How to create the romance in your story

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When I was in college, my friends and I would pass around romance novels to each other on the sly, hoping our English teachers wouldn’t spot us reading these juicy novels and give us a hard time. Romance novels were generally considered trashy although no teacher expressly told us not to read them. They were probably happy that we were reading something at least. I did move on to other genres and I love reading crime and mystery but romance was my first love.

So, when I started writing, it seemed natural that I would bring romance into most of my books, albeit unwillingly. (The English Literature student in me was constantly looking over my shoulder.) Now that I am willingly a romance writer, I realise how much fun I have crafting these stories, which readers also seem to love thankfully.

If you want to venture into writing romance, these are some of the things that I like to work with, so maybe it might help you too.

  • Create interesting/flawed protagonists – No one likes perfect people in real life and neither do they in fiction. I try to make sure there’s something off about my protagonists, whether they’re messy people, or have an unpredictable temper. It makes them interesting and relatable.
  • Avoid clichés – I try and avoid cliched descriptions of my characters, so you won’t find any tall, dark and handsome men or curvaceous beauties with lilac hued eyes in my books. Another way I describe them is through the perspective of the other characters, so it’s all quite subjective and different people view the same person differently.
  • Bring chemistry – Chemistry between the romantic leads is one of the things that keeps readers hooked to the story. Getting it right takes practice because readers can spot when there’s no chemistry. Also, there’s no such thing as too much chemistry.
  • Love scenes – I’m a little shy about writing overt love scenes but that’s just me. If you’re comfortable, go right ahead and make it as steamy as you want. The thing to watch out here is to make sure there’s no awkwardness in your writing. Try and read it aloud (with expression and maybe a little passion). If it makes you wince, then cut it out and redo.
  • Read – This is a no-brainer no matter which genre you’re writing for but if you want to write well, then read, read and read, especially the genre you want to master. So, if it’s romance you want to be good at, read all kinds – historical, contemporary etc and try and imbibe from them.
  • Strong heroines/vulnerable heroes – The world is different from the time I used to huddle at the back of my class and read one of those M&B Temptation novels. Heroines need to be relatable. They don’t have to be bra-burning feminists but they surely need to be independent, strong and aspirational. Heroes on the other hand seem to do so much better with a dose of vulnerability to add to their dreaminess.

After writing all these books over these past few years, one thing I’ve learnt is that you need to enjoy your work too. And maybe one day your English teachers might, too!

This post was first published on the Juggernaut blog.



Turning Hate into Halwa

In an episode of Masterchef Australia I watched recently, the contestants were asked to “hero” the vegetables and make them palatable to meat-lovers. It was an interesting episode and I made mental notes to try out at home and convert the meat-lovers into veggie-lovers although I knew I wouldn’t be able to fool the 11-year-old or his father. It reminded me of the time my father had to go on a no-meat diet and my mother made shaami kababs out of yam. She had us all convinced we were eating regular shaami kebabs. But that also got me thinking about what we Indians usually do to vegetables we don’t like. We make halwa out of them.

Carrot halwa, or gajar ka halwa, is one of the most representative desserts from India. It was also the first thing I learned to make in the kitchen. It helped that my mother oversaw the entire process. Instead of cooking the grated carrots in milk, we sauted the grated carrots in ghee first, added very little milk but more khoya and then sugar. There’s another version that’s even easier to make, because there’s no grating involved. Carrots are cut into pieces and pressure cooked in a little milk to soften them. Then, this is pureed and cooked with khoya and sugar. The resultant halwa is as rich and satisfying as the original without the hassle of grating carrots (and fingers inadvertently).

Converting beetroot into a halwa is also easy. Given its inherent sweetness, you could also go a little easy on the sugar. Apart from these two, I knew that we could make halwa out of bottle gourd and potatoes. To make this, we grate bottle gourd and cook it with sugar over a medium flame. As it releases water, it will get cooked in it and once the water dries up, you can crumble khoya and add to it along with fried nuts and raisins. But this got me curious. So, I posed a question on Twitter, asking people if they knew what other vegetables could be turned into halwa and the answers blew me away.

I got to know about the popular South Indian kasi halwa, made from ash gourd. But there were also some unusual replies such as onion, garlic, tomato, green chillies and capsicum as well. I thought these vegetables were too full of their own flavour to become desserts, but apparently these are prepared across India. The green chilli halwa is made by boiling chillies in water for 10 minutes to remove the heat, while there are also spicy-sweet halwas made from turmeric and ginger. Sweet potato and moong dal were also mentioned and I know from experience that the channa dal halwa served at most Muslim weddings is one of the reasons I try not to miss dessert even if I don’t get to eat the biryani.

Food blogger Nandita Iyer mentioned halwa made from green peas and raw papaya, and a visit to her blog will also take you to the steps needed to make halwa from pumpkin and carrot. Then, historian Rana Safvi also mentioned that halwa can also be made from kheema. I can’t quite fathom what that would taste like and I don’t know if I’d be adventurous enough to even try!

The replies made me marvel at this innate inventiveness. To convert something as strong tasting as garlic and even bitter gourd into a halwa takes talent, resourcefulness and a stretch of imagination — along with a good dose of confidence. Of course, with the Keto diet being so popular these days, one of my friends suggested that maybe we should try to make halwa out of cauliflower. Who knows? Maybe someone already has! I’ll stick with the humble gajar ka halwa, thank you.

This piece was first published in The Indian Express, 26th November, 2017