Guest post: Challenges I faced in Writing

I’m sharing an excerpt from the guest post at Surbhi Sareen’s blog about the challenges I faced during my writing journey.
……………
Thank you for hosting me at your blog, Surbhi. Today I would like to talk about the challenges faced by writers.

Writing is the process of translating thoughts and images in your mind to the keyboard or the paper as the case may be. In as much, it looks to be a fairly simple process. But when you are writing fiction, those images and thoughts have to follow a particular cadence. They have to be woven into the pattern of logic and sequence. Ask any writer and they will tell you, writing – serious writing – is the hardest thing to do, especially over long periods.

Let me take you through the challenges I have faced as a writer. Let me know if they resound to you.

Initial stages:
When I first thought about writing and ventured to write, I often found this question staring at me in the face and echoing in my ears. Why are you stuck to the keyboard? I had no idea that taking a character through internal monologue could take up a WHOLE EVENING! My family was often exasperated at the amount of time I spent on writing. Their expressions conveyed that they thought I was wasting my time. Their attitude changed with time, but starting out that was a big hurdle to face. I couldn’t explain that the problems of the characters had become more important than the mundane chores of daily routine. Try saying that aloud and you’ll get the idea. We writers live so much in our heads that it takes time to unwrap our concerns from fiction and transfer them to fact. Unfortunately, people around us have no idea what we’re going through. However, I stuck with it, formed a sort of writing routine, disciplined myself not to let writing encroach on family time and eventually they realised writing was here to stay.

During the learning curve of discovering writing was not just art, but also craft, I learnt about:

Grammar
Characters’ motivation.
Realistic setting.
Convincing villains or indeed any secondary characters.
Am I riveted to and surprised by this story?
You might take a note of these things as a checklist for your book.

During the publishing journey:

Like every new writer, I had some vague idea that finishing a book was all that was required to become an author. This was dispelled rapidly when I clicked the submit button and offers of raving publishers failed to materialize. Rejection. Just that word is enough to set up any writer’s back. When we can see the gold in our work, why are the publishers so oblivious to it? It took some attempts to finally have it sink in that finishing a manuscript is just the beginning. Getting published was a real and Avenger style seemingly implausible hurdle. Eventually, I hit upon bright times. I gained a lot of experience. It is not wrong when they say, the failures are those who give up. When you stick to it, the breakthrough comes to you. However, at every step, a steep learning curve awaits you. During this process, I learnt three things:

Contracts are never fair to the writer.
They are not that unfair once you get used to it.
You have to decide what you want out of your writing career: i) Money ii) satisfaction of being published iii) independence to make your decisions regarding your work.
Writing is best regarded as a hobby, not a profession.
Above evaluation is subject to change.
Those are quite hard lessons to learn. But as they say, what doesn’t put you off, you makes you better. Well, they don’t say it. I do J

After getting published:

I’m sure most writers can’t figure out why they are compelled to write. There is just an internal drive. Sometimes it can fade out when the rush of everyday life takes over but it comes back before long. Publishers only accept a handful of submissions depending on the ‘brand’ that they are maintaining. So self publishing makes a lot of sense. However, before stepping into it, it’s essential to review the pointers above.

Once I had taken the decision to self publish, it still didn’t hit until much later how much work was to be done. In self publishing, you are on your own. So, that was really exhilarating in a sense because, well, you OWN your book, blurb, font size, cover and what not! Then it slowly began to sink in that I’d have to work and build these things. And build them to a standard competitive to the publishers’. I was staunchly fixed on one decision. I wasn’t going to splash a lot of money on writing. I had no idea what kind of returns there would be, so lean spending seemed a sensible option. I bought least cost pictures, got hold of free cover maker software and took the plunge. After two months, I was seeing money. It seemed pretty unbelievable at first but gradually, the steady trickle became an accepted fact. However, the moment I relaxed my hold and stopped looking at numbers, the sales fell. It sank in that I was losing writing time because I had to take care of spreading the word about my books.

Marketing

Let me not even touch the subject of marketing. It’s a writing time eating insect which throws you into a perplexing soap opera of doubts. If you are a relatively introvert type like me, you don’t want to have to do anything with it. However, unless you have written just to get rid of the story in your brain with no desire to reach anybody, you want your book to be seen. I heard and absorbed terms like platform, social media, promotions, blog tours. Took quite a while getting used to, I can tell you.
Read the rest of the post at:
https://captivatingmode.wordpress.com/2016/04/07/challenges-i-faced-in-writing/

How to write a romance novel for Camp Nanowrimo

Piyusha Vir wrote this lovely post about her difficulties in attempting Camp Nanowrimo. For the uninitiated, Camp Nanowrimo is  a virtual writers’ camp where you can set a target and push yourself to achieve it. Piyusha wants to write 10,000 words, but wants to know how to pen a romance novel during Camp Nanowrimo. You can read her list of queries here:
https://wanderingsoul2015blog.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/how-do-i-write-a-novel/

Piyusha, thanks for tagging me to answer your queries. Since your questions were too numerous to be answered in a simple comment box, here’s my response in the form of a blog post:

Don’t chain together incidents without theme.

A novel is not a running commentary of various incidents. The point of a story is not that protagonist has to get from point A to point B. Well, it can be a useful instrument to form the setting of your story. Eg the hero and the heroine are both going to visit La Tomatina festival and for various reasons have to travel together. In a romance novel, it can serve to bring the characters in enforced propinquity, but beyond that, you cannot use this premise. Neither can you just have your character move from an event like attending a concert to another of attending a wedding. You can have these, but only if these situations serve a  purpose in your story and move it forward. Eg did she see the hero’s ex at the concert and begin to feel insecure? Did he attend the wedding and learn from a relative that she’d had a terrible year because her parents died in an accident?
As your story progresses, the theme tying all the incidents should become clear. What is your story about? In the above example, you could make your theme about redemption. Did the heroine break law when she was angry about losing her parents? Has she since then carved a new and better life for herself?

No lengthy description of the mundane 
Your second query is: do I describe every (boring) detail in the story?
Answer: You don’t have to describe everything. In fact, you should stay away from making that mistake.
A novel has limited number of pages and readers have limited attention span. If you describe every mundane thing, it will waste story pages and annoy your reader. We know how people get ready. You don’t need to describe every act your protagonist goes through to reach the place of action. So, if she’s meeting the hero, it would be sufficient to mention she reached there. Did she take the trouble to do her hair? Was he straightening his tie as she walked towards him? That is useful because it conveys the state of the mind of the character. Otherwise, skip the mundane descriptions.

Don’t add details irrelevant to the story

You shouldn’t mention anything that doesn’t add to the story.
A bird chirping in the distance. Now, that is a natural thing to notice, but in your story you have to add detail only when it brings out emotions and reactions of your characters. Eg your hero is about to stand for elections and receives the  shocking news about the heroine’s unsavory past. Picture him focusing on periphery rather than his own pain and conflicted emotions. Does he hear the chirping of the bird because his own world has come to a standstill? Now the little detail serves to add impact to your story.

Confusing character and characterization:

The query was, “My character can’t go from being carefree and confident in the first part of the story to someone who is always anxious and needs re-assurance in the second part.”
Answer: You don’t change who your character is at the core. The story follows the arc of the character’s journey. The GMC should be clearly delineated. The character in your story has a goal, motivation, conflict. By the end, they may change their goal and hence motivation and resolve the conflict. In a romance, that’s how they find a HEA. In the above example, the hero might find he doesn’t really want to contest elections if he has to give up the heroine. Thus, the motivation to act in the way he has been acting, is now gone.

hcd-cover.jpg.jpg         aar-cover.jpg.jpeg        mtjd-cover.jpeg.jpeg

Romances have a common storyline. Or do they?
Romances have been done before. That doesn’t mean a new story has no freshness about it. When you write a romance, you have to focus on what’s special about your story. What is standing in the way of your protagonists and how they will overcome the issues between them? What twists or self revelations will landmark your characters’ way to finding their HEA? A happy ending is a must for a romance and it’s the author’s job to make it convincing, despite all the odds that have been presented in the book.
Btw the above plot is a budding idea of a new book. Hope you found the example helpful.
Keep writing and good luck for Camp Nanowrimo!

GUEST POST: 5 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD NEVER WRITE A HISTORICAL ROMANCE

Here’s an excerpt from my guest post over at romance thriller author Aarti V Raman’s blog:

I feel I should make it clear that the key word here is not romance but historical.

Don’t take it the wrong way. I love everything to do with dates. I find delving into the dark mysteries of bygone times, intriguing. The prospect of tracing long lost footprints through the lens of my imagination is nothing short of magic to me. But having written and published two historicals, after one very rudimentary effort earlier on, I feel I can talk about writing historical romance with some assurance and I’m pretty sure all historical authors will agree with what I’m saying here.

Why shouldn’t you write a historical?

1. This is something you don’t realize until you actually begin to describe a scene properly in your story. This is especially true if you’re writing fiction set in the ancient world or –like me – in the early middle ages. It starts with an innocent looking gesture you want your character to make. Your hero is holding a drink in his hand… wait, you ask yourself, did they drink back then? Off you go to research wines and after poring through the material available – which consists of researching wine making to its roots and the exact method of preparation of mead – you can finally nod in satisfaction, ah yes, they did.

Wait, you say again, after typing not more than half a word. Would a king have a different sort of alcohol from a commoner? What sort of vessel did they use anyway? Glass, clay or gold? What was the shape of these vessels?

So you see, you can forget about the story. It will take you the whole day just to get that one gesture right.

2. Consider this. At a point in the story, I had to find if my hero could get on a trading ship in order to pilfer it (he sort of needed to) so just in case I had to mention the area etc., I decided to look up the maritime history of the Middle Ages. You wouldn’t believe the stuff I found! Did you know that the ancient ships in India were built without using nails because it was believed the iron immersed in water could be dangerous for the construction?

Trade was rife because of silk and spices produced in the region. Cargo weighing several  was transported – as much as 75 or maybe even more. Even elephants could be transported by sea route. In fact, there are records of transporting rhinoceros and elephants to China by those ships. The more I read, the more fascinating it got. In the ancient times, the trade with the Romans was so flourishing that Roman gold to the tune of 1000,000 pounds found its way into India annually…!

At this time I glance absently at the time – oh my God three hours have gone by! My writing time has evaporated into a thin mist and my WIP reproachfully at me, demanding what has all that got to do with me?

Take it from me, it’s way too hard to stick to just writing when you are working on fiction of the times of yore.

3. Another reason why you should spare yourself the persistent pain of penning a historical is the confusion surrounding ancient history. The more you dig the facts, the more you find them contradicting your earlier findings.

In one instance I had to refer to the humble beginnings of ancient emperor Chandragupta Maurya. There are multiple theories of his origins. Some medieval theorists say he was the son of a Nanda emperor, the lineage which he later defeated. Some ancient texts maintain that he was of a small Kshatriya, warrior, clan. A popular belief holds he was raised by peacock-tamers while it is even postulated that he was the grandson of a peacock-tamer. Which version would the reader find most believable? The process leaves you stymied.

4. Let me not even mention the parlance you unconsciously pick up…

Read the rest at:
https://aartivraman.wordpress.com/2015/08/03/guest-post-5-reasons-why-you-should-never-write-a-historical-romance/

Short story – a craft in itself

When we say short story what is the length of the work of fiction do we refer to? In current times, it should be 1000 to 20,000 words or 5 to 20 pages. However, magazines and contests usually demand 2000-5000 words. So that has become a more popular length.

While in a novel, a writer has time and space to build the characters, setting and the course of story, in a short piece this luxury is denied. One has to bring the focus of readers quickly to the story idea and hold their attention while still delivering a satisfying conclusion. So what things should be kept in mind while writing short stories?

First thing, is to have short, pithy descriptions so that excessive words are not wasted. For example, instead of describing in vivid detail a sunset, one might say simply ‘the sun crept past the horizon, splashing peach hues across the sky.’ While describing a character, instead of giving too many details, stick to one or two important characteristics. ‘An old and bent figure shuffling along’ this gives as much impression as ‘the thin man walking with painful slowness looked shrunken. His back was curved with the burden of age…’ you get the idea. A short story isn’t the place to wax poetic about your ability for description.

The second thing to be careful about is the theme or the idea your story centers on. Choose one and one idea only for one story. Keep it limited to one incident if possible. You cannot fit a long timeline into a story with effectiveness. It may be done but for shorter length, immediate effects and consequences work better. Give your character one problem and center the story around that. It may be resolved or not but it should say something about your story world and character. Too many threads will act as too many spices in a dish and will spoil the art.

Remember even if the length is short, you must not sacrifice the depth of your main character for it. You have to still know your character inside out. So do work on your character. Her past and present. Her hopes and dreams. The more you know your character, the more depth you can bring to your story.

In a story, the final punch is important. So try to achieve a revelation in your ending. Something the reader wants to find out and will race to the end to get. The denouement. The realization. The hit or miss of the goal you have set at the beginning.

For example, in the short story I wrote for Harper Collins India, the heroine Raina finds herself being ignored by her busy neurophysician husband. So, her goal is to find her sense of worth and be appreciated. Can she find those goals with him or someone else? What twists and turns occur before she reaches an important conclusion in her life is the subject of this short read called ‘Right or Wrong.’ It is set to be released in an anthology very soon!

Remember short descriptions, a singular theme, strong characters and tight conclusion. These ingredients and your particular spice, your writing, will help you stir up a savoury and sweet short story dish!

Do strong female characters invalidate the male hero?

This post was inspired by a number of factors occurring together. There was this post by Chuck Wendig, then a critique I did for an author friend, a romance that I read – which I mention later in this post – and my own experience in writing.

Most of the time in genre fiction, we have a male hero. The female character at best is a helping hand. In romance, which I write and read a lot and hence will be talking about, we do have a story usually progressing from the heroine’s point of view. But is it really heroine-driven?

I’ll diverge a little from the topic here to try to differentiate between heroine oriented and heroine driven plots. I’m taking these terms to mean a heroine oriented story is about her, not necessarily making her in charge or the ‘hero’ of the story. There can be things happening to her and she might just be cataloging all that without really affecting the course of the story.

She is the ‘hero’ when she is responsible for at least a few major changes in the course of the story.

That differentiation isn’t simple when you are writing romance. You know what’s a big dilemma in writing romance? The first is finding the balance in devoting proper space to the characters.
Sure you can write from one character’s pov but even then you must have the proper fleshing out of the other character. What they are or aren’t from the pov of your pov character. What they won’t be and why that irks your pov character.
Here comes the problem. If you write a story centered around one character, that isn’t romance. Maybe a romantic biographical experience. For it, to be romance, you have to focus on two people and give their story equivalent, if not, equal space and emphasis.

In the older genre of romances that I used to read in my teens, it was common to have the narration mainly through the female character, through whose eyes one saw the hero (what I call heroine oriented story). Nowadays, there are usually two povs and I for one, enjoy reading and writing both the characters’ points of view. But in spite of the story proceeding from both the directions, at times one can overshadow the other especially when that character is bringing more change in the story.

Most of the time, it’s the hero. In fact, Alpha is the term coined just for romance heroes who are expected and designed to take charge. But if they take charge of ALL the events, what’s left for the heroine to do?

Here’s the second dilemma in romance fiction.

And the third. Can this situation occur in reverse?

This was illustrated to me in a book I read recently. Read my review of that book here. In this, the hero was not the strong dominant type. At first it irked because one looks for that in Harlequin romance but the start was interesting, so I settled into the story and it looked like he had some growing up to do, which was fine. But then the growing up was thrust into your face when, with the turn of the page, the book jumped four years. Maybe if it had been from his point of view and we were taken through it in stages it wouldn’t have been so bad but I was seriously considering throwing the book at the wall at this point. However, I had the time and I rarely give up on a book so I stuck on skimming the paragraphs till I could find the main characters together again. I did finish the book but it seemed to me that an attempt had been made to steal the heroine’s thunder in giving the hero a more ‘heroic’ personality. He was made to grow up and assume the ‘hero’ mantle and ‘hero’ features in a hurry and at the cost of reader interest.
It is common to find the story being sacrificed to fit in category romance. But to this extent? To change and remold the characters? Is that even wise?

Which makes me think, maybe they do have a point. This feeling was reinforced when I resumed work on my current book, The Eligible Princess.
To update you, this is a historical romance and involves the heroine’s journey.  Also the hero’s journey because in romance – the way I see it – both must occur together.
Now here in this book whenever I have the heroine doing something which is like taking up the reins, assuming control of her life and somehow even the story…when she does that, the hero comes across as a…well…wimp. If she faces danger the question comes ‘What doesn’t he know better than letting her go and head into it?’ I began to run out of ideas of what she could do without thoroughly hogging the limelight.

I ended up empathizing more with the book I had just finished. You never know how they pinch till you have worn the shoes yourself, isn’t it? *sigh*

Have you faced this trouble with strong female leads? While reading or while writing? Do they eclipse the hero? Is that a problem? In romance, do you expect the hero to play a more defining role? Would you like a romance where the female lead dictated most of the action? Do you like to read both the hero and heroine’s pov in romance?
Do share your views.

Should we read outside our favourite genre?

Well, should we? Or is it an exercise in futility?
Let’s see. Why do we read fiction?
To get entertained.
To immerse ourselves into other worlds and for that time lose ourselves into another existence.
We watch movies or plays for much the same reasons.
Now some readers are quite flexible and able to enjoy all sorts of fiction.
Are you one of those?
Most readers though have their particular favourite flavour.
I belong to that category. I’m a diehard romance reader and there’s no better way of unwinding for me than taking up a shiny new genre book and forgetting everything else for some hours. I can read murder mysteries with relish too, though the drawback is you can’t quite put one down without knowing the end. That plays havoc with your daily routine.
When taking up thrillers or other genres, I find they can be enjoyed in small doses but I tire of them quickly.

Have you felt like that? So keeping that in mind, would it better if we just don’t step out of our preferred niche? If we stick to what we enjoy most?

Am I wasting my time reading other books that most probably I won’t read with much fervour? With so many books around I don’t lack for choice. So maybe I should concentrate on enjoyment and not exploration?

Here’s my two sides of the debate. Do share your thoughts in the comments.

Pros of reading your favourite genre fiction:
Entertainment value
Well, that’s pretty much obvious.
Must for writers
To learn :
Structure
Reader expectation
What has being done What’s trending
Finding like minded friends

Cons of reading the same genre
Becoming niche You’ll lose sight of the new happenings in other genres.
Writers beware! Like a dish which is bland without spices, your reading experience is pallid without exploring other genres. Reading vastly different genres like sci fi and romance can  provide you with that twist in your fiction and new ideas with which to refresh your story. (Check out my sci fi story in collection Unexpected Valentines. Readers have really loved it.)
Bored with it We need change. We can’t eat pizza everyday. Well, maybe some of us can! My kids for instance. But getting a balanced diet is important too.

The good thing is we have crossover or combination genre fiction to tide you over the change and gently take you out of your favourite genre. Want thrills and romance? There’s romantic suspense. Paranormal historical? Fantasy romance? You name it, it’s probably been done three hundred times already.  If not, you could have a go at it.

Which is your favourite genre? Do you like to explore different genres? Are you comfortable stepping out of your favourite literature zone?

Three Tips for Promoting Your #Writing

This post is for writers who want to promote their work and are new at it.

Promotion is a necessary evil in a writer’s profession. Like it or not, if you want the world to see your work, you have to wade in these muddy waters. If you are someone like me who dreamed of hiding in her cave and churning out words, it can be a rude fact to wake up to. Believe me, I didn’t relish talking about myself at all as necessitated for so called platform building. Talking about the book was a little easier. However, as I started to make friends and meet like-minded people during the book promotion whirlwind, I began to sort of ease into this stuff.
For those beginning to test these waters, here are my two cents worth. Hope these tips will help.

>>Write consistently
So you have a new book out. If you have been on the social media for some time,  you will be looking for interviews and guest posts to put the word out for your new release. Having a pile of blogposts to write can play havoc with your schedule. My advice: Rather than releasing ten posts in a week, space them out. Do a post a day or four a week but don’t lose sight of the fact that you are a writer. Don’t stop working on your next book.

>>Make time for social media regularly
This can seem a contradiction of the first. But the truth is, just like you can’t stop writing,  you can’t stop blogging or tweeting or updating facebook status or whatever it is that you are fond of doing in the way of social networking. The key factor here is to do it in small bites. A ten minutes twitter break while writing. Using the  half hour of post lunch relaxation for blogging. You get the drift. Fix a limit for networking and stick to it. I know it’s hard. So it’s okay to let go once in a while. We’re humans, not mechanical timers that can be set to go off at a particular time 🙂 But do try to exercise restraint 😉

>>Share others’ work and support them
The more you step out for others, the more you will receive from them in your turn. And really in the writing world there is no competition. At least my writer friends haven’t heard of it; kudos to them! 🙂 Writers are among the most supportive lot in all professions. So do try to do as much as you can for your writing buddies.

These are the skimmed cream equivalent from what I’ve been learning. More in later posts as I learn the ropes of promotion especially in the world of self publishing.

Hope you found this post helpful. Do share your own promo tips in the comments 🙂