Saturday, February 22, 2014

What Makes or Breaks a Historical Romance

by Legend of the Mist  author Veronica Bale

While plot and character analysis are common features of all fiction, it is the historical detail which sets my beloved genre apart from the rest. And for the novels where this crucial point is not done well, they only serve to strengthen the stigma: that historical romance is fluff. There are two key errors that writers make which readers will not tolerate: inaccuracy, and lack of detail.
There is a stigma associated with historical romance. People think it’s fluff; it’s garbage; it’s unworthy of serious literary attention. As a writer of historical romance I hate to admit it, but it’s true. Perhaps it’s all those shirtless men and busty ladies on the covers. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s genre fiction. Whatever the reason, the stigma is alive and well, and you don’t need to go far to find someone who believes it. But we band of die-hard romance lovers know that said stigma simply isn’t true. We know that historical romances (indeed romances in general) when they’re done well can have complex plots, well-developed characters, and a wealth of historical information. Key word here:

Inaccuracy Have you ever read a book where a Regency lady and her rakehell hit the corner of their ritzy London lane for a late-night slice of pizza? Have you ever come across a Southern Belle that struggles with a zipper on the back of her gown? (Believe it or not, folks, those are not exaggerations … I’ve seen both.) Glaring errors like these will get you called out as a dreaded Writer-of-Fluff by readers very quickly. And whether you like it or not, you won’t get a free pass if you’re self-published. If you’re a writer of historical romance, you’ve got to have your critical thinking cap glued to your head at all times, and to recognize when to question your own writing. For example, what is the hierarchy of peerage for the country about which you’re writing? What fabrics were in use for your time period? What metals were popular? The last thing you want to do is give your King Arthur-era knight an aluminum breastplate, after all. You don’t have to know all these details off the top of your head, but you do need to know when to look them up. If you guess and you’re wrong, readers will call your bluff.

Lack of Detail Nothing ruins the atmosphere of a historical romance like a total miss on the historical part. Yet so often authors forego this critical aspect, causing readers to lament that the story could have taken place at any time, anywhere. To make your historical romance not only believable but truly stand out, you have to have that detail in there .
Pay attention to your story and give some thought to where and when you can authenticate  your details. For example, don’t just write that your Spanish princess goes to bed. Everyone goes to bed whether they are Viking raiders or Victorian-era servants. When your princess goes to bed, what does she do? Does she clean her teeth? How and with what? If you don’t know, look it up. A quick internet search will tell you that people cleaned their teeth with split twigs, rough cloths, salt, chalk, etc. etc. Or, say your handsome Highland laird dons a cloak. What does it look like? What’s it made of? Is it trimmed or lined, and if so, with what? Don’t know? Look it up. Here is the perfect opportunity to authenticate your story with detail.
Detail is what makes a historical romance historical. It’s what readers of the genre want to see. This complex, exciting and educational genre does not deserve the stigma currently associated with it. So if you write this type of novel, help elevate it into the sphere of worthy literature where it truly belongs. The best way to do that is to add accurate and ample detail.

There is a legend familiar to those who call the island of Fara their home. It is one that is passed down through the generations. From mothers who whisper the tale to their bairns as they float into dreams each night. From starry-eyed lasses who pray to find for themselves the undying love of which it speaks. From elders who know the magic of the thick and inexplicable mist surrounding this, and no other, of Orkney’s islands which rise from the sea off Scotland’s northern coast.
As the daughter of Clan Gallach's chief, Norah knows the legend better than anyone on the island. It tells of a lady who waits in the mists of Fara for her long lost love to return to her. It's an entertaining story, to be sure. But it is no more than fantasy. Or so the islanders say. But Norah is not so certain. All her life she's felt that the legend is more than simple folklore, that the lady of the mist is more real than anyone wishes to believe.  

But these are turbulent times, marked by the very real tales of Norse invaders and their brutality. When her people are conquered by a band of fearsome Vikings, one among them will blur the lines between reality and legend like never before. For Norah cannot help but feel that she knows him ... from some other time ... from some other life ...


Veronica Bale has written several novellas, short stories, and news articles as a freelance writer. With her Highland Loyalties trilogy she made her debut into the world of historical romance novels. Veronica lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband, young son and three spoiled cats. When she's not writing she's running, reading, spending time with her family, or hopelessly lost in the cobbles of Coronation Street.


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