How to create the romance in your story

Nietjuh / Pixabay

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.

 

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A Sweet Deal

For those who don’t know, Juggernaut published one of my cutest/sweetest romances in early April. It’s called A Sweet Deal. Download the book from the website/app here.

Meanwhile, here’s a free preview.

 

 

Chapter One

What to do when you drop your Kindle in the toilet?

Rumana taps out the question on her phone, her fingers shaking slightly.

The search throws up several ideas. The most common suggestion – put the Kindle in a bag of rice and not switch it on. But Rumana’s gaze is snagged when she comes to her favourite author’s name. Stephen King. She taps on the link and the website opens.

‘If you drop a book into the toilet, you can fish it out, dry it off and read that book. But if you drop your Kindle in the toilet, you’re pretty well done.’

‘Fuck,’ she mutters as she stares at the dripping Kindle she’s placed on the sink. Her mother had hated it when she took books inside the loo. And when she got her Kindle, it was obvious that that was going inside too. Placing her phone carefully on the window ledge, Rumana gets up, zips up her jeans, and purses her mouth.

Bag of rice, here we come, she thinks as she washes her hands and then pushes her wavy hair away from her face. But no one tells me whether I should wash it once more, just in case, since it fell into the toilet. Ugh.

Neharika will be of no help. An avid paperback reader, she’d scoffed at Rumana when she bought her Kindle. Rumana would often smile at her friend sweetly whenever she pulled it out from her bag to read during the interminable waiting they had to do – waiting for the café name to be registered, or the contractors to show up with the labour during their months of preparation. If she was without a paperback, Neharika couldn’t do anything but sketch or doodle on her faithful but battered Samsung Note 2, her only concession to technology apart from her laptop.

Maybe it’s time to throw it away, Rumana thinks as she looks at the Kindle once again. It’s gross to think about how it slipped from her hand and fell into the toilet with a splat. Yuck. Thankfully this had happened right after she’d entered the loo, or else there would be no doubt she’d have to throw it.

But now? She can’t bring herself to do it. Her Kindle has been with her for years, her companion on long flights and train journeys and sometimes even on the awful commute to work when she’d take an auto and not her scooter. It’s not just the question of getting another one. It’s this one that she’d miss.

She picks up her phone, pushes it inside her pocket and walks out of the loo, game face on because it’s going to be a busy day. It’s a Saturday and the café has been booked for a birthday party for the following day. Parties are good for business, and the owners, Rumana and Neharika, have a ton of work to do.

***

‘This menu needs something more,’ Neharika says as Rumana picks up her apron and ties it tightly around her waist.

‘Like?’

‘I don’t know. I’m so fed up of this Frozen theme. Sick of it,’ she mutters. ‘We’re doing the centrepiece cake, that huge thingy with the Elsa figurine, blue buttercream and snowflake cupcakes, Olaf cake pops, party favours with snowflake cookies…’

‘Nothing savoury?’ Rumana asks as she looks at the notes Neharika has made on a sketch pad.

‘Umm…’

‘Look up something on Pinterest? I have to find me a bag of rice,’ Rumana says as she looks around their store room.

‘For what?’ Neharika trails behind her, pencil tucked behind her ear.

‘Never mind,’ Rumana mutters. ‘Just check Pinterest and see if there’s some way we can come up with some cheese based savoury treat which can fit into the theme as well.’

Neharika frowns at her and then heads back to the café counter where she powers up her laptop and starts browsing.

‘Jackpot!’ she yells sometime later, startling Rumana, who has been pouring rice into a plastic bag. Shaking her head, Rumana tries to take the bag of rice back into the bathroom without Neharika spotting her, or she’ll never hear the end of it.

Kindle packed into rice, she looks around for a place to hide it until it dries completely. She stashes it on a shelf on top of the sink and heads back outside.

‘Cheese puffs. We can make them look like the trolls!’ Neharika announces.

‘Awesome.’

Rumana gets started with work. They’d opened the café, Not Too Sweet, six months ago, and it’s been a slow, painful process. Every bit of money they’d managed to save as corporate drones in their previous lives had gone into the cafe and it would take some time till they broke even. Until then, it was a slog fest.

They had a smart-mouthed twenty-year-old who helped them out with all their outdoor chores. He also doubled up as the waiter during opening hours.

‘I hope you texted Vinod,’ says Neharika as she starts the batter for the cake.

‘I thought you did,’ Rumana says, handing her the flour.

Neharika glares at her. Before Rumana can reply, the door opens and Vinod lounges in empty-handed.

‘Bloody hell,’ Rumana mutters. ‘Stop. Stop right there before you enter.’

‘Huh?’

Despite being on the verge of twenty-one, Vinod has still retained the sloth-like ways characteristic of teenagers. If he gets behind the counter, he doesn’t move until they physically kick him out.

‘We need you to get these things,’ Neharika says, scribbling everything on a paper and handing it to him.

He stares at the list like it’s a vile snake.

‘Money?’ he asks.

‘I thought…’ Neharika looks at Rumana who stares back at her balefully.

‘Babe, we need to communicate better and not look like such fools,’ Rumana mutters under her breath as she pulls out the cash box from the drawer. The birthday client had given them an advance, which should hopefully cover all the costs.

‘Especially in front of him,’ Neharika agrees as she watches Rumana count the money and hand it to Vinod.

Vinod leaves the way he came, slowly, as if each step he took is boring the life out of him. Rumana sighs loudly.

‘It’s a good thing we have all the essentials and just need those few extras,’ she says as she lines a cake pan with baking parchment paper.

‘I think we’re going to be really behind as it is,’ Neharika says.

They work in silence. There’s a lot to be done before the café opens at 12.30, drawing the small lunch time crowd that drops by for their grilled sandwiches, pastas and bakes. The party starts at 4 p.m. tomorrow and they’re going to have to work through the rest of the day and most of the night to have things ready in time.

Vinod returns two hours later with all the things they’d asked for. Blue and silver balloons, edible blue ink, blue and silver sugar balls, cupcake liners, cake pop sticks, the works. Vinod is a good-natured boy but his laziness is legendary, and yet he works for them because Rumana has known Vinod all her life. He’s her family driver’s son and his father had often despaired about what would become of him when he dropped out of school in class eight. Since then, he’s been wasting time, not sticking to any job until Rumana came up with the café plan. While he still needs prodding every now and then, he manages to get their work done, which is more than they can say.

They can’t afford more staff right now, although if all goes well, they’ll soon hire a chef who can handle most of the work while they could focus on developing their business.

Vinod slaps a glossy flyer on to the work table between them.

‘What’s this?’ Rumana asks, picking it up with her flour-covered hand.

Neharika, who is getting the white chocolate frosting ready for the Olaf cake pops, turns to look and is surprised to see her best friend’s face turn pale.

‘What happened?’ she asks, wiping her hands on her apron and walking towards Rumana who hands her the flyer in silence.

It’s an advertisement for an upcoming patisserie. And by the looks of it, it’s going to be a really fancy place. The worrying part is that Daniyal’s Desserts is opening literally next door. It’s the kind of competition that could shut them down in weeks.

Liked what you read? Then download the full book here.

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A Never Ending Affair with Writing

Well, Valentine’s Day is tomorrow and it doesn’t make even a smidgen of difference to me. Yes, really. I write romances because I like the genre (and I enjoy reading them as well) but that’s about it. I thought it would be nice however, to put up this little chat I had with my friend Kanchana Bannerjee whose book A Forgotten Affair I recently read.

Congratulations on your first book. It’s a great debut. But as a reader I first want to know if Sagarika will ever get her memory back.

Honestly I don’t know. It doesn’t matter if she gets her memory back or not; what’s important is that she realizes and discovers her self. She understands the abusive marriage she was in and stands up to that, rejects it, confronts her husband and walks out. The story isn’t about memory loss or getting it back. It’s really about a woman’s quest to find her inner strength.

What was the inspiration for this story?

The society we live in, the marriages I see around me. I see so many women who have accepted submission in their personal relationships. They are minimized and put down. It’s a myth that abuse happens only in the lower strata of society. It is just as rampant in so-called educated and affluent homes. I wanted to write about this. Often this happens in such a subtle form that women themselves don’t think much about it. Some don’t reveal how much they earn, some tell the husband they are going to the salon when they are off for a meeting. They joke about this, saying what’s the harm in a small white lie if it keeps him happy. This is wrong, so wrong. Women need to accept this first.

There are times when I felt that if Rishab had been a grey character instead of outright black, there would have been more conflict for Sagarika and the readers. Were you ever tempted to make him the suffering husband?

In my first draft Rishab was mildly bad and the four friends who stepped in as beta readers, unanimously said, the story is very placid. Why does Sagarika not like the husband? That’s when I re-worked and made him a dark and despicable. I enjoyed his character more when he became so psychotic and crazy. I love dark and evil characters. They are more fun. In my novel 2 there are two characters who are unapologetically bad. Very very bad, evil and nasty and there’s no sad story to justify their actions. I love such characters.

Do you like naming your books before you write them or after you write them? What was the case with A Forgotten Affair?

I’m horrible with naming my books. I can write 80K words, even more easily but to think of a title; I’m no good. Clearly I’m not a woman of few words. So the novel was called The Accident till my editor stepped in and christened it A Forgotten Affair. My second novel is called Novel 2. That should tell you how awful I am with titles.

As a reader I’m not sure how I feel about open ended endings but as a writer I love them because there’s always the chance for a sequel. Any plans for a sequel?

No, there will be no sequels. I don’t like sequels. In my opinion all sequels are awful except for very few books like Harry Potter, Hunger Games. A Forgotten Affair had to be open-ended. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I know the ending soon after I start writing. I know the beginning and the end; so then it’s all about reaching the end.

Sagarika’s affair with Akash is presented in a very non-judgmental manner which I liked but do you think it gives out the message that people should take happiness where they can find and to hell with commitments? Her friend Roohi does act as her voice of conscience which she ignores.

We live in a society where such relationships happen. As a writer it isn’t my job to pass judgement. I’m not a moral cop. Neither am I writing a book to sermonize people or impart a lesson. I write because I enjoy writing. Through the story I’m not trying to send any message at all. I’m just presenting a slice of life as I see. Read it, enjoy it and if it triggers some thought in you, that’s great. 

What’s your typical working day like, as a writer?

I’m a morning writer. I write best in the morning and like to be done with at least 3 hours of it before noon. I have worked from home as a freelance writer for a long time so I’m very disciplined about my work.

It was great chatting with Kanchana and her book is an unusual love story. One that tells you to love yourself first, and its devoid of mushiness. It’s a mature story and perfect for Valentine’s Day. Go read it!

 

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Food+Romance

 

While I’ve been out of the blogging scene, I’ve been busy writing. Yes! I’ve written two books and the third is 3/4 written and all have the theme of food+romance.

What is that, you ask? Well, it’s not yet a genre (really? I need to check) but I realised that I love writing about food and somehow a romance creeps in, even when I, ahem try to write horror. So I’ve decided to make it my new thing.

The books all revolve around people who are involved with food. For instance, there’s a food photographer and a hot chef in The Crunch Factor (being published by Hachette soon), a food blogger whose only claim to fame was that she blew up an oven, in Will the Oven Explode? (Juggernaut, also soon) and as yet unnamed book about two neighbouring cafe owners who can’t figure out if they hate each other or have the hots for each other (also Juggernaut, and since I’m still writing it, definitely a little later)

And by God, I’m having such a blast. So, I guess you understand why I haven’t blogged since April. Been busy writing, folks! So, come back soon, because I’ll definitely post cover pics and other information here, on the website first, followed by my social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

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