Historical accuracy in romance

The age old question that many of us historical romance authors face is this: how much accuracy is needed?

It’s a difficult one to answer because there are two main groups of thought, both of which have their own positives and negatives.

Group 1: The Purists

“Write a historical romance without all the details 100% accurate? Nonsese!” They cry. “The whole point of a historical romance is to lose yourself in the time period, to feel as though you could actually be there!”

And in some ways, this is true. Nothing is more jarring when reading a historical book than for a character to use modern day slang, or for a historical character that definitely wasn’t alive then to appear on the page.

But the downside to absolute purist books are that authors can spend hours, days even, hunting down the exact time of cotton thread used in the sewing of a particular type of boot, which is actually only described in passing on one page. It’s a very exhausting way to work for the author, and readers don’t often realise how many hours of work have gone into describing the type of candle wax in a dinner scene.

Group 2: The Narratives

“It’s the narrative story that actually matters!” This group cries. “What does it matter if a character is wearing a gown that was popular five years earlier? It’s the emotions that the character, and the reader feels that matters!”

And in many ways, they are right. Our readers typically assume that we know what we’re doing when writing historical romance, and that means that small slips in accuracy go unnoticed if the story is strong enough.

The downside of this, however, is that for those lovers of the time period, they will quickly notice when something isn’t quite right, and that can mean they put down your book in disgust – and not only never pick one up again, but advise others that they don’t even bother.

So what’s the answer?

Honestly, I’m not entirely sure. I saw in an author Facebook group this week that someone got themselves tangled up in knots about whether a certain word could be used in her book based in 17th century England if it had not been invented until the 1800s – and the heated debate showed that there are strong feelings on both sides!

On the other hand, have you ever tried to read a 17th century novel – one written during that time, I mean? Sure, there are plenty of words that you recognise, but could you tell your addle-plot from your borachio, your gapeseed from your mulligrubs? Some of my favourites are nipperkin or pickthank.

You see, if historical accuracy is taken too far, then the story actually gets completely lost. So I’m all about balance: I sit between the two camps.

What do you think?

Planning a historical romance series

One of the biggest challenges of being an author is planning a historical romance series. I know that there will be people who disagree with me, but I think this is true for three reasons:

  1. Planning a series, any series, is complicated. You have way more characters to keep track of, you need to ensure that things like time of the year or even years in a decade don’t get all loose, and that your characters’ descriptions don’t change!
  2. Writing historical fiction is complicated. Depending on the level of detail you want to bring into your books, there’s a huge amount of research that you have to put in before you can even think about writing a word!
  3. Creating believable romances is complicated. This is especially true for a series because romance readers always want a ‘happily ever after’ – so how do you get them interested in reading the next book?

Put all of that complication together, and what have you got?

Yeah. It’s complicated.

But planning a historical romance series doesn’t have to be something you avoid, just because it’s complicated. What you need to do is have a really clear strategy to combat those three problems. Here is how I make sure that planning a historical romance series doesn’t need to be the end of your writing career – before it’s even begun!

Keeping track of everything

For me, it’s spreadsheets. For some authors, it’s notebooks. I’ve even got an author friend who has a whole wall whiteboard that she sticks post-it notes on! The point is, find out the best way that you need to keep track of everything – from character names, ages, descriptions, and emotional arcs – and treat that as your Bible.

Have more than one copy of it. And then never let it go.

Commit to the research

Especially true if you’re writing a series, if you know that you’re going to be creating 3+ books in the same historical time period, remember that all the research that you’re doing is essentially divided by three because you can use it as least three times. That makes all those hours worth it.

I’d also recommend typing up your notes so that you can use the ‘Find’ function to hunt down slightly remembered details. You’ll thank me later.

Link your books together

There are a whole bunch of different ways that you can do this for romance series. I’ve used seasons of the year, siblings, and secondary characters becoming primary characters. I’ve read childhood friends and neighbours on the same street. Whatever you pick, it will need to be something cohesive enough to make it clear to your reader that there’s more of your ‘world’ that they can explore, without being so restrictive that your readers get bored of you.

So is that it?

I wish. Planning a historical romance series is one of the most rewarding and challenging things that I think an author can do. Think I’m wrong? Tell me in the comments below!

How do you write male characters?

I am asked a wide range of different questions about the way that I write, but the question that comes up most often is ‘How do you write male characters?’

It’s a great question, but it’s always a little irritating. I mean, I’ve never been a duchess either, but no one asks me how I manage to write those types of characters!

Basically what it all comes down to is three things, so if you want to write male characters, pull up a chair, and see whether these three tips can help you:

1. It’s all about motivation.

Just like any other character, it’s important to know the motivation of your character. It’s through their motivations, fears, greed, and hopes that you can start to weave your character’s words and deeds. Sometimes this is as simple as the opening plot: man is disinherited and seeks to reclaim his place in the world.

Sometimes you want to make it a little more difficult for your readers to work out: man is grumpy and particularly dismissive of women. Was he abandoned by his mother? Spurned by a lover? Betrayed by a sister? It’s the plot narrative that will reveal that to the other characters in the book, as well as your readers.

Before you start to write a male character, sit down and work out their motivation – and this can change throughout the book. Perhaps he starts the book as a private detective, just determined to make ends meet; then meets a woman in criminal distress and his motivations change to help her; then she betrays him and his motivations change to hunting her down and punishing her; then it’s revealed that she never betrayed him it was a misunderstanding, and his motivations end in marrying her and keeping her safe.

2. You need to be observant.

Masculinity is learned.

What do I mean by this? I mean that the way that men sit, stand, and scratch are behaviours that are learned from other men, and that means if you’re observant enough, you can start to learn too.

Now obviously if you are writing a historical romance, like I do, you will need to do a little research about the specific habits of the time. For example, did men in your historical period smoke or chew tobacco? If it’s smoke, was it in a hookah, cigarette, cigar? How did they hold them, cut them, throw them away?

It’s these little descriptions of habits that will make your male characters feel like real living people. I often receive emails from readers telling me that a particular habit of one of my characters has reminded them of one of their loved ones, and of course we’ve never met! But I have observed that exact same behaviour in the men around me.

3. Edit, edit, edit.

No writing is perfect immediately. It’s a great shame really, but there it is! I myself have 60,000 words to edit this afternoon (or at least make a start on), and I write a pretty clean first draft.

After you’ve finished your manuscript, leave it for a few weeks and come back to it. Print it off, and read it as though it’s the latest book you’ve bought. Do the characters ring true? Do they feel a bit awkward? Is there a section that doesn’t fit anymore, or do you need to add an explanatory scene earlier on?

It’s these edits that will fine tune your male characters, and give them the breath of life that only a great author can give. Although it may be painful and time consuming, it’s worth it for your readers.

 

I hope these tips have helped you! Do you have any other tips for writing male characters? Let me know in the comments below!

Guest Blog: Unwrapping a Rogue

unwrappingarogueUnwrap your next historical hero in this Regency romance boxset created especially for Christmas!
Including brand new and exclusive content from USA Today and Bestselling authors as well as much-loved Christmas titles, find yourself lost in a world of snow, scandalous kisses, and sexy heroes.
 
How to Marry a Rake in Ten Days by Samantha Holt
 
The years had added the slightest touch of grey to his hair at the temples. Though he must have shaved in the morning, stubble was beginning to show on his jaw and upper lip. Something about that roughness made her want to reach out and stroke it. Lines crinkled the corners of his eyes. Not a lot but enough that his intense eyes were softened. And his lashes…dear Lord a man should never have such thick, long lashes. It was thoroughly unfair to the fairer sex.
“I always watched you,” he told her in a low voice, the timbre of it spearing deep inside her and making her feel warm and all twisted up inside.
She knew that. But she wouldn’t admit as much. A lady shouldn’t be aware of these things. However, he likely didn’t realise that she understood the reasons behind his stares. He probably had little clue that she even knew he was responsible for Robert’s change of heart.
“I never noticed.”
The lift of one brow told her he didn’t believe her. “I watched you dance. Watched you flirt. Watched you laugh.”
“A lady does not flirt.”
“You did.”
“Well, I have changed.”
His gaze met hers. “I noticed. A pity.”
Angelina eyed him. A pity? Here was the man who had so thoroughly disapproved of her behaviour that he had warned his all too impressionable friend away from her and now he was claiming that he liked that behaviour.
Though she supposed such behaviour was favourable in a conquest but not in a wife.
There was no chance she would be a conquest. She was here for a marriage.
“I have grown up, Benedict, that is all.”
His lips curved. “You have grown up in many ways.” He glanced over her figure. “The years have done you many favours, Angie. However, I’m not sure you are all that different.”
“I am,” she insisted. “I’m nothing like I was when we knew each other.”
Benedict released the curl and tilted his head to view her. “Well, we have ten days together. I’m certain it will become clear whether you have or not.”
“That sounds almost like a challenge, my lord.” She cursed the words once they were out. Those were the words of impulsive, silly Angie. Even the addition of his title had been used with every intention of being daring instead of polite.
He lifted a shoulder. “Perhaps.” He leaned forward and took her hand in his. She eyed their gloved fingers meeting and tried to force her arm to retreat but she had gone boneless at his touch. He eased his palm into hers and held her hand.
“A challenge would certainly make this rather dry party a little more interesting, do you not think?”
She was too busy gaping at their linked hands to even agree with him.
Or tell him no. She already had one challenge to worry about, she didn’t need another.
“We have ten days together. Let me prove to you that you are not changed. That the Angie I knew still resides behind those stiff manners.”
“Why on earth would I agree to such a thing?”
“To prove me wrong.” He lifted her hand up toward his mouth and brushed it over her knuckles.
“I have no need to prove it.”
“Are you scared?”
She raised her chin. “Never!”
He released a flash of a grin. “Ah, there she is.”
“Damn you, Benedict.”
His grin widened. “And again.”
She puffed out her cheeks, feeling how hot and red they were. This was all going so wrong. How was she meant to act like a lady when he was so infuriating? She should probably start thinking about a new job already. She’d never persuade Oliver they’d do well together if this continued.
Angelina tugged away her hand and shook her head. “You won’t win, Benedict. I can assure you of that. Now it is not appropriate for us to be alone together so I shall bid you good afternoon. Will you tell the marquess that I am suffering with a headache and I shall join them for dinner?”
“Of course, my lady.” He offered a mockingly formal bow and Angelina just knew he had no intention of giving up his idea of scandalising her.
 
She shook her head again. As if he could scandalise her further. 

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What’s in a name?

Alright, I’m just going to come out and say it: naming characters is the worst.

Most of my (non-author) friends think that I’m crazy for saying this. After all, most of us only get to name a few people in our lives, and if you don’t have any children then you never get the pleasure of deciding what someone is going to be called for the rest of their lives.

I haven’t had that sort of responsibility yet, but I have named several characters in my books. In fact, with my seventeenth book coming out in November (pre-order here!) and my twenty third book just returned from my editor, I’ve probably named over a hundred characters.

I’ve had Avis and Cathryn, Hestia and Audrey, even a Margaret. The boys haven’t been left out either: Alexander and Leonard and Thomas have all graced my pages.

But there’s no hiding from the truth any more. I’m running out of good names.

What? I hear you cry. There are thousands of great names – wonderful names, emotive names, beautiful names.

And there are. But when you’re going for a specific part of history, you immediately become limited. You can’t call a character Jack in the 1060s of England, or a Zacharius in the 1400s. Although Alice was popular in the Victorian era and the 1300s, you wouldn’t have found many in the Tudor era, and don’t even get me started on Judas and Delilah.

You’re unlikely to have a Regency noblewoman called Abigail (a servant’s name), nor any Victorias at all. Meredith is a boy’s name until the 1950s, and no matter how much I try to use Emily, I just can’t stomach naming a character after myself!

When you are seeking historical accuracy, it’s a challenge. There are natural limitations, and limitations that I want to stick to…within reason.

So apologies if you’re a Charles, Mary, Elizabeth, or Margaret. You could appear in almost any part of England’s history from 1050 onwards, and I’ll probably end up using you more than twice.

What name do you love? What names do you think are ignored in historical romance? Let me know in the comments below!

Finishing a historical romance series

Well – it’s done. I’ve finished the Ravishing Regencies series.

You may find that a little surprising, and don’t worry if you are one of my loyal Kickstarter fans, the books were (technically!) already written! As I shared with you a few months ago, I had this incredible idea of how to add something into the series…

…and of course, with an eight books in a series, that can get a little complicated.

Especially when it’s a historical romance series. There’s so much to try to keep track of: details of clothing, food, slang. Character names and nicknames, dates and weather…

The list literally goes on. It took me a while, but the last book has just been pinged over to my lovely editor (thank you Julia!) and the series is officially complete.

It’s a little bittersweet, to be honest. You spend months living through the fictional lives of eight couples – no, make that nine (keep reading to find out why!). You start to realise that there are so many parts of your writing life that you haven’t done yet, because you’ve been so focused on the series that you’re writing.

But now that Ravishing Regencies is finished, what next?

Well, for a start, the world needs to read them! I am releasing one book every two months, with the next one on pre-order, so make sure that you check out Drenched with a Duke now and order the third book in the series Shipwrecked with a Suitor. 

And while the other books are being published? Well, I currently have four series ideas (aarrghghh, how will I choose?) so I need to start digging into those and choosing my favourite. I’m sure that I’ll end up getting a bit emotional about it: after all, it’s a bit like trying to choose your favourite child.

It will all come down to what I fall in love with more. If I can’t fall in love with them, how will my readers?

Cover Reveal: Uncharted

Destiny is not a matter of chance, but a matter of choice.
 
Book Details:
Title: Uncharted
Author Name: Justine Alley Dowsett & Murandy Damodred
Length:  319 pages
Genre(s): Fantasy, Romance, Historical, Comedy, Adventure, Swashbuckling, Polyamoury
Release Date: April 17, 2017
About Uncharted:
Destiny is not a matter of chance, but a matter of choice.
Fated to be a Priestess of Saegard, Meredith dreams of leading a normal life with a family and a home of her own, something she’ll never have if she swears her life to the Order.  A chance encounter with a stranger in the sacred Celestial Chamber sends her previously well-ordered life into a tailspin of adventure and mayhem as she is blamed for the theft of a legendary artifact.
Now a fugitive, Meredith must join forces with Captain Reginald Lawrence, the son of the man who initially brought her to the Temple, and his enigmatic business partner, the charming yet at times infuriating, Grey Rhodes, to find the Celestial Bowl and clear her name. From the cosmopolitan capital of Saegard to the coast of Ismera and back again, Meredith’s journey will reveal the true nature of her past, present, and ultimately, her future.
Meet the Authors:
Justine Alley Dowsett
From obtaining her BA in Drama at the University of Windsor to becoming an entrepreneur in video game production and later, publishing, Justine Alley Dowsett’s unswerving ambition has always led her to pursue her dreams. She lives in Windsor, Ontario and dedicates her time to writing and publishing fiction novels. When not focusing on growing her business, she enjoys role-playing with friends and developing new ideas to write about.
Murandy Damodred
With a background in Drama and Communications from the University of Windsor, Murandy Damodred enjoys fantasy fiction with strong romantic subplots. She is an avid role-player and is happiest when living vicariously through her characters. Though she’d rather think of herself as the heroine of her next novel, in the real world she is an expert in sales and management living in Windsor, Ontario.
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