Guest Author: Maria Chaudhuri
One of the comments I often hear in reference to my recently published memoir Beloved Strangers is, ‘Oh your life must’ve been really interesting if you felt compelled to write about it.’ This is one of the popular misconceptions that block young writers from writing the stories they really want to write. Life itself is neither interesting nor boring. It is a series of events that happen to us. It is one’s response to these events that give life any meaning at all. From a writer’s perspective, the art and craft of writing lies in presenting this ‘response’ in as rich, as evocative and as engaging a manner as possible. The simplest plot can have great impact if the storytelling taps deep into the reader’s heart and mind. The most complex of plots can fail to have much impact if the craft of storytelling falls short of the nuances and intricacies that every reader hopes for when they pick up a book.
I would encourage every young writer to shift some of their focus on creating a plot to reflecting more on their own response to the plot and to see if that might set the story apart from others or touch a special chord with the reader. For example, there may be a touching story about a cancer patient who goes through great pain and difficulties – rendering much sympathy in the reader and rightfully so – and this will make for the agonizing tale that it is. But a similar story about a cancer patient who finds his illness liberating because he can now do whatever he wants in the short time left may spark less sympathy but more intrigue in the reader’s mind. The plot of a story – i.e. the actual events – is just a framework. The flesh and blood comes from the author’s treatment of this framework.
I hope that I was able to do some of that through Beloved Strangers. It is not a story of great events or feats or mystery. Rather it is a story of how everyday things change the very foundation of our beings, how words and actions can make us feel homeless, how the most beloved people in our lives can seem like total strangers. I wanted the reader to see and acknowledge that pain, reflection and reformation can come in many forms and in many ways. There are people who feel rootless and unconnected without having to live on the streets and it is possible to feel unloved and misunderstood by even those who have your best interest at heart. If you truly believe in something, anything, then give it expression and it will come alive. Don’t wait for the perfect story to come to you. Simply wait to feel perfectly strongly about the stories that do come to you.
About the Author:
Maria Chaudhuri was born in Bangladesh and lived there till the end of her high school years. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and Religion from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. Post-college, Chaudhuri moved to New York for work, while studying Screenwriting and Feature Writing at New York University. A lot of her writing focuses on personal experience, especially drawn from the perspectives of being a Bengali woman living in both Bangladesh and abroad and as a person who has never been able to call one place ‘home’.
In 2009, Chaudhuri received her MFA in Creative Writing at Goddard College in Vermont, where she studied creative nonfiction and started working on a memoir that spans her experiences of growing up in the bustling metropolis of Dhaka and then returning to live there after many years. She has had essays, features and short stories published in various collections, journals and literary magazines. She currently lives and writes in Hong Kong.