So I’m plotting a new book now and the Interwebs hold inspiration aplenty. It turns out there are some very well thought out analyses of what the essential Regency historical romance should include.
These are hilarious. HILARIOUS. And like the best satire, they have a golf-ball-sized chunk o’ truth in them.
It’s hard not to do some of these things. But why is that? The short version, I think, is because a historical romance writer has to:
1. make a book that takes place 200 years ago (or more) relatable to a modern audience, and
2. make the book stay interesting for 300+ pages.
That means using enlightened, non-chauvinist heroes (or if they are jerky, they must See The Error Of Their Ways) and intelligent, resourceful — even sassmouth — heroines. It also means that there has to be more going on (e.g., spying or murdering or baby-making or identity-mistaking) than just everyone going to a bunch of parties, which was probably closer to the reality of Regency London during the Season.
This has been true of books for a long time, of course. Let’s take Jane Austen’s Emma. Emma is “handsome, clever, and rich.” Outspoken intelligent heroine? Check. Carries a basket of herbs? Yep. AND the hero criticizes her all the time even though he has hot pants for her. Her best friend is illegitimate. Her father is distracted and only cares about his ill health. And her weasely first suitor winds up marrying a classic City Ho who makes everyone’s life more annoying.
Go click on those links again. Does a lot of that sound familiar? Maybe we have these trends (dare we even call them clichés?) because, in the right hands – which Miss Austen’s assuredly are – they are GREAT. We know those people, and we are interested in spending page after page with them. And even 200 years after Jane, these trends can still be great in the right hands.
Which is not to say there aren’t some trends or clichés that need to go away – but what those are, you’ll pretty much never get people to agree on. Our Hate list can easily overlap with someone else’s Love list. There are no hard and fast rules.
That being said, here’s the top of my own personal Hate list, scientifically listed in the order in which I think of items.
1. Tripping over stuff. Please. If I want to deal with that, I can get plenty of it in real life, because I am clumsy and a half. Characters who are always tripping over molecules are just plain aggravating. And why is it always the heroine? Women wore soft little slippers. Men wore big clumsy boots. Surely men tripped too.
(Now, I will admit, I’ve chucked a character off a ladder, which is sort of like tripping downward. So I do break even my own rules.)
2. An angry boner man hero (concept delightfully named by Smart Bitches, Trashy Books). He shows up in both contemporaries and historicals. This is the guy who wants the heroine even though he hates her, which secretly means he loves her, and he’s mad about wanting her because he doesn’t want to want her. Usually he’s mean to her, too. 🙁 You don’t see this guy too often anymore, which is fine by me.
And finally, his counterpart…
3. The heroine who cries. Some crying is fine. What I’m talking here is a weak lady who responds to problems with tears, not action. If she cried, then kicked some literal or figurative butt, I’d be ok with that.
Now let’s get happier. What do I Love?
1. Wagering. Bring it. Wager money, wager gemstones, wager your virtue. I don’t care whether this type of thing really happened in the Regency. If you set it up well, and if it flows from the plot, you could wager… I don’t know, a giant wheel of cheese, and I’d love it.
2. Supportive siblings. Love ’em in real life, love ’em in books. Books need some witches for interest, too, but it’s nice when there are a few sweetie pies to help out the hero and heroine. (Bonus: these characters often get their own books.)
3. Characters who change each other for the better. She teaches him how to roast a partridge. He teaches her how to shoot. Together, they rule the hunting party!!!!!
This is a stupid and I do believe made-up example, but you know what I mean – they each become better alone and they also become better together.
What do you all love? What do you all hate? And can the right author magically turn your Hates back into Loves?