Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Perils of Writing Historical Fiction

By B.J. Scott (Guest Blogger)

Thank you for having me on your blog today.

I was asked to talk about the pitfalls of writing a historical novel and there are many. First of all the genre is important. Historicals can fall into two categories, historical romance or historical fiction. While most would think them one and the same, they are not.

In a historical romance the history sets the stage and the ambiance for the book, but the main focus is on the romance between the two main characters. Most readers of historical romance are well versed in their favorite time periods and expect the book to be as accurate as possible when it comes to setting, speech and customs, so research is very important. An author can weave in details about important historic dates or battles into their plot, and might use historic figures as secondary characters to enhance the book, but it is the relationship between the hero and heroine that must be center stage. Most publishers of historical romance have very strict guidelines and the POV of the book may only be that of the hero or heroine or a combination of both. The secondary characters, while they help to flesh out the story, basically stay in the background. The history must never overshadow the romance. There must always be a HEA ending as well.

In historical fiction, the historic events, battles or figures drive the story. While there might be a romance in the wings, like in the movie Braveheart, it takes the backseat to the historical events. Secondary characters can have their POV expressed and play a more significant role. The ending does not have to be a happy one.

This might all sound simple, but it is not. When you write a historical romance, it is more complicated than one set in modern times. You have a hero and heroine from the past, a time when the dynamic between men and women were very different than they are today. Often in a historical romance, there is a war, battle or social tradition or custom that keeps the lovers from being together. Women were treated differently in the past. Until into the twentieth century they were viewed as property and used to barter for land and alliances. A woman was seen and not heard and usually had no say in who they wedded or bedded. While your dashing hero might be an honorable man in love with his lady, he may be faced with challenges and make decisions that in modern day would be considered deplorable, forcing him to choose duty over desire.

Taking the heroine out of the subservient role and making her a spirited, independent woman is also a challenge. As with the hero, you must find a middle ground that lets the reader relate to the characters and root them on, yet keeps them believable and not too modern in their way of thinking or behaving. Some readers have a problem with the relationship from the past and find they get annoyed with either the hero’s aloofness or the heroin’s reluctance to stand up for herself. It can also go to the opposite extreme where the hero is too good to be true and the heroine a shrew. So finding that happy medium is very important.

In historical romance we also must contend with different eras. Each one has its own unique set of customs and social mores to contend with. What a Viking might get away with in 1100, an English Lord in a Regency romance might not. This means an author must be diverse and familiar with the time period she chooses. Again you can never do too much research. Authors must do their best to fit the characters and plot into the mold set for that time period, yet still remain unique.

The further back in time we go, the more difficult it is to get the setting and characters right. Most romance authors pick a favorite time period and pretty well stick to that for their books. Some will branch out, but usually an author of Scottish historical romance writes books on that topic. A Regency writer sticks to that time period and so on.

What happens to the books that fall in between romance and general historical fiction? This can be a precarious place for an author! As a history buff and very much into research and historical accuracy, I find it hard to stick to the strict guidelines set for the genre of historical romance. I have a lot of history woven into my storylines and my secondary characters are noticeable and memorable. Most likely this is the reason my first book, Highland Legacy was seen by a few editors as historical fiction and by others as historical romance. I had to work hard to keep the history to a minimum and to tone down my secondary characters, to make sure the book remained in the POV of the hero and heroine.

Because a historical romance takes place in a time when the hero and heroine are likely to be apart for extended periods of time, keeping the romance fresh and not turning the book into a history lesson is a difficult. I ran into the same problem when writing Highland Legacy and again with Highland Quest. Since the books take place around major battles during Scotland’s bid for independence, the heroine and hero must be apart at times in the book. Hopefully, I have managed to get the romance sizzling enough to withstand the necessary times apart and the scenes when they are together more than make up for it. In my third book, Highland Homecoming, I am trying to have less time apart and focus more on the romance between Alasdair, the oldest brother and the one least likely to fall for a woman, and the mysterious lass he finds unconscious on the beach.

The last point to be made about historical romance is that like any genre, there are ebbs and tides in popularity. When I first was ready to submit Highland Legacy the market was saturated with Scottish historicals and the publishers were shying away from them in favor of other time periods. Fortunately, that created a shortage and they regained their popularity. Some eras like Regency seem to always hold an audience. If you talk to writers of other time periods like Civil War or Westerns they say it is harder to sell those than Highlander books or Regency Romances. If you plan to write historicals, don’t only do research for you book, but be sure there is a market waiting for it as well.

Blurb for Highland Quest

No longer content in the shadows of his older brothers and on a quest to find his destiny, Bryce Fraser chooses a path fraught with danger, passion, and decisions. Can his unspoken love for spirited, beguiling Fallon be triumphant in a time of war and uncertainty, or will they both fall prey to the devious plans of a traitorous laird from a rival clan?

Excerpt

Bryce closed the gap between them. She heard his footsteps, felt his warm breath on the back of her neck as he spoke, but didn’t turn around.

Please dinna be angry with me, Fallon. I could not bear to think you held me any ill will. This is for the best.” He gently touched her shoulder.

Dinna leave.” She dropped the sack and whipped around to face him, the words escaping before she could stop them. “Why must you go? Why must you risk your life?”

You know why.” He yanked her against his chest and captured her mouth.

But this time she did not fight his advances. She wrapped her arms around his neck, responding with equal enthusiasm to his kiss. Her lips parted, welcoming the sweep of his tongue. As he deepened the exploration, her knees buckled, and she clung to his tunic as if her life depended on it.

Unshed tears stung her eyes, but she managed to blink them away. This might be the last time they would see each other and she suddenly found herself wanting a memory that would last forever. What she was about to ask was wrong, and could only lead to heartache. While she knew she should fight temptation with her last breath, she was only human.

Join with me, Bryce,” she whispered against his lips.

Highland Quest Buy Links:  


Bio

With a passion for historical romance, history in general, and anything Celtic, B.J. always has an exciting work in progress. Each story offers a blend of romance, adventure, suspense, and, where appropriate, a dab of comic relief. Carefully researched historical facts are woven into each manuscript, providing a backdrop from which steamy romance, gripping plots, and vivid characters—dashing alpha heroes and resourceful, beguiling heroines you can’t help but admire—spring to life. A member of RWA, World Romance Writers, Celtic Hearts Romance Writers, and Savvy Authors, B.J. also writes contemporary, paranormal, time travel, and romantic suspense.

C.S. Lewis first captivated B. J.’s imagination in the fourth grade, and her desire to write sprang from there. Following a career in nursing and child and youth work, B.J. married her knight-in-shining-armor, and he whisked her away to his castle by the sea. In reality, they share their century-old home in a small Canadian town on the shore of Lake Erie with three dogs and a cat. When she is not working at her childcare job, on her small business, or writing, you will find her reading, camping, or antique hunting.


BJ is giving away various  swag (including a canvas tote bag, a mouse pad, a pen, book thong, bookmark, can cooler, magnet, and key chain -- US/Canada only) to randomly drawn commenters from this tour and her Virtual Book Tour, and a grand prize of one $50 Amazon GC to one randomly drawn commenter from this tour and her Super Book Blast. For information on the other stops on the tour, visit: 

The more guest blogs you check out, the greater your chances to win!
 


45 comments:

Goddess Fish Promotions said...

Thank you for hosting today

Lisabet Sarai said...

Greeting, B.J., and thanks for a thought provoking post. I'd never really considered the constraints a historical setting place on how characters can behave. And your comment about the hero and heroine having to be separated - definitely a logistical problem!

Anyway, I hope your series is hugely successful! Good luck with the tour.

B J Scott said...

Thank you so much for having me here. I appreciate this chance to share my book wih you and your visitors. HIGHLAND QUEST is book 2 off my series. Book 1, HIGHLAND LEGACY, released in Nov. 2011, and book3 will be out this summer.

While it is a series about three brothers and their parts in the Scottish fight for independence and the women that change their lives, each book is written as a standalone book so can be read in any order :)

Kaylyn D. said...

Great post. I never realized how much went into writing historical romances. I feel a little guilty for taking them for granted. I always focused on the romance and not how well the author wrote the history. I do agree that the characters spend more time apart in a historical book than in a modern one and most authors seem to handle that well. Thanks for taking the time to enlighten us!
kaylyndavis1986@yahoo.com

Debby said...

Great post! There is a lot of research that goes into writing an historical and if you make a mistake someone is waiting to tell you.
debby236 at gmail dot com

B J Scott said...

That is very true Debby. Not only must you come up with a satisfying romance where the plot has not been done to death, but make sure the facts, customs, dress, food, dialogue etc etc all are in keeping with the time period. It is a lot of work, but brings a lot of satisfaction when your book is done. You will not please everyone and no matter how accurate, there will always be someone who sees the events in a different light or finds something that does not quite depict the time. But that is where the reader must say to himself. The historical facts are there to enhanse a romance set in that time period and is a work of fiction ;)

B J Scott said...

Thank you for taking the time to drop by and to comment. Getting the reader to remember that the hero and herione will have their HEA as dictated by the Gods of Romance LOL but it often happens in a more roundabout way or different than in contemporary books. Often they see the hero as cold and manipulative, the heroine weak and subservient, when in fact they love each other very much. The time period dictates how they will react and respond to a great degree if you want to keep the book historical. Give them to modern an outlook on life and love and you will hear about that even faster than you will about a historical fact that might not be quite right.

B J Scott said...

I am off to work but will check in throughout the day and reply to comments and answer questions.
Hope you have a wonderful day!!!!

B J Scott said...

This has been a wonderful tour so far. Thanks Goddess Fish and thanks to the host for having me here today!

Urb said...

I always appreciate the details in historical fiction. What people ate, wore, how they lived--fascinating! Thank you!

brendurbanist@gmail.com

Andrea Dickinson said...

Love your cover art! Well written post! I ook forward to checking out your books.

Anne said...

I'm one of those readers who doesn't pay to much attention to accuracy in historical romances unless it's so overwhelmingly obvious one would have to be a dolt to miss it. Even if it's that obvious, if the story is good and I like the characters, I forgive. I have read reviews by more knowledgeable readers that could scorch the skin off the author for tiny errors. Yikes!

acm05atjuno.com

Shelia G said...

I love reading historical fiction. After reading, I like to go do my own research as well. ebonyeyes1968@aol.com

Ingeborg said...

Great post, I enjoyed reading it. It is a lot more difficult to write historical romance than contemporary. A lot of time is spent on research. Readers usually notice mistakes, I know I have.

Kit3247(at)aol(dot)com

barbara studer said...

Love historical romance because every book is also a learning experience besides being entertaining. Appreciate all the time you authors put into getting the details correct.

alisaanderson said...

what a great post...i love historical romances, and aspire to write my own one day. altho you've proven to me i was right to possibly fear it. *grins* there's a lot of pressure to insure historical accuracy in the details and sometimes it can be overwhelming. in either case, love the covers and definitely one i will add to my wishlist.

B J Scott said...

You are welcome and hope this gave some insight as to what is entailed when writing a historical romance. Thanks for stopping by

B J Scott said...

Thanks Andrea,

The cover for the first book in the series, Highland Legacy was nominated and finalled in the EPICON awards this year. Still waiting for the final result ;) The same artist did the second cover and did a great job. Mind you, having Jimmy Thomas on the cover does not hurt either

B J Scott said...

I think the average reader is fairly forgiving of minor slips or the use of creative license. But there are always those who go to the extreme. We need to try and keep everyone happy because if you don't live up to their expections, a negative review stating so is very obvious to future readers. Sad thing is many who do leave those scorching comment have never written a book or are over critical of most things. Not that you must be an author to understand. But if you are ready to cast stones it helps to have experienced life from inside the glass house first lol My first book and the second have my hero in a kilt, which is not historically correct. They did not wear kilts in 1307, but when given the choice between Jimmy Thomas in a kilt or a castle on the cover, ummmmmm the choice was easy and I figure my readers would forgive ;) There is nothing mentioned about kilts in the book though.

B J Scott said...

As I mentioned before there is a fine line between historical romance and historical fiction and mine tend to be a blend of both ;) I want anyone to be able to pick it up and enjoy, A guy could read my book for the history and battles, someone looking for romance will get plenty of that as well.

B J Scott said...

We are not perfect by any means and sometimes we do have to bend the rule and the truth a bit for the sake of the story when writing a historical romance. Anything goes in a contemporary but there are stricter guidelines for historical, plus you must keep it a romance if that is what you write. I have noticed many mistakes over the years, but keep in mind it is fiction and romance so try my best to overlook. The movie Braveheart was a perfect example of how history was distorted and changed for the sake of the movie.

B J Scott said...

Thanks Barbara,

We do put in a lot of research, but most historical authors are history buffs like me so the research is part of the fun.

B J Scott said...

Thanks for dropping by Alisa

Don't be afraid to try. It is not as bad as it sounds and if you like history, can be quite enjoyable. Start with a time period or event that does not require a lot of accuracy to get your feet wet and work from there.

hotcha12 said...

YOWZA BJ, I'M IN LOVE!!! OH MY GOODNESS CAN I LICK HIM? UH? UH? LOL

Barbra said...

I love reading about history, and when a great story is included it makes it real.
Your book looks and sounds wonderful. :)

aelnova@aol.com

B J Scott said...

LOL I suppose you could lick the picture, but would imagine he is yummier in person. Actually he is a sweetie and very down to earth with his fans and the authors who use his pictures.

Thanks for stopping by and giving me a giggle.

B J Scott said...

I can't agree more. Love a good love story with my history ;) I hope you get the chance to read them.

Catherine Lee said...

As a librarian, I can tell you it's hard for us too when books fall between genres. Where ever shall we shelve it?
catherinelee100 at gmail dot com

B J Scott said...

It must be a delema. Glad you stopped by today

Penumbra said...

Lovely cover :)

penumbrareads(at)gmail(dot)com

Suzanne said...

The research in history especially Scottish, always provide a plot and central character. Then your talent takes over and we have a great book:)

BJ Scott said...

I was very lucky to get such a sexy cover for my book. The one for Book one in the series, Highland Legacy was very nice too. If you get a chance, take a look. Having Jimmy Thomas on the covers is a bonus ;) Waiting now for the cover of book three.

BJ Scott said...

That is what we hope for ;) Finding the right historical setting/event is your first task and then having your plot and characters fit in a lot more challenging. If you succeed, it is a great feeling.

hotcha12 said...

HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY TO EVERYONE!!

lindarb49@hotmail.com

joye said...

Very interesting information on writing historicals. Thanks for sharing it.
HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY

Anonymous said...

Even though I'm not always in the mood for historicals, Scotland is always a plus! Best of luck with the release!

vitajex(at)aol(Dot)com

Mary Preston said...

Thank you for explaining the difference. Historical reads are my first love.

marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

B J Scott said...

Sorry I missed you and am so glad you stopped by to say hello.

Hope you had a great Valentine day too

B J Scott said...

Thank you for dropping by. I am sorry I missed you, but it is never too late to say thanks. I always try to drop back into the blogs for a few days after, because I know people get busy and with time changes etc it is possible to miss someone. I also do not want anyone to get missed who is eligible for the grand prize at the end of the tour ;)

I am glad you enjoyed the blog and hope you get a chance to read my books.

B J Scott said...

Historicals are not everyone's cup of tea and that is fine. If we all loved the same type or books and genres, it would get pretty boring in the book stores and library. Yes, Scottish historicals do tend to be a favorite of readers though. It is my favorite to write but also like to write stories set in or around the American Civil War and ones dealing with Native American culture and conflicts. I have works in progress for both of these as well ;) The one you might enjoy is the Civil war based one because it covers several genres. It starts in modern times, has some paranormal and time travel elements and historical fact revolving around a Confederate office searching for his lost love. Something for everyone.

B J Scott said...

Hi Mary

Glad you were able to drop by and that it was before I came by to check the post today ;) I try to get back to each one and get anyone I might have missed or who could not make it on the blog day. Like you, historicals are my first love, but I do dabble in paranormal and romantic suspense from time to time.

bn100 said...

Interesting info.

bn100candg(at)hotmail(dot)com

Margay said...

I never thought about that before (the woman's role in history) as pertaining to the type of characters an author might want to write about. Interesting stuff.
Margay1122ATaolDOTcom

Normandie Alleman said...

As someone who enjoys both historical fiction and historical romance, I wish there didn't have to be so many strict parameters between them. A good book is a good book, and sometimes I think the restrictions hinder authors' ability to bring us the best book possible. In romances sometimes I'd like to see more interesting supporting characters. Thanks for this post, and good luck with your book. It sounds great! Normandiealleman (at) yahoo (dot) com

laura troxel said...

I just started reading historic romances. I will be adding this book to my buy list.
lauratroxelatyahoodotcom

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