Today’s book launch party guest is Katharine Ashe. Katharine (www.katharineashe.com) is a professor of European history who has made her home in California, Italy, France, and the northern US. RT Book Reviews awarded her debut historical romance, SWEPT AWAY BY A KISS, a “Top Pick!” review.
This is a great post on how to use research for your stories, and it applies to all genres, not just romance!
How Much Historical Detail in a Romance is Enough?
In the prologue of my Regency-era historical romance, SWEPT AWAY BY A KISS, the hero, an Englishman in revolutionary Paris, encounters a villainous French politician in a dark alley. Before I wrote that scene, I thoroughly researched suitable raiment for such a Frenchman. Did I describe it in detail in the scene? No, ma’am.
First, most folks who read historical romance already have an idea of period clothing. They’ve seen a historical film or two (or sixty), many of them with excellent costuming. Those images are lurking in the backs of their memories waiting to be revived upon the slightest suggestion.
Second, and much more importantly, most romance readers don’t care. Most. I certainly read historical romance for the sumptuous gowns, elegant tailcoats, gorgeous horses pulling fancy carriages, and heart-fluttering gentlemanly address. But as a reader I don’t need to hear about every gold-plated pressed copper button and imported Indian silk damask furbelow. Some of that, for sure! Just not all. Nor do I need to know every political or cultural detail of the era. Only the essentials that drive the romantic plot.
Here’s an example of what I mean. The first third of my book takes place aboard a French pirate ship. The hero, Lord Steven Ashford, is pretending to be a Frenchman, and the heroine, Lady Valerie Monroe, is fluent in French (as Englishwomen of her class in that era typically were). So if I were going to be perfectly historically accurate I would write all of this dialogue in French. Ye-ah. Was my first draft of this manuscript layered with French? Without doubt. Is the final book? Zut alors! Non.
One reviewer called SWEPT AWAY BY A KISS “highly sensual, the plot riveting and the backdrop vividly detailed.” Please note which comes last amongst those descriptors. This is not trivial. A romance novelist’s attention should be fixed firmly upon the romance. Everything else is secondary.
Want to see how “minimalist” to a writer becomes “vividly detailed” to a reader? Here’s that bit from my prologue about the French politician. Every detail.
The man they awaited appeared in the mist of rain-flecked lantern light at the alley’s end. Steven steadied himself, sensing Maximin’s same ready tension.
The caped figure strode down the narrow street, his tricorne ladling tiny waterfalls in three directions. Then, as though aware of danger, he paused.
“Who is there?” The downpour consumed his cultured accents. He continued forward more slowly, peering to either side.
That’s it. A cape, a tricorne, and a cultured accent. A few sentences later I gave him a sword at his hip — a sword that causes our hero no little trouble and later in the book results in a sultry forbidden gaze from our heroine.
There’s my point in a nutshell. Historical detail is crucial, but only in so far as it serves the romance.
How do you decide what historical details to use in your stories? Leave a comment be entered into the drawing to win a free copy of Swept Away by a Kiss!