Do readers make better writers?

Barbara Cartland, Georgette Heyer, Betty Neels, Madeleine Ker, Margaret Pargeter, Daphne Clair, Rebecca Stratton, Sally Wentworth, Jessica Steele, Penny Jordan, Margaret Way, Jayne Anne Krentz, Sara Craven, Carol Mortimer, Michelle Reid, Lynne Graham, Sarah Morgan, Julia James, India Grey, Olivia Gates.

Every romance addict would recognize and bow down before these names in a trice. All these names, my dear readers, belong to highly acclaimed writers, those fabulous writers whose books peopled my imagination, fuelled my Dreams and ignited my feelings. The topic of today’s blog is ‘Do readers make better writers?’

I would like to share a few of my reader traits. I was and am a romance junkie. All my pocket money and extra money that I could lay my hands on was spent on books and especially romance novels! My long suffering mother had thrown up her hands in despair and laid down just one condition – that for each Mills and Boon that I bought, I would buy a classic as well. So, while the classics would be read grudgingly, the Mills and Boon would be devoured and gorged upon.

Reading introduced me to an entire gamut of characters, to the possibilities of plot and storyline, to the beauty of words and nuances of language. At the mundane level, reading improved my grammar, amplified my vocabulary and augmented my knowledge.

I learnt foreign words – Ma Cherie, querida, bellisimo, giada mia, mon amour, mio amore, Tesoro, caro, delizioso, amado, mon ange, je t’aime, ti amo.     

I learnt some important statistics — French heroes are a study in sophistication, Italian heroes flirt outrageously, Greek and Arabic heroes have deep reaching family roots and the newly arrived Russian heroes have larger than life figures.

I gained knowledge of the world – Paris is the love destination; numerous Greek islands are privately owned by tycoons and jetsetters and St. Tropez, Ibiza, Cote’ d Azur are ‘the’ places for romantic wooing.     

            I met myriad heroines. Barbara Cartland’s ethereally beautiful heroines; Betty Neels no-nonsense nurse heroines; Jessica Steele’s slightly distracted heroines; Penny Jordan’s wronged heroines; Lynne Graham’s good but woefully misunderstood heroines; Margaret Way’s slight but spirited heroines and Julia James and Sarah Morgan’s feisty but in dire straits heroines.  

And in hindsight, I would like to think that I because I was a voracious reader I was able to write better than I otherwise would have written.

I knew the plots that appealed to me, the kind of characters that touched me, the pace of story that I wanted and the language I wanted to use.

I had liked Margaret Way’s beautiful descriptions of the Australian outback; Penny Jordan’s cruel but delicious heroes; Lynne Graham’s steamy descriptions; Sarah Morgan’s sizzling encounters and Julia James’ story twists.

When I sat down to write, the disparate threads of what I liked and what I didn’t like in a book came together. And when I stood with the manuscript in hand, I remembered Henry Adams who said,

“A TEACHER AFFECTS ETERNITY; HE CAN NEVER TELL WHERE HIS INFLUENCE STOPS.”

So it was with all the books I had read. ‘His Captive Indian Princess’ is also a tribute to the countless Mills and Boon that I have gobbled and wolfed down. Reading definitely made me a better writer I proudly admit.

How to build fictional characters

“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”
William Faulkner

What happened with William Faulkner is exactly what happened with me.

Hello fellow romance aficionados! I’m Tanu Jain and I’m here to share my thoughts on building of fictional characters.

Gauri and Vikram, the protagonists of “His Captive Indian Princess” crashed into me at the ruins of a fort and as soon as we got up and dusted ourselves they began to bicker and squabble. They quarreled and I looked on bemused at the sparks flying around and the chemistry blazing between them. The story was in a nascent stage but the characters weren’t bothered. They continued their verbal sparring both determined to outdo the other.

This has always been how my fictional journey begins. The characters come first and then the story follows. But though Vikram and Gauri, had materialized with a bang, they required some further painstaking craftsmanship. 

Gauri, my heroine seemed to jump off the pages, as my editor told me, and was eminently vivacious and likeable. But Vikram was coming across as a pompous, cruel boor. So, the pitch was to make him likeable and attractive.
I had to figure him out in detail, flesh out his character and bring to fore his roundedness.

I realized that a character like any human being is composed of individual qualities, quirky traits and skeins of motivation.
I racked my memory for characters I had empathized with over the years, characters that had stayed long when the book or movie had gone.  I pondered over their individual qualities that had caught my interest and imagination. And then the motivation aspect came in. What motivated the character? And once I had painstakingly discovered the impulses that drove him and the demons that rode him I could empathize and bring him out correctly.

One tip in crafting characters which has been passed on to me and I would like to share with you is to first of all, draw a male figure and a female figure. These are the main characters. Then, proceed to fill them with physical description, emotional traits, intellectual qualities and background details. As the story progresses add the state of mind of the character. This helps in fleshing out the character and creating a well rounded personality.

Vikram and Gauri, my first romantic hero and heroine are a tribute to the alpha males and feisty, spirited women that I met in the pages of countless Mills and Boon. But though fashioned out of the same rib, they are their own persons. It was a heady feeling to perceive myself as a creator but I realized that the shoe was on the other foot.  Vikram and Gauri had shaken off my shackles and developed and matured, carving out their distinct identities. And even after the book finished, they remained with me as two people, I was proud to have met and known. 

I’d like to conclude with Ernest Heminway’s insightful quote,

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”

 

A new year wish for aspiring romance writers

 

Good Morning everyone! A new year has dawned! As I was dancing the night away at the New Year Eve party, Brad Paisley’s lyrics strummed in my mind; “Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.”

 

I’m Tanu Jain and my debut novel ‘His Captive Indian Princess’ for Mills and Boon hit the stands in October, 2013. This blog is my New Year wish and encouragement especially for aspiring writers. Harlequin Passions Contest, an awesome publishing opportunity for writers bitten by the writing bug is on. So, wake up people and put the quill to paper!

 

I’d like to share with you all, a little bit of what my publishing journey has been like. Writing has been my passion and I have been imagining stories from as far back as I can remember. Snuggled in bed, the lights put out by my mother, my mind would begin to wander on a voyage of imagination. Books and especially the countless Mills and Boon that I read fuelled my imagination. As I grew older, strangers I met randomly, on the street, in the bus, in college, at parties or gatherings would fascinate me and I would weave stories around their day-to-day life, what they did and whom they loved. But I hid my imaginings, afraid that I would be labeled ‘Ms. Prying Eyes’ or worse, ‘A Fanciful Fabricator’!

 

The tight knot inside me loosened when I sat down and chanced to write the story simmering inside me. The pent up feeling that was released buoyed me up. I wrote an eminently forgettable love story about a handsome Greek shipping magnate and heartbreakingly beautiful half Greek, half English heroine that was predictably rejected.

 

One day as I sat ruminating amongst the ruins of an ancient fort the heroine of my book, princess Gauri Rao, careened into my musings and hot on her heels, in relentless pursuit, came the dashing HH Vikramaditya Singh. At loggerheads with each other, they begged to be punished with a happy ending and I meted it out to them   painstakingly.  Now they can often be seen strolling around the fort, hand in hand, smiling into each other’s eyes, secure in their love for each other and at peace.

 

I too, am at peace having scratched the writing itch once. But as reputations go, itches have to be scratched again and again. But hey, I’m not complaining! I’m raring to go.

 

Because I know that when stories beg to be told and characters clamour to come out not paying heed to them can be detrimental to one’s health and wellbeing.

 

So, all you fellow writers out there, gird your loins and follow your dream. Soon the ‘aspiring writer’ tag will be removed and you will become a bona fide published writer.

 

As T.S. Eliot wrote,

 

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language

 

And next year’s words await another voice.”