Wednesday, December 4, 2019

IWSG: Making Time & Space, Plus Damyanti Stops By

It's the first Wednesday of December, which means it's time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group, the brain child of Alex J. Cavanaugh.


All are welcome to participate. Just click on Alex's name above, sign up on the list, and post about your writing insecurities. There's a convenient optional question in case you're just not sure what to say, but want to take part.

Thank you to this month's co-hosts!

Be sure to visit, Alex, the co-hosts, and some of the other participants, so you can meet some new folks!

Last month was busy, and this month is shaping up to be the same. To get back to previous writing levels, I'm trying to guarantee myself one solo writing date out of the house per week at a local cafe, plus a writing date with friends, hopefully also once per week. A guaranteed two days per week is all I can do right now, but I get a ton done when I make the time. 

My office had also become crammed full and messy due to having to move things to have windows put in. Plus, I came off several appearances, and had just shoved my stuff from each engagement into the office and hastily packed what I needed each time. I find I avoid my office when it gets in a messy state like this, because it overwhelms me. I freeze up, because I feel like I can't get anything done until I clean/tidy it. I've now tidied it up, and am looking forward to getting back in there.

So my insecurities this month involved making time and making space. Now that I've completed that, I'm optimistic about getting some writing done!

Now that we've discussed my insecurities, I've got a guest post from Damyanti, delayed from what was to have been an earlier posting. It's about writing crime fiction, and her journey to publishing You Beneath Your Skin.



On Amazon USA: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07X8WCKH6/
It is not easy for me to speak about my journey into fiction, because I never imagined I’d be a writer. And ten years ago, if you’d have asked me if I’d be a crime writer I would have laughed.

I’d started writing by then, but I thought I would write realistic, literary stories.

Always been a compulsive reader—it is hard for me to survive without reading—even on days I don’t have time to eat or sleep—I read a little, of something. It is mostly reflex action. One of the reasons I write fiction is because I’m insatiably curious, and curious about people. Reading does not always satisfy this curiosity. I want to know what makes people tick, to figure out why humans do the mundane and extraordinary things they do. In my writing, my effort is to render the mundane extraordinary, and to examine the unusual and make it familiar.

Stories come to me from characters and my urge to understand them-- and in so doing, in a curious, intangible way, to understand myself.

Some of my first crime stories began as attempts to make sense of human nature—I wrote about a voyeur first, ( we had a voyeur in our neighbourhood) and then another story about an unrequited lover avenging the death of the woman he’d been devoted to. Yet another was a traditional woman, a forensic expert, who realised that the long-distance online relationship she’d been having was with a fraud, who’d been cheating her for money. She avenges this by shooting him and burying him in her backyard. I proceeded to write about a husband taking care of his moribund wife—we do not know if he mercy-kills her in the end, but we suspect it.

The turning point came with reading In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. This was literary writing, but it described horrors we humans are capable of. It made me think of writing about the characters who had haunted me over the years. Anjali, specifically. And she appeared in Delhi, a city I’d spent many years of my life in, and one rather infamous for crimes against women. As the novel evolved, and I worked with Julia Bell, my mentor from Birkbeck University, I realised I had a crime novel on my hands.

I studied under various tutors, understood POV and characterization, plotting and dialogues, and the novel kept changing shape and size, morphing into the being it is today.

Engaged in telling the best story I could, I found acid attack as a plot point, and being the obsessive sort of person I am, I wanted to meet at least one acid attack survivor before I wrote the draft. That changed many things, because having met acid attack survivors, heard their stories and held their hands, it was impossible to turn back. I was still writing a crime novel, but you cannot reduce horrific pain and devastation into plot devices—you must either write about them exclusively, or if they fit into your story, write about them with the greatest respect and as much authenticity as possible.

Book Launch with Acid Attack Survivors

This is how You Beneath Your Skin came about. The framework is of a crime thriller, and it can be read as one. But my years of supporting Project WHY has somehow trickled through—the alleyways I’ve visited, the people I have met there. The acid attack survivors and their pain has seeped into the story as well, and all my proceeds of the novel go to Stop Acid Attacks and Project WHY.

Writing a crime novel, here’s what I have learned:
  • Characters are everything. Many readers have written to me about how much they cared about the characters, how pleased or disappointed they were for these fictional people—Anjali, Jatin, Maya, Pawan, Nikhil. How the novel stayed with them. So I believe characters must be 4-dimensional, unique, independent beings.
  • Setting. No one thinks of New Delhi as a cold place, but it gets close to freezing in winters. For the last few years smog has been a huge issue—New Delhi now has the dubious distinction of being the world’s most polluted city. All that grime and dark lent well to You Beneath Your Skin. When writing crime novels—whether cosy or hard-boiled or literary, the setting needs to be a character, and be used for the plot. In You Beneath Your Skin, the smog and traffic become effective blocks against the protagonists.
  • Motivations are important. Whether you’re writing a traditional whodunit, or a literary whydunit like my novel you must know what motivates each one of your characters. Who is doing what is important, but the novel becomes stronger if the reader knows why they’re doing it.
  • Pace is crucial. Not imposed pace, but pace that comes from all the story questions raised. Each chapter must end on a story question or a revelation that leads to more questions. The plot must follow this path: Incident> Insight> Decision> Consequences> Insight> Decision> Consequences.
  • You can’t be didactic. You Beneath Your Skin raises many issues, but that’s because New Delhi is a very complex city and all the issues are part of its fabric. In a crime novel, story trumps everything—if you raise issues, they should be a corollary of the story, not its main thrust.
  • Research. Make your novel as real as possible. If the details are right, the reader sinks into a fictive dream, believing all of that happens in the story is real. That’s what you need in order to keep them turning the pages.


Writing crime fiction is not for everyone, but it can be a very rewarding experience. It leads to tons of fascinating research, a deep insight into human nature and the thrill of creating scenes that lead neatly from one to the other.



About the author: Damyanti Biswas lives in Singapore, and supports Delhi's underprivileged women and children, volunteering with organisations who work for this cause. Her short stories have been published in magazines in the US, UK, and Asia, and she helps edit the Forge Literary Magazine. She has recently been shortlisted for The Fay Khoo Award in Penang, Malaysia.

You can find her on her blog and twitter.  

Her debut literary crime novel is an Amazon bestseller, and all the author proceeds from You Beneath Your Skin will support the education and empowerment of women at Project WHY and Stop Acid Attacks.

What about you? Do you read or write crime fiction? What kind of crime novels do you read or write? Why or why not?

What are your insecurities this month? Do you find that a mess keeps you from writing?

40 comments:

  1. I haven't read a lot of crime fiction lately, but this one sounds intriguing because of the acid attacks. I'll bet meeting and talking to the actual survivors really helped develop the characters and the plot.

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    1. It did help a lot Tamara. In case you decide to pick up YBYS, do let me know what you think of it.

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    2. This does sound like something different that stands out. I've got my copy, but haven't gotten to read it yet.

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  2. I feel the same way regarding a super messy office. It makes me want to turn and run the other way. I've straightened mine out a bit since NaNo so hopefully that will help clear the clutter in my mind, too.

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    1. Good Luck and I hope you carry it over to 2020 as well.

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    2. I hope you've found a bit more mental freedom to get some writing done!

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  3. My office is quite a mess too. I have plans to get a huge shelf and organize next year. I did my living room this year. Next room! Have a terrific holiday season and here's to a great 2020 for all of us. :)

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    1. Good luck organizing your office! I've been purging my entire home. We've taken several Jeep loads to a donation site. It feels so good.

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  4. Shannon, I hope you find your office again.
    Damy, acid attack seems so horrible. It was probably very moving to talk to survivors.

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    1. It was an experience that no one can actually put into words perfectly. Something to be experienced only.

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    2. Ha! I did, thank you. It's in much better shape, and I'm getting stuff done now.

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  5. I read true crime from time to time, but never crime fiction. I'm not opposed to it, I just never got around to looking into it for books that grab me.

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    1. Do suggest some of the true crime books/stories that have stuck with you over the years.

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    2. I just got Devil in the White Castle, and am looking forward to reading it. Damy, Anne Rule's books are well done, and all true crime. She even has some that are collections of shorter stories of true crimes.

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  6. I'm the same way about a messy space - so glad you got things organized and now feel ready to write again!
    Congrats to Damyanti! I've heard great things about her book.

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  7. I've been avoiding my writing office the last weeks for that same messy reason. Congrats to Damyanti! And I love the idea of one day at the café to write. Hope it works!

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    1. I hope you've gotten your office friendlier to writing and being productive.

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  8. People that can write about the horrors humans can do are some tough writers. I'm way too optimistic I guess.

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    1. Writers hold up mirrors to humanity.

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    2. I think writing holding up a mirror to something so horrendous is amazing!

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  9. I agree that having a relatively tidy office leads to more writing time. I've not experimented yet with writing in a different place -- unless we're on the road. Then laptop and a corner work just fine. Re crime fiction, thank you, Damyanti for sharing your experiences in writing about acid attacks against women, a horrific challenge for both understanding the why and what can be done to prevent such attacks. I appreciate fiction that tackles serious issues and applaud your work. This kind of writing can be difficult for readers, though. Thank you also for sharing tips, especially about your characters and how readers care for them. I agree: this is key!

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    1. If you get plenty of writing done at home, there's no reason to go elsewhere, but it can be a nice treat every once in a while, too!

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  10. Thank You for hosting me Shannon! Loved being here.

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    1. It was my pleasure! I look forward to reading the book, which I now have in my grubby little hands.

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  11. Hope you achieve all you hope for in the new decade 🤗

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  12. I like an unclutter office too. Happy Holidays.

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  13. I'm actually currently revising a murder mystery I wrote. Congratulations Damyanti!

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  14. If you plan accordingly, then you can accomplish quite a bit in those guaranteed two days a week.

    You Beneath Your Skin is an amazing story with an important message. Congratulations to Damyanti! I love her writing.

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    1. I have definitely been getting things done on those dedicated days!

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  15. I think that's an excellent point about the messy office being paralyzing. I've been feeling that way about the whole house (as we have been moving in very slowly).

    Damyanti--great guest post, and some wonderful insights about the book.

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    1. Oh yes, the whole house being messy does the same thing to me. I hope you can get everything a bit more moved in so you don't feel quite so paralyzed.

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