MANASI Y MASTAKAR asks some bestselling national and international romance authors about how they tackle love and lust in their writing
CRISTIANE SERRUYA (Trust series, Ever More series, The Diaries series)
Lust is important, too
Lust is, usually, what brings the couple together, unless it is a friends-to-lovers trope, as it does in real life. Love is what will keep them together. In a romance, these two feelings need to happen, otherwise there is no love story to be told. Lust is important for a relationship to flourish and then comes the admiration and respect the characters will find about each other, then love will follow, with a Happy Ever After. As in life, if you lust for someone and you fall in love with said person, the love will keep you together and the lust will keep the romance alive for a long time.
Some like it, some not
Lust has to be an organic part of the story. I always show the growth of the trust between characters in a sex scene, the way they connect. A sex scene can’t just happen randomly — there has to be a reason for it to be there. A few tasteful love scenes, where the feelings are more important than the body parts, add to the developing of the relationship between the characters.
Sometimes those feelings are blown up to immense, surreal proportions; like for example in my first romance series, Shades Of Trust or in The Diaries series, where the sex is hot, racy, fun, and sometimes even dirty. Other times, they are rendered on a smaller, more intimate scale that looks more like traditional realism. One of my books, Forevermore, had reviewers saying they could see themselves in the story and that was exactly what I was aiming for, since the romance had a sick child in it. Readers know that every relationship has its own, unique dimensions, and making one work is often the delicate, frustrating, repetitive work of picking apart a tangled child’s necklace.
A matter of feelings
When you say romance, who is the first couple that comes to mind? Romeo and Juliet, right? Written by Shakespeare, who also wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream…Oh, and what to say about Dickens’ Great Expectations? Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary? Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame? F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby or the contemporary Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day? Or Jane Austen and the amazing Brönte sisters, who are considered marks in the English literature…Romance is a real and valid literary tradition with its own tropes, conventions, goals and preoccupations that address real complexities in people’s lives. They can differ in execution, but romance is not only “wanting to marry the royal billionaire”.
Serious romance writers are advocating one thing or other with their words. For example: female pleasure is one of the most culturally significant features and most radical aspects of that advocacy. But the genre’s true subject, great concern, is feelings. Not just romantic feelings, but feelings about one’s family, one’s friends, oneself, and most important, the love relationship in question.
Combination of a lot of things
Bestselling romance novels are not always well-written and there are thousands of excellent books that will never figure in a bestselling list. Nowadays, the key to a bestselling romance novel is the combination of two scary monsters: Money and algorithm. The rest is luck.
JAYA MISRA (Kama: The Story of the Kama Sutra)
An intermingled aspect
Love and lust are intermingled…In my book (‘Kama: The Story of the Kama Sutra’) which is Vatsyayana’s journey to find true love via exploring lust, there are two female protagonists, who love him dearly. But, he has a very lustful relationship with one, and the other one is pure love…and the concept of love and lust is quite interlinked. And at the end of it, it seems like love is a very short-lived word that flies away, it’s a very transient emotion…and in my book and in my opinion, memories of lust last longer.
Evoking the five senses
I am an erotica writer, and writing erotica is basically evoking all five senses (touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste). In that way when you are describing in your pages, not only sex, but everything that comes before and after sex…the writing has to be so evocative that it evokes all the five senses. So, even if you are describing something that is leading to sex, it has to be done in a sensual manner…it has to be done almost like foreplay. With absolute pornographic writing, people just jump into the act (describing the positions, talking about body parts), but erotica writing is more about how you feel. Of course, you do talk about touching and kissing and everything, but it’s more about how sensual you can make the reader feel. Love-making can be described in two ways: In an extremely pornographic manner, or in a gentle and beautiful way. And, it all comes down to your writing style…
Everybody is looking for love
The kind of media we are exposed to, or the internet exposure we have, the joy of gentle, old school romance…people don’t have the time for that. I, honestly, feel everybody is looking for love. So, when they read something deeply romantic, they feel it…love hasn’t changed, but may be the way it is consumed has. I feel people do look down upon it, but if you give them an interesting story they will definitely enjoy it.
One of the important aspect of writing a romance novel is that the story has to be told in an interesting manner and you have to have the tenets of storytelling clear. The other thing is anything that is written from the heart reaches the audience, anything that you write in a half-baked manner is not going to work.
NIKITA SINGH (Letters to My Ex, Every Time It Rains, Like a Love Song)
Not forcing sex
My books are about relationships between people, romantic and otherwise. And sex is a part of romantic relationships, so it is sometimes vital to include in the story in order to provide a 360 degree view of the characters. But I don’t try to force it into a book if it doesn’t fit. For example, in ‘Every Time It Rains’, the main character was a victim of abuse in the past, and her new relationship wasn’t at the point of physical intimacy when the book ended, so there was no sex in that book. I didn’t try to force a scene somewhere to sell more copies. Same with my upcoming novel, ‘The Reason Is You’.
Sensual vs. vulgar
The line between sensual and vulgar is not thin at all, so it doesn’t require active thought from me to ensure my work doesn’t read vulgar. I think vulgarity is on the opposite end of the spectrum, it takes a lot of tastelessness for a piece of writing to be seen as crude or obnoxious.
Looking down on romance
I chose a profession in which my work is seen by more people than just my boss or my team, so when those many eyes inspect every word that I write, there is bound to be difference in opinion. That said, I appreciate feedback on my work, but I don’t entertain preconceived notions about genre or an author or a book, which is to say — if someone reads my work and comments on it, I’ll pay it more attention than someone who hasn’t read a word but has strong opinions that are completely baseless. There is a difference between critics and haters and I have learned to recognise that.
No set formula
There is no set formula for success in anything. I think what works for my books is that the young audience in India is looking for homemade content to consume, that they can not only be entertained by but also relate to and imagine vividly. The characters in my stories feel real, making the readers invest in them and root for them.
IRA TRIVEDI (The Great Indian Love Story, There’s No Love on Wall Street, What Would You Do to Save the World?)
Drawing the line
There is a fine and often confusing line between love and lust. I try to clearly differentiate between the two but also show the confusion that often arises. It all comes down to the art of writing, and if you write with an intention of sensuality, with that “bhav”, you were surely be able to establish this.
I don’t think romance as a genre is looked down upon. Every great novel has some element of a love story, whether it’s “romantic” or not. Most major best-sellers in the world are love stories in some way or the other. Maybe this genre is looked down upon by intellectual snobs, but other than that, I think it’s a perfectly accepted genre.
Key to writing a bestselling novel
Writing from your heart and tapping into your subconscious to release the most powerful words possible!