Once there was a king…
How does one build a story from a very basic plot—one that is actually a joke?
As a child, I had often heard this kind of mock story, bandied about in jest: “Ek that raja, ek thi rani, dono mar gaye, khatam kahani!” Once there was a king. Once there was a queen. Both died. That’s the end of the story.
Now once, as I was casting around for a fresh creative spark to launch a writing workshop, this kahani somehow floated into my mind. A beginning and an ending…pretty banal, true, but worth a try, I thought.
It worked beyond all expectation. First, it brought smiles on the faces of the disinterested group of teachers warily sizing me up. Perhaps they had heard this joke/tale and even if they hadn’t there was something so silly about it that they had to smile at least, if not laugh.
But when we began to fill in what happened in between, I could sense the excitement as they considered the possibilities.
These were some of the questions I posed to them to help to construct the story:
Who was this king and who was this queen? Rather, what were their names?
· What did they look like?
· How old were they when the story begins?
· What time of the year does the story begin?
· What day of the week and time of the day?
· Was the king a good ruler? Or was he a bloodthirsty tyrant or just incompetent?
· What was the queen like? Kind hearted, generous, religious minded or bad tempered?
· Did they have children? How many? How old?
· What were their names?
· What were these children like? Obedient, respectful, stupid, spoilt, lazy, extravagant?
· Or did they not have any children at all?
· Any other family? A wise aunt or a scheming uncle by chance?
· Where was their kingdom located?
· What was it named?
· Was it a prosperous state? Were the people overtaxed? Did law and order prevail?
· Who were the officials who helped them to run their kingdom?
· Is there some major problem confronting the king or the queen or both of them?
· How are they trying to solve it and who is helping them or working against them?
· Does this problem contribute to their end?
· What were the exact circumstances that led to the king and queen’s death?
· Were these purely external circumstances or was any one of them or both responsible through
their actions for their tragic fate?
· Does some event occur right in the beginning of the story that suggests what might happen at
· Was their death caused by illness, or at the hands of their enemies?
· Were they shot, poisoned or stabbed? Or maybe someone used a magic spell?
· Does their end suggest a new beginning or does it mean total destruction of the kingdom?
Many more such questions can be posed, of course, and suggestions made but these were enough to set them on the path. And how did the exercise work? There was not enough time to write a complete story. But by using these pointers some of them were able to flesh out the “Ek tha raja, ek thi rani…” outline enough to suggest that the finished product could be a gripping tale.