“Your style of writing is too classy for the content you wrote. It was too smart for a romcom.” This is what a friend wrote to me after reading my book.
I get her point. For that’s the general impression. What’s there to a love story, after all? Boy meets girl, spark/drama/conflict/tension. Love suffers, love triumphs. The end. Easy.
And yet, romance is one of the hardest genres to pull off. Because love is such an accessible emotion, who doesn’t know love? It is the epitome of feel-good, the ultimate positive experience. Negative emotions are easier, they are straightforward; they are programmed into our subconscious by thousands of years of evolution. Love is complex, love is personal, love is different for everyone. Readers expect the moon. You need to come up with something fresh, something stellar, every single time. There are no shortcuts.
And let’s not forget the business part of it. As per Romance Writers of America, the romance fiction industry is worth more than one billion dollars a year. It’s much bigger than inspirational books, and about the size of the mystery plus sci-fi/fantasy genres combined. An overwhelming number of people are consuming love stories. There’s no reason they should be taken lightly.
That brings us to the writing. Romance writers must not only create authentic inner and outer worlds for their characters but also make their readers care. And make them care till the last word on the last page. The material needs to come from a deep emotional place even when the story is light-hearted. It is exhausting.
So, the first prerequisite of a romance writer is emotional stamina. Love stories are all about the heart. Every moment needs to be unfolded delicately for it to mean something. Ideally, it should marinate inside your head for a decent amount of time before it reaches your pen. And when it does, it needs to be written and rewritten for precision and clarity. The prose needs to be fluid. If it is not, you’ll just stumble from one plot point to another dragging the reader along. Not a happy relationship.
Be caring. Towards your characters, most of all. Make them real people with real motivations. Respect them, even the ones who appear for just one scene. It will make your job easier, I promise. One more thing. One day, suddenly, you will discover that your characters have grown minds of their own. That’s good. That’s very good. Don’t fight that. It means you have done well. Now, let your people dictate things for a while; don’t force your will on them.
Not that you give up control. It’s your story, after all, and only you know points A to Z. But have empathy. Have an unselfish, altruistic view of the world. Let yourself be inspired.
Inspiration can come from many sources. For me, it’s the movies. A soulful, brooding hero, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. A meet cute, some clever lines, a big misunderstanding. Grand gestures, grander declarations, the works… But as a writer, I have no Ryan Gosling, no Emma Stone to help me. No soundtrack by A.R. Rahman either. I must rely solely on my words to create desire and longing and heartbreak. It’s just me between the blank page and a soaring sense of happily-ever-after. Or the crushing defeat of unrequited love. How does one navigate that?
By writing it unlike a romance. Don’t put limits on your imagination and see what can happen. Use techniques that belong to mysteries and thrillers, even horror. Shake it up a bit, bend some rules. Write your story like it’s your first and your last. And stop worrying what your mother will say when she reads it.
Have fun, keep it interesting. If something doesn’t excite you, chuck it out. Don’t fill your pages with tired inanities. It takes time, it takes practice, but make every sentence do something for you. Your readers will sense it and join the party.
Finally, in the words of author Liana Brooks, “Done well romance is the most complex literary form. Done poorly it’s just bad writing.”
I believe her. Hope my friend reads this.
You can read Sahana Ahmed’s Combat Skirts here.