This week: Gaps in the DescriptionEdited by: Thankful Sonali WDC POWER!
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This newsletter arises from a family incident which was on our whatsapp group recently.
I only know it from a short message there, I hadn't heard it before, and I haven't asked for more since.
I wondered how many (Or how few) details make a full, dramatic story.
Forty-five years ago, in the city of Mumbai (then Bombay), in India, my eldest cousin got married.
Her only sibling, a younger sister, was, as can be imagined, dressed up to the hilt. It being a big occasion, the eldest grandchild in a well-known family getting married, the younger sister being the next in line, and having a natural affinity and liking for dressing up, no effort or expense was spared in her appearance.
Accordingly, she had on a glittering red saree, much jewellery on her head (on which there was some fake hair to enhance her own pretty locks) and more jewellery on her ears, neck, wrists, ankles, with sparkling high-heeled shoes to complete the picture. Lipstick, blush-on, mascara, eye-shadow embellished the angular facial features and, as is usual on these occasions, elaborate designs of 'henna' (mehendi) adorned the palms, going up to the slender elbows.
This description is of the bride's sister.
I haven't described the bride because she doesn't actually feature as a character in our story. The setting is her wedding (well, mostly), but that's about it.
So what's our story about?
Our story is about something forgotten.
What was forgotten?
The truth is, I don't actually know. All I know is, something was forgotten. The whole family had reached the venue, in a procession of cars, when someone gasped 'Where's the ...?' and someone else gasped back 'I had left it on the table, didn't you bring it?' and there was confusion because it was an important part of the ceremony that was to follow.
Someone had to go back home and get it.
There being no one else who would recognise the thing, the younger sister was deputed for the job. Hurry back and get it, before it was missed.
Yes, yes, anything to make her sister's wedding a success.
Car. Which car? Who had the keys to the car?
Anyone who had any keys to any car seemed to be out of earshot. This was before mobile phones. The only available car keys were that of the big, open, ten-seater jeep.
Those on the streets of Bombay that day were treated to the sight of a rather overdressed woman driving determinedly at twice the allowed speed limit (there wasn't much traffic then, in fact, the roads were almost empty) in a giant rattletrap. Even she, though she was focused on her task, was aware of the stares she was getting.
Well, there you have it.
This is a true family story. And this is honestly all I know, that she was all dressed up and rode the jeep back home at top speed to get the thing that was needed. Some details, I've added -- I don't know whether her saree was actually red, and I don't know what shoes she wore. Maybe I should've put in some sort of fancy hand-bag to complete the picture.
Now, different people have different ideas about what creates dramatic effect. About which details you need to give, and which you need to leave out.I hope I've managed to relate the anecdote with reasonable dramatic effect.
What could I have added? Plenty! Here are some examples:
1. The bride -- her response to the thing that was forgotten, and her bond with her sister, urging the younger one to hurry and get the item.
2. A description of the venue - What she had to run past and the car park she traversed to get to the jeep.
3. The wedding guests and their reaction to all this.
4. A further description of the jeep, with its troublesome starter.
5. The item - what it was and why it was so significant in the ceremony. (The story wasn't really about the item, as I claimed it to be, but I couldn't say what it was really about, at that point!)
6. How it ended (I actually don't know, I'd have had to make that up or email my cousins and ask)
And a whole lot more things. For some people, some of these would've enhanced the drama of the story, others would've reduced it. Some folks might be disappointed at the lack of some detail, it might spoil the whole story for them.
So -- does drama depend on what the writer writes, what the reader wants to know, or how the reader fills in these gaps? I've often had reviewers tell me that they couldn't enjoy my story properly because of some detail I had left out -- which I had thought irrelevant to the telling. In this case, it was important to me that my second-oldest cousin was all dressed up and speeding through the streets in a huge vehicle, in a society where women were only just being accepted behind the wheels under ordinary circumstances (there, I hadn't said that before, had i?)
Should I have told you more of some other aspect, and less of something I did tell you? Should I have told you more, altogether?
Is it a dilemma we'll ever solve?
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