This week over at one of my favorite Internet spots – Romancing The Blog – there was an interesting discussion about the importance of historical accuracy in romances. A Fine and Dandy Problem was posted on the site on October 13th by literary agent Emmanuelle Alspaugh. Check out the post if you can – Ms. Alspaugh used a specific example from one of her clients to highlight the issue and she did a fine job of tossing a meaty bone for blog followers to chase. I chased it and lost on the site, but (cue music) I stand by my stance.
I think historical romance is any romance that takes place in a previous era. In other words, if it’s not contemporary, then it’s historical. To me, the period of a piece sets the mood. Beyond that, I think details are pretty much fair game. Okay, a Regency novel where the heroine e-mails a friend for advice might be (are you sitting down?) a little over the top even for me. But precise details like whether the railroads ran a specific route, intricate details about heirs to a particular title, the names of places and people -including dukes, earls and the like – can, and often should be created entirely from the mind of the author. I don’t care whether women were wearing a particular style during the years of my story – in fact, I don’t care that much exactly what anyone was wearing. If I describe a gown in detail, it’s because those details will play an important part of the scene. Otherwise, I don’t sweat the small stuff.
I read romance – be it historical, contemporary, suspense or paranormal – for the love story. I write romance to tell a love story. Let’s consider that for a second; let’s let it percolate in our disturbed little brains. We read and write romances because of the love story. If moving a historical event serves the story, then I’m all for that too. If a reader wants to immerse herself in accurate details of history or science, then she should read non-fiction. If she wants to immerse herself in a romance well, she should read … romance.
Authors have creative license to build any world they choose and have the characters in their world act any way they choose. It may be the planet Web-A-Lot populated by the spider people or it may be the planet Earth populated by dukes, earls, commoners and Scottish clans I put there, but either way, it’s my world. Creating a story is creating a world. Paranormal and Sci-Fi writers aren’t the only folks who get the license to build it their way.
Often I’ll choose a period of history, like the Regency, and set my story there because I know what pre-conceptions a reader will bring to the story. In that familiar era, so many know exactly where the bar is located. I can have my hero and heroine acknowledge the bar as they leap it on their way over the top. It can be something as small as “what three dance rule” or something as large as public liberties allowed on the dance floor to prove a public commitment a la A Faerie Fated Forever. It works for the author’s world if it works for their story.
My comment bearing my theory got trashed on RTB, but what I found interesting was one particular commenter. She originally posted a comment to the effect that if authors don’t take historical details seriously, how will the romance genre ever be taken seriously. In reviewing the comments for this blog (I’d saved the link) it appears that one got re-written. It now reads something like, writing historical details accurately will give romance “better press.” Maybe that’s my problem – I won’t sell my creative freedom in exchange for acceptance by anyone.
As has been noted many times previously in this blog, I write romance over the top. In my stories, when men fall in love they won’t act like men of whatever era generally did when they fell in love. They won’t act like men of this era generally do when they fall in love. The heroes in my stories surely won’t behave in a manner that a man anywhere would be likely to empathize with or endorse. The bigger, badder, better than life heroes in my stories will fall madly in love, will do whatever it takes to get the heroine, will sacrifice anything to keep her and will generally behave the way women would like men in love to act.
Some writers craft historical romance with careful and intricate attention to every detail of life in that era. Good for them, and I mean it. If they choose not to build a world and create a story that could exist within the boundaries of a specific time period, then I respect them for holding true to their vision. If I choose to build a world by re-building, revising or relocating people, places or things of a particular era, then good for me too. I think it’s all about what you decide to pay attention to in your tale.
Lavish, splendiforous descriptions of the setting for a particular ball or what people at that ball are wearing don’t serve my stories and don’t focus the reader’s attention where I want it. I’ll save my flights of splendiforousity for describing feelings, emotions and interaction of the hero and heroine on a close and personal level. I don’t consider historical details any more of an impediment than I do language. If there’s not a word that says exactly what I want, then I’ll make one up – splendiforousity, for example.
My approach would not suit anyone who yearns to be taken seriously. It would not suit anyone worried about “better press.” Life is serious. Reality today is damned depressing. My books are all about escaping reality, whether it’s reality of today, yesterday, or a hundred years ago. My stories will start you down familiar paths and then will slowly, a step at a time, re-paint the landscape until the same place doesn’t look the same at all. And maybe it isn’t. At the end of my stories, there will be a HEA that takes you over the top in an excessive, dramatic, reality-blowing way.
When I write a romance, the last thing I want is for you to take it seriously. Life is serious; the news is serious; stretching a budget to find money for food or the light bill is serious. Dear Lord above, I don’t want my romance to be serious. I want my stories to help readers escape from all the reality surrounding them.
So here’s my proposal — let’s NOT take it so seriously.