A friend is writing a novel. She is stuck. Not with the plot, not with the characters, not with finding a publisher. She does not know what to name them.
“You are lucky, you wrote non-fiction,” she told me.
Although mine is non-fiction, due to the sensitive nature of some political aspects, I could not disclose the identities of some people...so it was finding names. Fortunately, there weren’t many such ‘characters’. But it was really a task...someone’s real face would stare at me and I had no idea what to do about it.
Imagine if you were writing about a bald character and named him Samson? As the familiar faces came to haunt me, I tried to fit in what would sound right. I had to also keep the Sunni-Shia-Mohajir thing in mind. Whoever said non-fiction does not require creativity?
One of these hidden people got a copy of the book. Now, quite naturally, he wanted to know if he was a certain person. I said, no…but I had forgotten what I had named him. Off I rushed to my Press copy, clicked on ‘find’ and typed out one item of his clothing (yes, I like these details) and found him. Needless to say he has only read his portions! Another person did not like the name I gave her: “It is the name of one of my relatives and she is quite ugly.” Oh, well…
Strangely enough, I suspect that if I were to write fiction I’d use names of people I know. And make them into real ghoulish characters…that would be fun. (Incidentally, that is just a needling strategy, with the hope that someone somewhere names someone somewhere Farzana, with little horns, knotted hair, frothing at the mouth…here is an idea for free.)
PS: Okay, so one has written non-fiction. Now you know what the problem is? Some people who should be doing things have said, “Yeah, it is, but it is so personal.”
People want realistic characters even in novels and here when they get the real, and some really weird, they call this personal. Arre, eik-eik museum piece hai…so why do you want museums and stuff?