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Writing love stories with Australian romance author Karina May

Celebrants chat with Australian rom-com author & podcaster Karina May

Karina May is an expert in love stories. As the author of Duck a l’Orange for Breakfast and Never Ever Forever and the co-host of That Rom Com Pod (along with fellow author Clare Fletcher), Karina eats, sleeps and breathes romance.

While writing a novel is quite a different experience to crafting a marriage ceremony, when talking about love, some ideas are universal. 

Last week, we were lucky to have join Karina The Celebrant Society via Zoom to chat with NSW Local Leader Alison Pickel. She shared her insights on engaging audiences, her writing process and why story tropes can be useful. 

Here are a few key takeaways from her TCS chat:

Give yourself space to “procrasticreate”

Procrastination can be big part of the creative process. Sometimes the best ideas come when you are doing something else, like going for a walk. So rather than beating herself up for “doing nothing” for a couple of hours, Karina has learned to acknowledge that sitting with a story is part of her process and she’d now built this into her timeline. She calls it “procrasticreating”.

Begin with a title

It’s a radical idea in the publishing world, but the first thing Karina writes in her novels is the title. It could be thematic or it be based on the plot, but the title helps her create structure and gives a consistent throughline in her stories.

Giving a name to our couple’s stories might seem a little unusual, but it also might just be the genius hack you need to find the direction of your writing.

Start on the day that is different

Even before writing books, Karina has always been a storyteller. She noticed that when recounting events to friends, she would often start in the middle. It was only when she became a writer that she realised why she was doing that: it’s usually the most interesting part of the story.

The inciting incident, or what Karina calls “the day that is different”, is likely the most engaging hook for audiences. In a love story, this might be the “meet-cute” (the moment when the two protagonists encounter each other and sparks fly), or it could be the proposal. Instead of being chained to chronological events, find the moment that is special and unique in their relationship and start there.

Once you’ve identified that incident, dig into the details to bring it to life. Karina believes it’s far more interesting to delve deeper into those moments than to attempt to cover the whole relationship.

Bake the cake

A funny piece of dialogue or a quirky scene is all well and good, but it can feel like a cheap thrill if there is no purpose behind it. That’s why Karina likens her writing process to cake making. 

She starts with ‘baking the cake’: figuring out what needs to be communicated to get from point to point. Once those foundations have been laid, she can start ‘icing the cake’ i.e. adding those flourishes which bring colour to the story.

Use tropes as shorthand for audiences

Tropes are big in the romance world: enemies to lovers; forced proximity; second-chance romance; workplace romance etc. 

Tropes can be especially helpful in telling short stories because you don’t have to waste words explaining it to audiences. They already know what to expect and that creates a level of comfort for them. 

Identifying a trope that exists between real-life couples can help you find the story beats to create a cohesive template. 

Karina gives the example of the friends-to-lovers trope: 

  • Beat 1: the hook / the meet-cute / the inciting incident 
  • Beat 2: the mid-point – the tension of will they/won’t they or an obstacle to raise the stakes 
  • Beat 3: the tipping point – getting together 
  • Beat 4: the highest point – this is how deeply they can love

Find what works for you

Discovering the most productive and creative way to write is different from person to person. Karina says it took her a lot of trail and error to figure out how she likes to write. While these tips work well for her process, something else might work for you. Try different things and see what sticks.

Watch the video

TCS Members can soak up all the highlights and writing wisdoms from our chat with Karina by watching the full video below.

NB viewing is restricted to TCS Members only

If you’d like to learn more about Karina May, read her books or listen to her podcast, visit:

Or follow her on Instagram.

To learn more about how to write incredible love stories, sign up for Ben Ager’s Online Creative Writing Masterclass. TCS Members get a $100 discount!

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Author Bio

Alison Pickel

Alison is a big nerd and she’s not afraid to admit it. When she’s not getting overly excited by s45(2) of the Marriage Act (how cool is it that it’s the couple’s words that actually make them married?!), she can be found puzzling in escape rooms or smashing the movie round for her pub trivia team.

Hailing from Marrickville in Sydney’s Inner West, Alison has a background in print and digital media. In 2018, she swapped deadlines for ‘I do’s, and has been hitching loved-up legends ever since. She is also a celebrant trainer, ceremony ghostwriter and the NSW Local Leader for The Celebrant Society.

Away from the arbour, Alison likes to eat dumplings, re-watch Schitt’s Creek (again), and take way too many photos of her rescue cats, Pancake and Barney.