We connected with Ricki Khosla, the author of “Pretty Vile Girl”, on January 4, 2019, to hear his views on “how to write an effective thriller.” Here are the excerpts of our Facebook Live session:
1. What is it that you want to share about your journey of writing a thriller?
A thriller was something that I wanted to write for a very long time but more interesting was the journey to start writing in the first place. It took a lot of experimentation and as a part of my experimentation, I started a blog. Anyone who is interested in writing should try their hand at different types of genres. Let’s not jump into writing thrillers right away. First, experiment with a few things. They may not all be 100% thrillers, they could be a mix of drama and thriller, romance and thriller, but its always good to experiment on a small scale. Therefore, a blog gives you that opportunity and it also gives you the freedom to choose the length of fiction that you want to write. Because you might want to start with short stories. You may want to first dabble with something that is just 5 pages long, perhaps, and see whether you can tell a story. And if a short fiction works then try a longer one and then jump into something lengthier.
2. Tell us about your debut novel, Pretty Vile Girl. How did that concept come into your mind?
I had that subject in my mind and I wanted to write a thriller. My novella was an experiment that had a very international feel to it since it was set in the Nazi era in Germany. But with my full-length novel, I wanted to turn it into a desi, pacy and racy story. I wanted to structure this story the way Sidney Sheldon does with a strong protagonist, mostly a woman, and then turn it into a desi version of my own. It had its own large plot with various other subplots that were inter-connected and led to the main storyline. I also added two very strong male characters who were equally important to the story and threw in an element of politics and Bollywood to make it “desi.”
3. What are the elements needed to make a story a page turner?
The best way to do it is, either you cram the story with a lot of sub-plots, you need to have a lot of action going on. You will have the main storyline, but you will also add other elements or sub-plots connected to the main story because you must have various elements open at all points of time. There need to be distractions in the story, there need to be different characters in the story, you may have a backstory to some of the characters. When you structure a thriller, try to keep it episodic in such a manner that you are telling about one element of a story but as the chapter ends, you end it with a hook. Never leave a chapter dangling. Take it to a culmination point but don’t reveal the ending of the chapter. Let that be revealed in the next chapter. So it is like a chain which is connected but also blocks within themselves too.
4. Many of the writers in our platform are experimenting with pre-form kind of writing from 500 to 5000 words probably. In that scenario, how to go ahead and write a story that is within limited words?
Right-size your plot. If you have a story idea, right-size it before you start writing. Because you may understand that the story has a punch but it cannot be a short story to start with the size it accordingly and take it from there. If you are telling a short story you’ll also end up having fewer characters, so first right-size the idea in your head before you write it down, then break the idea into smaller chunks. So a short-fiction story should not be crammed with too much story.
5. Tell us about your next projects.
There are about 2-3 projects lined up. Out of them, I am toying with an idea of taking my novel ‘Pretty Vile Girl’ to another level though I am still in the process of fleshing it out. I am working on a psychological thriller which can go in 2-3 different directions and I am yet to figure out which direction I would want to take it. I am presently cautiously optimistic about it that it should be done by mid next year.
While we were engaged in some animated conversation, there were a few questions that came from the audience as well:
Piya Gajbe: How to avoid distractions while writing a book so as to consistently write chapters one after another?
You may have to choose what works for you. I know some people put themselves into a regimented routine or go to the hills to find their creativity. Sometimes inspiration strikes but sometimes it does not. So put yourself on some kind of routine and it shall help you. Basically, write when you feel like it.
Rham Dhel: How do you think of your wonderful plots? What do you advise to new writers who are struggling to come with novel and creative plots?
Your plot does not need to be out of the world. I don’t think there are too many stories left to be told but the novelty can be in the way that you approach a simple story. The novel that I wrote has a very typical story, nothing that has not ever been written about, however, the USP was in the way that it was told. The novelty was in the style of narration. So you can experiment in various ways. If you have a novel plot, go ahead and put that pen to paper and even if you don’t try telling it in a way that hits the right notes.
Olinda Braganza: How do you write your antagonist?
Make sure they are not completely black or not so dark that you have no empathy for them. That is my bigger message. If you write your antagonist so dark, people might not care for them. After a point in the story, they might dislike the character so much that no empathy is left for them. Make them distinctly different from the protagonist but don’t lose that thread of empathy.
Dr Deepali: I always have the end of a thriller in mind. And from there I work backwards, which I am unsure is the best approach in writing it, I often wonder.
I had the final milestone in my mind. So keep your milestones in mind that would lead you to the end of the book. You need to know where you are headed.
Piya Gajbe: How much should we put into research while writing? I mean, whether to put facts in place or is a bit of imaginary permissible?
You can be a Dan Brown and put a lot of research in your work. On the other hand, I read a John Grisham book, which was a legal thriller, but in the acknowledgements, the author wrote that everything in the book was completely fiction. You may cook anything up as long as there is not a ring of falseness in it. As long as you can tell a convincing story and not make it completely foolish, go ahead with it.
Divisha Agrawal: How can we write a thrilling story without giving away too much along the way?
You need to put some breadcrumbs all along the way for the readers to be led through the story. As you go along, make your story ominous so the reader expects something odd may happen. Make some minor plot reveals about what might happen in the future chapters in an earlier chapter for them to unveil it in the later ones.
Piya Gajbe: How to connect a mundane sequence to the main plot or the story?
No plot is mundane. If it is important to the plot then it is not. So if it lends to the main idea, so jazz it up and stand by it.
Rham Dhel: What do you think about extremely violent thrillers?
There are people who read and enjoy such thrillers. So who are we to say what kind of thrillers one must read. Everything works, as far as the writer has their own convictions, their own sensibilities. So if it is a compelling story and requires violence to be depicted, go ahead and write it.
Rham Dhel: Do you think writers should write for the public’s liking or they should be bold to express or voice their opinions?
Write a story that you want to read. I wrote 2 books that were diametrically different. So write what you are convinced in. The first person you need to please is yourself. It should be something that you are willing to stand by it all the time. Don’t put a work that is half-baked, which you are not yourself happy with. Make sure that every book that you put out is the best thing that you can do at that point in time.
Rham Dhel: Nothing about writing thriller but I’d like to know the challenges you faced on your way to publication? How many times have you tried before getting published?
I cold called and sent samples to big publishing houses who sat on it for a long time. There was one person who was rooting for it, was so engaged to this one and she forwarded it to another publisher. Then they informed me that some people liked it and some did not. The first draft was too raunchy and they were not sure how to project it in the market. So I had to tone it down and then I approached some publishers through an agent. Three publishers picked it the manuscript but I eventually went with Bloomsbury where I think it is in safe hands.
About the speaker:
Rickie Khosla is the author of ‘Pretty. Vile. Girl.’ (Bloomsbury) a novel published in 2018.
It is a delicious tale of Lust and Lovers, Schemes and Plotters, Power and Players, and of Betrayals and Avengers. In the midst of which is the beautiful, talented and wildly sexy Jazmeen, Bollywood’s new starlet, who must continue to rise and rise at all cost, for it’s the only way to exorcise her past filled with loss, pain, adversity, treachery. And murder.
The book was well received by readers and by reviewers like Femina who found ‘each page (oozing) with delicious drama’ and observing that the reader will be ‘scrambling to finish the book right from page one’. ‘Pretty. Vile. Girl.’ is Rickie’s first full-length novel.
Previously, he has authored an experimental historical fiction novella called ‘The Imperative Subterfuge’ (Amazon).
Rickie is of mixed heritage, with Punjabi and Assamese parentage. He was born in Kolkata, completed his education in New Delhi, and then spent most of his professional life as a market researcher in New York. These days, he is based in Gurugram and divides his time between writing and travelling the world in his corporate avatar. His next book is expected to be out later this year.
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