The Great Debate …at least among historical romance writers always seems to be; how do we balance accurately depicting our era while at the same time making it accessible to the average reader? This dilemma can take many forms, but the one I want to discuss today is historical detail.
A confession before we begin: I write paranormal historicals so right off the bat, my case is a little different in that I overlay a completely unrealistic world over an actual historical era. My goal is to get the reader to suspend their disbelief about the fantasy elements while wrapping themselves in the familiar Regency they know – or think they know. Because let’s face it – we’re fiction writers, not historians, and we’re not depicting the cold, hard facts of the day. We’re creating a hazy, rose-colored ideal, commonly known as Romancelandia.
In this ideal realm, England is crawling with unwed, gorgeous aristocrats with perfect teeth, immaculate hygiene, and loads of friends, brothers, cousins, comrades in arms—all as earth-shatteringly handsome and temptingly unwed as they are. We gloss over the darker more brutal aspects of our time like appalling medical practices, the legal oppression of women, poor sanitation, the poverty dominating the countryside, and the wretchedness of large chunks of urban dwellers. That is we ignore them, unless our stories touch upon these themes, usually with our heroes or heroines playing the Lord and Lady Bountiful roles or if they’re poor at the beginning of the book, they always seem to be dukes in disguise, lost heirs, governesses/companions or otherwise estranged from their wealthy families who by the end see the light and gather their wandering sheep back into the fold or marry into titled money and thus—voila! Rich once more!
But they say the devil is in the details, and to some writers—and readers—of historical romance, there is no sin greater than getting a detail wrong. They’ll overlook the glaring, genre-wide inaccuracies outlined above, and then take a writer to task because the heroine’s bonnet style on page 123 didn’t come into use until two years after the book was set. Or a writer of historical romance will search out the internet and every library in a two hundred mile radius to confirm that a jewelry store that sold diamond pins did in fact exist on this street, in this city, and was open between 10am and 3pm before they will use this detail in a story.
At one point, do we say enough is enough?
I’ll say it again. We’re FICTION writers, storytellers, which means our first goal is to entertain. To pull the reader into our books and make them care about these characters enough to stick with them through three hundred pages or so. If I can invent characters and situations from whole cloth, why can’t I also invent a jewelry store or a gentlemen’s club or a ladies hat? Where is this line in the sand truly drawn? And do we step over it at our peril?
Our goal as writers of romance is not to educate or make our reader feel as if they’ve waded into a history lesson disguised as entertainment. Of course, if we can do both, that’s icing on the cake—unless icing wasn’t invented in the Regency. I’m sure someone will let me know if I’m wrong. 😉
SHADOW’S CURSE, the second book in Alexa Egan’s Imnada Brotherhood series about dark sexy shapeshifters in Regency England is her current stab at historical accuracy, albeit with Fey magic, deadly curses, and a sprinkling of Arthurian legend thrown in for good measure. You can read more about the mysterious world of Imnada or drop her a note pointing out her historical errors at www.AlexaEgan.com.