Lessons / Notes from The Shawshank Redemption

I recently saw the film and I decided to read the original short story by Stephen King on which the book is based. And I made notes alongside and I tried to think of Nidhi’s story while reading it. Here are some notes that I made while I was doing so. Might be of interest to some of you.

Oh, this assumes that you are aware of the Shawshank as a story. If you are not, a quick glance to the wikiedia page would bring you upto speed. And if you were to watch just one more movie in the rest of your life, please go see Shawshank. It’s that good. Not just me, but all those people on IMDB agree as well, for it tops the list of best movies made. Ever.

So coming back, here are the notes.

  • Make the story interesting enough for someone to want to read the next line. Nidhi’s story is similar to Andy’s. Not the jail and other things but the one before that. A society girl, a pro sportsman and an estranged husband. King took less than 6 pages to paint such a vivid picture of the story that I want to continue reading it even after it is over. I, on the other hand expect to take about 300 pages to narrate it. And I am assuming that someone would actually sit for all the hours it takes to read 300 pages and finish reading the story.
  • Create interesting side plots. Apart from Andy’s story, there are a million simple little side plots in the story that are stories in themselves (Red’s story, the guy who smuggled his coin collection in prison and hid it somewhere, the clerk from the store that testifies against Andy, Jake the pigeon, the boss at Foodway etc.). Nidhi’s story on the other hand, is as flat, simple, straight, plain, bland as they come. Would one single long bland story interest readers? I dont know. I will find out though.
  • Dialogues. The dialogues are as amazing as they come. They are preachy, insightful and yet made up of simple words that I and other common folk would understand and comprehend. For Nidhi, I am not relying on a lot of dialogues but it would be nice to have some. I will have to work on it. I will do it.
  • Analogies (“every one of those seven has an ass as hard as the water drawn up from a mineral-spring well”, “the pigeon was just as dead as a turd”, “cockroach on a wedding cake”) etc. King seems like a master of these. I dont think I can cook such things. I dont think I have a vivid enough imagination to think of how to compare a prisoner who has broke out of prison to a cockroach on a wedding cake. Thankfully I dont really have any prisoners in Nidhi’s story but there are more than one shady characters. I need to get creative and start seeing a lot more cake shops, turds, mineral-spring wells. You get the drift I think.
  • Narrative. I need to get creative with simple objects and make the narrative better. King calls a ten dollar note, a picture of Alexander Hamilton. I later found that Hamilton is one of those former presidents of the US and graces the ten dollar bill. The way Gandhi does most of our bills. I could have never imagined that I could call currency notes anything but notes. Or cash. Or wad. Or something like that. And not just currency, there is a lot. So I think once I finish one draft of Nidhi’s story, I would get busy with these interesting things.
  • Characters. I have come to understand that a story is about three things. Characters. Characters. And Characters. Everything else is useless. If you ignore the cliche and indulge me, most stories have the same structure and same plot. A common man is wronged by a situation or a person. The man then fights back and avenges the wrongdoing. And then lives happily ever after or dies in peace. Campbell actually wrote a book about this. You must read it if you are interested in writing or characters or mythology. So, the way King creates these characters is amazing. The Warden for example. King doesn’t talk about how bad or corrupt he is, there are only degrees that he (or any writer) can talk about. Instead he talks about another former Warden and then simply says that the new Warden was twenty times badder than the previous one. Simple and yet effective.

All these things that I could take a note of, dawned onto me while I read the short story during the day, interspersed with bouts of fitful sleeping and trying to better my time at solving a Rubik’s Cube over a shitpot. It stands at 3 minutes and 40 seconds at the time of writing this. The world record, to put things in perspective, is 5.66 seconds.

To summarize, I have realized that I am not even half good as the tip of the nail of the pinkie of King’s lesser used  hand. I know its early days for me. But then, I am on the road already and there is no stopping me now. The question is, how far do I get to travel on it and do I meet Stephen King somewhere down the road?

You, as the reader of the Nidhi Kapoor Story, could help me along that road. If you read Nidhi’s story, please share your feedback on it. Make it as brutal and as critical. Point out flaws and hide the good bits. Make me suffer in the agony of my failure. Help me see things that I cant. May be, just may be, you would thus help me move on the road faster! And you know what? Thank you in advance for doing so.

And like I said in the beginning, do read the short story and do see Shawshank Redemption, the movie, if you haven’t.

P.S.: This is a slightly modified version of a post that I wrote originally on my personal blog.

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