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. What weapons were available? What historical events, landmarks, and people might have impacted the characters’ lives? What literary and artistic works were prominent during that era? In my new release, Angel in My Arms, set during the American Civil War, Union spy Amanda Emerson visits with Confederate first lady Varina Davis and ventures to Richmond’s Libby Prison to rescue a double agent. These historical details add to the tapestry of the story. In 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.
How much historical detail brings a story to life without bogging it down? That depends on the story. Are historical events plot elements, or does the historical setting provide a context for the story? Angel in My Arms and Destiny are set against the background of the Civil War, but the plot events are entirely fictional. Historical details woven throughout the story create a sense of time and place, and references to historical figures can add to a character’s development, 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.
Here’s a brief summary of Angel in My Arms:
Amanda Emerson must break her cousin, a notorious double agent, out of a Confederate prison before his imminent execution. She’s a skilled Union operative, but for this mission, she needs a man. Even a man who looks and acts like a Viking warrior.
Caught with Rebel battle plans and set for a hanging, Union spy Steve Dunham isn’t about to refuse the assistance of the sable-haired beauty who shows up at the jail and slips him the keys to his cell. Of course, she’s there for a reason besides saving his neck - he’s the key to her plan.
He may be trading one noose for another, but he won’t forsake her. The spoils of his victory will be her surrender. And the terms of surrender will be sweet.
CONTEST: Based on the story blurb, who would you like to see portray Steve and Amanda if this were a movie? One lucky commenter will win a pdf of Angel in My Arms.
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Angel in My Arms is available from The Wild Rose Press