Despite historical romances being dubbed, bodice rippers, a lot more goes into the writing than simply a lot of hot sex, and "Oh, my lord," and "Yes, my lady!"
Like any other fictional tale, a historical romance has to have a plot, a vibrant setting, larger than life characters with goals, motivations and conflicts. And on top of all that--you have to research your time period. A writer of historical fiction has to know their time period like they know the one they live in now--the setting, the clothing, the dialect, foods, mannerisms, etiquette, laws, ruling parties, transportation, phrases.
So if you've decided you want to write a historical romance, I suggest doing the following:
ONE: Pick a time period--and thoroughly research it. There are books you can purchase that will actually give you a good idea of what life was like in certain time periods. Beyond books there is the internet, reenactments you can go to, traveling to where you story takes place, talking to researchers and historians. Taking horseback riding, fencing, dancing lessons. Trying on historical clothing. Whatever it takes to get inside your period and your characters' heads to make the story more authentic.
For Regency, I like: What Jane Austen Knew and Charles Dickens Ate by Daniel Pool; Georgette Heyer's Regency World by Jennifer Kloeste.
For Elizabethan England: Elizabeth's London by Liza Picard.
For Medieval Times: Knight, by Christopher Gravett; Life in a Medieval Castle by Joseph and Frances Gies; Marriage and the Family in the Middle Ages, by Frances and Joesph Gies.
For all periods: Costume: 1066 to the Present by John Peacock.
I have TONS of other resources if you're looking for a certain time period, email me or leave a comment below.
TWO: Read fiction in that time period. The best way to learn about writing in a certain genre, is to READ in that genre. See how an author seamlessly weaves the history into the fictional prose. Also reading helps to widen our own vocabulary.
THREE: Develop a plot -- what is your story? What is the purpose of your story? Why should the reader care? Come up with a good hook. If you're a plotter, this is where you loosely plot out the story. If you're a panster, this is where you loosely plot out the major points of the story--or at least where you hope to end up. Remember too, that in a romance, the focus of the story should be the relationship between the hero and heroine (or hero/hero, etc...). Show the progression of the romance so that it is believable to the reader. Make each scene meaningful, and in doing so, make sure that each scene moves the story along.
FOUR: Get to know your characters. You can't write a story--let alone the first paragraph of one, if you don't know your characters. How is the reader supposed to "get them", connect with them, empathise with them, if you don't?
Great craft book resources I recommend:
- On Writing, by Stephen King
- On Writing Romance by Leigh Michaels
- How to Write the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass ----> I actually use his checklists at the back of each chapter for each book I write.
- The Writer's Journey, by Christopher Vogler
- Got High Concept? by Lori Wilde
- Thesaurus/Dictionary -- these ARE your friends. Make sure you are not only using words correctly, but that you aren't using the SAME descriptive words OVER and OVER again. I like http://www.dictionary.com/ because it will also give you the etymology of a word so you know if it was used during your time period. http://www.thesaurus.com/ is also a keeper!
SIX: Thought you were done? No... Just because you typed "The End" does not mean you are finished. Now you have to edit your story. I HIGHLY suggest having a critique partner or two or more take a look at your story. Having a fresh pair of eyes to catch mistakes you might not have seen is a plus. Also, they can give you feedback and insight on your scenes.
SEVEN: Once you are confident that the story is the best it can be, take the plunge and submit it!
Remember above all, writing a historical romance isn't throwing in a few historical phrases here and there, you actually need your story to be authentic from all angles. If we stripped the history out of your story, would there still be a story? The answer should be no--because the history is essentially one of the main characters.
Eliza Knight is the multi-published author of sizzling historical romance and erotic romance. Most recently, she was featured in The Wall Street Journal as a self-styled expert on historical undergarments. Visit her at http://www.elizaknight.com/.
Coming 12/19/11 to Carina! Lady Seductress's Ball (cover coming soon...)
Olivia has suffered a loveless marriage to an elderly invalid. Never knowing pleasure, she wants to experience first hand the delights of lovemaking. When a titillating invitation arrives to Lady Seductress’s Ball, the temptation is overwhelming. Her thirst for pleasure could finally be quenched, and with a man she fiercely desires.
Tristan wants Olivia for his own, and has sworn off all others who clamber for a place in his bed. After trying to seduce Olivia without success, he attempts one last amorous tryst—a night filled with passion, love and adventure, that will leave them both yearning for more.