpit of A-10 and F-16. Or how Blue Angels "perform".

Let's just say that I could not get the end of Blue Angels on ground because I ran out memory card in my camera. This was just one of those times which push me to get an SLR without looking at the price-tag.

Here's just a small sampling of my 6 hours yesterday:

Surprisingly, this was my first airshow, not counting the impromptu show we saw in Hyderabad when Suryakiran team was practising before their Afro-Asian Games performance (the ground is just round the corner from Hyd Infy office).

- The Great Eagle Has Spoken

P.S. The show was also worth the knowledge that I can get sunburned. Ouch!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Anna Vadgaonkar

Those who have been reading this blog for some time will know that one of the things I mourn is that some of the great Marathi books have never been translated in any other language (the main reason I started writing about Marathi books). Keeping that in mind, here's my attempt at translating "Anna Vadgaonkar" from "Vyakti ani Valli" by Pu. La. Deshpande.

Before continuing, be warned that the following post has two big handicaps: One, it is a translation, and two, it is a translation by me. You have been warned:

Anna Vadgaonkar

The class was laughing their guts out. Those listening from outside would have thought that Prof. Vadgaonkar is performing a stand-up act instead of teaching Sanskrit in class. You won't believe it, but he was teaching Kalidas' tragedy, “Ajavilap” (अजविलाप). But this was a normal day for us students. “Wow! गृहिणी सचिवः! How great is Kalidas! How should a wife be? My good fellows, don't laugh, don't laugh. What a tragic scene! Indumati is sprawled on the ground like this. Aja is mourning – मरणं प्रकृतिः – short life my good fellows, short life. Aja is sitting like this -” showing us exactly how Aja is sitting, Prof. Vadgaonkar continued his lecture(?). “Suppose, this table is Indumati. Aja is petting her on the back like this, crying – What a Love! Modern people like you won't understand -”

And his Sanskrit class used to go like this. I learnt Sanskrit from him for two years. Diminutive stature, long yellow coat (like Parsis used to wear), pagdi on head. He always reminded me of the Dipoty (Deputy) who took my third grade's exam. He wouldn't stay on any point more than two-three minutes. But he was extremely passionate about Sanskrit literature. “Take your authors of today- I don't even remember their names – how bad they write. No literature. Consider Baan (बाण), consider Kalidas, Bhavbhuti. Great! Great! My good fellows, they were great!”

He used to teach in multiple languages. The class would start in English, and slowly slip into Marathi. Then he would remember that there are some Gujarati students in class who don't understand Marathi, and, “Oh. What I was telling to these Marathi fellows was... you see my Gujarati fellows,” and back to English. Every three-four words would be followed by “my good fellows”. After every five-ten minutes, would be “not for Gujarati fellows”. And suddenly, “Do you understand, Deshpande? You won't get any other professor with so much passion for teaching. Not just Sanskrit, I teach you English, I teach you about life. Go to any other college, no stuff. Have you seen how that Prof. *** teaches Sanskrit. See my style. I get homogeneous with my teaching. Write down, “homogeneous”. You won't hear such English words anywhere else”. And this would be a normal stuff, too. He would use some multisyllabic English word, and would make us write it down.

Once, He was teaching us “Mruchchhkatik” (मृच्छकटिक). “Oh! How beautiful was our Vasantsena. Not anaemic like her (pointing to a girl in class). Put down “anaemic”. Good word, write it down. So beautiful, even your Greta Garbo would pale in comparison. And how Shudraka has portrayed Shakar... Shakar is the King of Villains! And how that %^&$ (girls blush at this word) Shakar tortures Vasantsena... Pity! Pity! And see our Charudatta. Great! Not like your modern heroes – no butterfly mentality.” I find many such words written down in in our notebooks [rambhoru (रंभोरू)= banana-tree-thighed-one] But even then, students loved Prof. Vadgaonkar. He used to get emotional when talking about “our Shakuntala”, “our Vasantsena”, “our Malavika”. All the students were laughing when he taught us the scene of Shakuntala leaving her home. But he had tears in his eyes. “You are kids. When your daughter leaves your home – great agony. Write down – agony. Correct word.” Everybody in college used to call him “Anna”. Though he tried to act like an angry teacher in class, he would tell everybody during exam, “just scribble something on the paper, so that I can give you 30 marks. If you can't write anything else, just write down Ramraksha. Just don't give me blank paper.”

He used to take students to his house. “Rama, these are my students.” he used to introduce us proudly to his wife.

“Sir, I didn't understand 'Shankarbhashya'. Can you teach me again?” I once asked him.

“You know what... even I don't understand Shankarbhashya.”

I just kept staring at him.

He retired when I entered “Junior” class. All students arranged a send-off for him.

Prof. Vadgaonkar started his speech, “My good fellows...” And he just couldn't continue after that. After just “my good fellows...” he had to sit down.

P.S. More translations will be posted depending on response to this post.