Why do I love reading and writing historical romance? The answer is actually 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. 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, Surrender to Your Touch, the Union occupation of Norfolk, Virginia during the Civil War creates additional danger for the hero, outcast Rebel officer Will Reed, while the Union’s use of his family’s historical home, a James River plantation, adds to Will’s profound sense of loss. Angel in My Arms features Union spy Amanda Emerson’s visit to Confederate first lady Varina Davis and her mission to Richmond’s Libby Prison to rescue a double agent, while Destiny factors the heroine’s love of tragic romances into the character’s development. Research to identify popular authors of the heroine’s time provided details that fleshed out Emma Davenport’s actions and dialogue. These historical details add to the tapestry of the story.
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? Surrender to Your Touch, Angel in My Arms and Destiny are set against the background of the Civil War, but the key 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 little about Surrender to Your Touch:
Will Reed is out to settle a brutal score. The disgraced Rebel officer’s own men want him hanged, and an enemy has ordered him killed. Intent on clearing his name and evening the score with those who betrayed him, he begins with the woman he once loved—Union spy Kate Sinclair.
For years, Kate used seduction as a lure. She knew better than to let her heart get involved–until she fell in love with Will. Grieving his death, Kate’s joy at discovering him alive shatters when she is confronted by a bitter, vengeful man—a man who’ll stop at nothing to learn the truth of her betrayal. As danger pursues them, Kate fights to tear down the barriers Will has erected around his heart, but her most powerful weapon may ultimately destroy her—surrender.
CONTEST: Based on the story blurb, who would you like to see portray Kate and Will if this were a movie? One lucky commenter will win a pdf of Surrender to Your Touch. Winner will be announced on Monday, November 7.