How to recreate mythical characters with Amish Tripathi
The god of mythological writing shares his guidelines for Tweak Storyteller
Relegated to story time with nani and Amar Chitra Katha comics from when nineties kids were, well… still kids, it can be argued that mythological fiction came back into mainstream literature all thanks to the efforts of a certain Amish Tripathi, and his Shiva Trilogy — where he showed us all the reasons why Shiva is the coolest God in the pantheon.
Author and Tweak India founder Twinkle Khanna kicked off Episode 1 of our writing workshop: Tweak Storyteller — to help you find your own writing process. For Episode 2, we turned to Amish Tripathi to share what he knows best.
The creator of the Ram Chandra series shares his hacks for effective research, where to look for inspiration and how to uniquely recreate the mythological worlds and characters that we are already familiar with. Pro-tip: Embrace your inner sponge, and yes – travel everywhere to soak up inspiration.
Amish Tripathi on cooking up your own version of a known story
Embrace your inner sponge
“There are two parts to this. One, you have to be like a sponge and you have to keep absorbing. You have to read as much as you can. I read a minimum of at least five-six books a month. Travel a great deal. I travel a lot, especially to places of historical importance. Meet local guides, get a sense of local architecture. All this knowledge goes somewhere in the back of your mind which will then emerge in the book. We don’t create it — the world already exists in a parallel universe and we’ve been given the privilege of recording what we see.”
Focus on your research
“I don’t research for a specific project, I just keep researching all the time. It’s a bit like buying all the possible ingredients for all possible cuisines because I have no idea what dish I will cook. Even if it is unrelated to the book. So my rough ratio of reading to writing is that for every one page that I write, I read at least a hundred pages.
In India, I think, you can write a different interpretation as long as you write it with respect, people are willing to listen to a different point of view. I write with respect because I actually worship the gods and goddesses that I write about. I am not writing as an academic who studies these subjects. Therefore, naturally, you don’t see any controversies around my books.”
Paint a graphic picture
“Most ancient cities were destroyed in invasions, especially in north India. They were all destroyed by the invaders – first, the Turks, then the Britishers. Viijaynagar (in present day Karnataka) is different in that sense because you can actually see the city — it was attacked and sacked but it wasn’t burnt to the ground. The ruins are beautiful, and probably the best meal I’ve had was at this restaurant called Mango Tree. You have to pass through a banana tree plantation to reach the Mango Tree restaurant.
The restaurant was essentially just one room. It was a kitchen right next to the Tungabhadra river. The seating was right on the banks of a river and they had actually cut the banks into steps. You’d sit with your back against one of the steps and they’d put a patta in front of you and a banana leaf on top, and they serve lovely south Indian vegetarian food which didn’t cost more than 12 rupees.
So you can imagine the scene – evening time, Tungabhadra ji river in front of you, beyond that the ruins of Vijaynagar, including temples and lovely architecture and you’re eating awesome, south Indian vegetarian food. It’s divine. That was so deeply imprinted in my mind that I have actually described how that scene was in various parts of my books.
Humanise the characters
“A friend had once come to ask for my advice because she was having a property dispute in the family, and I noticed that whenever she was troubled, almost instinctively her hand would just go up and hold her pendant, and if she was even more troubled, she would hold on to it tighter.
When she calmed down, and relaxed, her hands would open up. She didn’t even notice it. It was just happening instinctively. When I was writing Raavan, that memory was front and centre, and I described Raavan holding a pendant – two finger bones. Whenever he would get troubled, he would hold it. Now these are the kinds of things that make a character real for you.”
Amish Tripathi shares his reading recommendations
- Ashwin Sanghi’s The Vault of Vishnu: A book where history and myth blend to tell the stories of a Pallava prince, Buddhist monk, a Neolithic tribe and more.
- Diplomat and scholar Pavan K Varma’s The Greatest Ode To Lord Ram: “Goswami Tulsidas ji’s wonderful text written in the 16th century. Pavan Varma has taken various couplets from Ramcharitmanas and translated it and given a commentary on it with context so that you get an idea of what that couplet means and the context behind it. It’s a wonderful introduction to the Ramcharitmanas.”
WATCH NOW – Episode 1: Twinkle Khanna kicks off our writing workshop: Tweak Storyteller
At the end of our five-week workshop, we’re inviting budding writers to share their stories with us, and our favourites will be published on TweakIndia.com.
You can email your entries to [email protected] with the subject line: Tweak Storyteller entry