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 🙂

Review versus rating

If you are a writer who has published, you must have had your brush with the reviews and ratings for your book. We all love a five star, don’t we? But it strikes me as I course over the reviews of my book that sometimes even a low rating is okay if the reviewer has appreciated your book and directed the right type of readers or readers who are likely to have a taste for that type of fiction to your book.

So I’d like to ask all authors out there – which is more important to you? A good review or a better rating? Would you be happier if you had a higher rating but the reader left some criticism that you couldn’t digest or a low rating like the situation I described above?

Review versus rating…let’s hear your take on it!

Guest post On Words and Sentences blog: Summerita Rhayne on the dos and don’ts of writing romance fiction

Nikita Jhanglani invited me to share my thoughts about the dos and don’t of writing romance fiction. Here’s my post on her blog Of Words and Sentences – Nikita Jhanglani.

Here’s an extract:

Nikita Jhanglani:
According to you what are the dos and don’ts of writing a romance novel that every aspiring author should stick to.

Summerita Rhayne:
Hi Nikita. Thank you for having me on your blog and giving me the opportunity to share my views here.

The absolute dos that a romance novel needs are these:

Two main characters. My books are M/F romances so they involve a male and female but that is up to the author.
A happy ever after. That is a must. In all romances, things must be resolved and the couple must confess their love and the desire to be with each other forever. Nowadays, a happy-for-now is replacing the HEA in some lines but speaking of personal preference, I go for the mushy endings, both in reading and writing romances. The happy-for-now mostly works if the story is in series form.
Emphasis on emotional conflict. Romance novels are character driven and not plot driven. There’s nothing more off-putting in a romance than characters jumping from one event to another without rhyme and reason. What I find gripping in a romance is the emotional ups and downs. The core question in any fiction is how a character chooses a particular path instead of another when the personal stakes are high but it’s asked most eloquently in romances.

The don’ts are all relative in my point of view. You need them according to the publisher you are working on. Some publishers require Alpha males who are filthy rich so that the fantasy element is fulfilled. Some will require you make the heroine beautiful so the attraction-at-first-sight trope is fulfilled. The list is endless.

Here are the don’t s which I follow:

Use secondary characters sparingly. In romance novels, secondary characters are distracting. Especially if you’re writing a novella upto say 50k words, you just don’t have space to do justice to your main characters let alone complicating it with others. However, secondary characters add fun to the story and provide support to your main cast…Read the rest here

Thanks to Nikita again for hosting me.

Do share your views on the post, folks!