Tag: rahul kanakia

On writing a novel

“Oftentimes in early drafts, the book is propelled forward by pure longing, which is to say that what I’ve successfully created is a need in the heart of the character. But that need is itself an empty space, and in later drafts I need to flesh out the nature of the need: where did it come from and why is it still unfilled?”

—Rahul Kanakia (x)


On making unconventional art

“There’s this idea that at some point you master how to tell basic stories, and then you can tell masterful stories. But that’s not true. You never master how to tell a basic story. In fact, you never master any part of writing. Mastering something implies that you can do it again and again, without flaws. […]

“Nathalie Sarraute never wrote a ‘standard’ novel with regular rising tension and beginnings and ends and all of that regular stuff, and I don’t believe there’s any evidence that she was capable of that. I don’t think that a person improves as an artist by producing work that they don’t care about ‘just for practice.’ I believe that you always, from the beginning, have to be aiming at doing something that interests you. And some people just aren’t ever going to be able to interest themselves in the standard forms and models for fiction.”

—Rahul Kanakia (x)

On first drafts

“Writers always say that the first draft is just raw material. You put it down on paper, and then you change it. But I’ve never believed it. I think if you don’t have a certain energy in your first draft: the voice, at the very least, then it’s hard to revise that energy into existence.”

—Rahul Kanakia (x)

On submitting writing for publication

“I think of submitting as being about developing the habit of continuing on, despite adverse reactions. Sometimes, when you don’t believe in yourself, when nothing is selling, when you’re not getting a positive notice from any quarter, the only thing that’s left to you is habit. Even if you don’t believe in yourself, the habit of writing and the habit of submitting can carry you through to a better place.”

—Rahul Kanakia (x)

On procrastination

“[W]hen you procrastinate, you’re able in some way to avoid thinking of failure. It’s such a simple thing. Procrastination makes failure more likely, but because you’re not confronted with it in the same way, it feels safer than actually trying to do what needs to be done.”

—Rahul Kanakia in a very interesting post

On counternarrative

Rahul Kanakia on how he wrote his novel Enter Title Here:

“The way I like to think about it is, ‘What is the story that this character is telling about themselves? And how is that story being challenged?’

“I’ve started to see a novel in dialectic terms. It starts off with a character telling themselves one thing, and then a counter-narrative emerges to challenge it. For instance, my debut begins with Reshma telling herself that she’s smart and ambitious and capable of anything, including being a popular social butterfly. But then a counternarrative emerges: perhaps she’s not that smart; maybe she’s only a cheat. And those two narratives duel throughout the novel, with first one gaining the upper hand and then the other, until finally Reshma is forced to abandon her narrative and search for something new.”

This strikes me as a powerful way to create constant suspense. I usually think of suspense as something that hinges on a particular event and reveal, but why should it be?

Short story: “Empty Planets”

“Empty Planets,” by Rahul Kanakia

Appeared in Interzone, issue 262, JanuaryFebruary 2016

10 pages in the magazine, maybe 4k words?

Is there a word for bleak hopefulness? Cheerful meaninglessness? It’s not a feeling I enjoy, but I admire fiction that manages to replicate it. (Like “Reasons to Be Cheerful,” which is one of Kanakia’s favorites.)

Kanakia writes:

“When you have an entire story about a guy who struggles to articulate the inarticulable, you really want an ending that says something. And yet what is there to say that can’t be banal? I got a few rejections from editors where they said everything was working except for the ending.

“However, I loved the ending. I’ve rarely been more sure that I’ve found the right ending for a story. And after reading through it just now, I was struck by how well the story articulated the problems I’m still facing, two years after writing it.”

On interestingness as a driving force in fiction

“Proust succeeds, in my opinion, by being interesting on every single page. [In Search of Lost Time/Remembrance of Things Past] is one of the few philosophical novels, for instance, that actually has something to say. Proust’s ideas on art, on society, on love, on politics, are fascinating. It’s like going to dinner with the most interesting person you’ve ever met.

“And there’s also a certain moment to moment ingenuity. Unexpected things happen. People change in odd and striking ways. And, of course, the sentences are amazing. I hesitate to call them good or beautiful (because no one except Proust should ever attempt to write like this), but they are an experience. The nearest thing I can compare him to, in English, is Samuel Johnson: a writer who says, in page-long sentences, the kind of thoughts that can only really be expressed in page-long sentences.

“But none of this is any good to the aspiring writer of fiction, of course. And by giving writers the notion that they don’t need story—they just need to be interesting!—I’m pretty sure Proust has harmed many more writers than he’s helped.”

—Rahul Kanakia (x)


“If I haven’t captured the emotional core of the book—the thing that makes it matter—then it starts to feel like it’s just words on a page. Sometimes those words are clever and sometimes they’re [not]. When they’re very clever, I can occasionally write 30 or 40,000 of them before I realize that there’s nothing beneath them.”

—Rahul Kanakia (x)

Short story: “Here is My Thinking on a Situation That Affects Us All”

“Here is My Thinking on a Situation That Affects Us All,” by Rahul Kanakia

Appeared in Lightspeed Magazine issue 66, November 2015

2501 words

In his Author Spotlight, Kanakia says: “My writing process is changing continually, and it’s gotten to the point where I no longer have any idea how I do things. Right now, in particular, it’s going through a lot of flux. I used to write without any outline. I’d just have a character, a situation, and a sense of where I wanted things to end up. But I’ve lately come to realize that when I did this, I’d often leave out very critical elements and end up with weak stories that didn’t have strong character arcs. Basically, with each story I’d set off hoping that it would be like ‘Here Is My Thinking …’ (i.e. the kind of story that tells itself), but if it turned out to not be that sort of story, then I’d have zero idea how to turn it into something compelling.” I can sympathize with this. I almost never outline fiction, and like Kanakia, I have a sense that I leave too much up to luck. I can see how this story came together without outlining. The narrator’s story has a natural order to it that doesn’t require scene.

I don’t think the title fits, although I’ll admit it’s a good title. The situation affects humanity and the spaceship in two very different ways. Though I suppose it’s important to join the two together to some extent, given the spaceship’s attempts at compromise.