Why do I love reading and writing historical romance? The answer is really quite simple. Historical romances transport me to another time and place and immerse me in a love story. Before I started writing historical romance, I never considered the skillful balance between facts and emotion in these stories, the delicate weave of details within a love story that creates a sense of time and place and brings the plot and the characters to life. Now, as a writer of historical romance, I know firsthand the challenge of blending facts into a story without creating information overload.
While the developing emotional relationship between the heroine and her hero is the central focus of historical romance, historical details serve to sweep the reader away to another time and place. Infusing facts throughout the story without sounding like a travel guide is a writer’s challenge. Research, layering details through multiple revisions, and a willingness to cut facts that don’t enhance the story are my keys to achieving balance between historical detail, story flow, and emotional intensity.
Of course, thorough research is a given. Historical inaccuracies pull a reader out of a story, while details about historical events, clothing, food, transportation, communication, occupations, and social structure – the list could go on and on - provide scaffolding for a believable story.
After I become familiar with the essential characteristics of an era, I map out the plot and research specific aspects of the time period that may factor into the story. Historical details woven throughout the story create a sense of time and place. What weapons were available? What historical events and historical figures might have impacted the characters’ lives? What literary and artistic works were prominent during that era? In my new release, Destiny, the heroine’s love of tragic romances factors into the plot. Research to identify popular authors of the heroine’s time provided details that fleshed out the character’s actions and dialogue.
I’ve learned to watch for detail overload. Long, dragging descriptions and an overuse of period details bog down the story. If I note my Civil War-era heroine’s fondness for a bolero-like garment known as a Zouave jacket, I’ll avoid an abundance of period terms to describe the other garments in the scene. Action scenes call for selective use of detail. A character fighting for his life isn’t going to think, I’ll use my Colt revolver. Likewise, references to historical figures can add to a story, but historical name-dropping can result in detail overload. Your characters shouldn’t sound like Joan Rivers on a time travel adventure.
Every author develops a method that works best for him or her. To me, research, layering details, and revision are the keys to crafting a love story that transports the reader to another time and place.