By Nicole North
Personally, I don’t. If I wanted a history lesson, I’d take a history class, read a research book, a text book, historical fiction or fictionalized history. But if I’m reading historical romance, I want the romance to be the primary focus of the story.
So, why read historical romance instead of contemporary? Because the historical setting offers me far more escapism than a contemporary setting. We all live in a contemporary setting, so it’s all real and familiar to us. But if we can be transported back in time 400 years, that’s a totally new and different reading experience. It’s much like fantasy or science fiction in that way, but it could have happened. This is why historical research must be accurate.
Just because historical research must be accurate in historical romance, doesn’t mean you need tons of it in there. I’ve noticed in my own writing, it’s more like an iceberg. You only see a little of the historical detail, the necessary stuff. But most of the research remains just beneath the surface and is not obvious to readers.
Not only is this what most historical romance readers expect, but also editors and agents who acquire historical romance. An example from my own experience: I wanted to include a scene which takes place at Midsummer in one of my novels. I researched Midsummer in Scotland endlessly. I wrote the very detailed scene of several pages, showing all the Midsummer activities and customs my characters were participating in. Vivid visuals. The works. Wow, was I proud of that scene. But I was not allowed to keep it. Why? Because it had no purpose. It was basically a history lesson. It was shown rather than told, but still the Midsummer scene did not move my story forward. The details were unnecessary to the developing relationship and plot. A huge portion of it could be removed without changing the story at all. So that’s what I did. The characters are still having a Midsummer celebration, but it is only the setting and backdrop. Not the main focus.
Most historical romance readers want to be immersed in your vivid historical setting for the escapism value. Not for the extreme realism value. I certainly don’t want to read page after page of detailed descriptions of how bad hygiene and sanitation was during the 1600s. I don’t want to read gory details of battle scenes, torture or executions. That’s real history, but it isn’t romance escapism. Romance is an uplifting, positive genre. And the only way to achieve that in historical romance, is to leave out most of the gory and stinky details. Sure, a few of such details are fine and sometimes necessary. They do give a hint of the realism. I’ve written battle scenes and described the stench of a city. But it isn’t something I want to read about for hours. I want to know what’s going on in that developing relationship.
The insertion of unusual historical details has to be handled carefully. They shouldn’t make the story drag. The reader shouldn’t be confused by them or have to go look up words to understand what’s happening in the story. But if the reader happens to learn something about history while reading your historical romance, so much the better. You can do both, but in my opinion, any history lessons should probably be well disguised as entertainment. :)
I'm thrilled to report my anthology, Secrets Volume 27 Untamed Pleasures, was voted Best Book of the Week at LASR -WC and received a 5 cherry review.
Here is a snippet: "Devil in a Kilt by Nicole North is a time traveling romance with a brawny Scotsman under a curse. There’s a lot of heart in this story as well as heat. There are a few plot conflicts that interweave, between personal angst, a vile witch and the breaking of the aforementioned curse. I enjoyed Gavin, the hero, and his kilt wearing ways. Shauna, the heroine, was the perfect balance of modern day independence and sexual freedom which put her as the perfect counterpoint to Gavin’s alpha Laird. She’s not loose or scatterbrained, she is a strong woman who stands up for herself and her dialogue was crackerjack sharp. Also, I liked that Shauna isn’t afraid to enjoy the benefits of Gavin’s…kilt. Their coming together was pure romance. The battle or skirmish reminded me of the daring do of the old Errol Flynn movies – dashing and manly. It was very exciting." Review by Xeranthemum