Meetup 146: Culture Shocks


Last Saturday, at Write Club, Ashwin Kumar hosted a session. I couldn’t be there because I was away on a speaking engagement, but I’m assured by people who went that it was great fun. There were three exercises in all:

Exercise 1: Tragedy versus humour

  1. You’re a student who has failed his exams
  2. You’re a cop and you found out that someone has been murdered
  3. You’re a doctor and your patient has a rare disease.
  4. You’re a renowned chef and you have accidentally spoiled your food.

From previous sessions on humour, we’ve come to realize that it’s not easy drawing a line between tragedy and comedy and making each stay on its own side. Often, pieces that start off being reflective and sad turn out to be funny in a wry way, whereas some pieces that begin as funny one end on a sombre note.

Maybe it’s because so many times, we use humour as a defense mechanism against trauma. Laughter and tears co-exist in our lives, so maybe it’s no surprise they co-exist in our writing as well.

Exercise 2: Culture Shock

For those of you who haven’t experienced it, there are four phases to culture shock.

  1. The Honeymoon Phase (Fascination with the new culture)
  2. The Negotiation Phase (Struggle with the new culture)
  3. The Adjustment Phase (Coming to terms with the new culture)
  4. The Mastery Phase (Mastering the new culture)

Everyone had to write about a culture-shock experience they had at some point in their lives, either by travelling abroad or travelling in their own country or by simply interacting with someone from a different cultural background in terms of foreign food, language, accents, Faux Pas etc.

The great bit of living in India is that one doesn’t have to travel far and wide to experience different cultures. If you live in a multicultural city like Bangalore, you could just walk across the apartment corridor to your next door neighbour and see an entirely different culture in his house. When I was growing up, I had Muslim, Sikh and Catholic friends, and I had the opportunity to have lunch (at different times) in all their houses. Putting aside class differences for a second – the Muslim friend was much richer than the others – the sheer variety in food habits and language was unsettling (at first) and refreshing (later).

Exercise 3:  Writing the perfect first page of your novel

The three C’s of writing the first page of a novel:

  • Conflict: Creating a tension as soon as possible to grab the reader’s attention
  • Content: Revealing the core of the book, the settings; the time period the novel is based in, what is the setting, the city, the whole scene etc.
  • Character: The core of the character, the name, the motive etc

I also wrote a post recently on the 5 things an editor wants to see on your manuscript’s first page. You may want to check it out.

If you’re a budding novelist, it pays to remember that readers and editors have extremely short attention spans when they’re browsing. A reader standing at a bookstore (or clicking on Amazon) reading your first page will need to find something in it to grip him, to make him want to read more. Similarly, an editor at a publishing house who is reading your work to evaluate it for publication will ask many questions of your first page – and often of your first paragraph.

Keeping in mind these pointers will help you write that perfect first page.

Image Courtesy: Man: A Special Creature


  1. Totally agree that grabbing the attention by the cover (so to speak) is pretty important – either through a picture or powerful words. I can never underestimate the power of grabbing the attention of today’s browser-reader and the attention span that the read has in the information-loaded, time-starved world.

    Next comes the content – which is the core to keep the audience engaged, through facts, figures and logic.

    And finally, I would say, there should be sort of a call to action. Be it purchasing an item, an article, e-book, or promoting a social cause, Without ‘Call to Action’, there is no commitment. ‘Likes’ and positive feedback like ‘Wonderful’ are good, but where does it take one? On the other hand, if Facebook or WordPress gives you a $ for every ‘Like’ you get, then that makes sense!


  2. To me, the book blurb and to a smaller extent, the cover of the book is what makes me want to pick it up and read further. If the blurb is dry and not captivating enough, the book immediately goes back to the bookshelf.

    Only exceptions are authors whose books I have read in the past and eagerly look forward to reading again.


  3. Hmmm… I didn’t get chance to read this in the meeting but I have posted this one on my blog.
    Genre: Humour


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