Recently I came across an article I wrote a few years ago on my trade secrets for authors of Regency historical romance. I jotted down the ideas one day when I was critiquing a manuscript and thought it would be useful to have a list of the elements I considered important in a Regency romance. I have updated and added to it for this piece. Obviously the list isn’t totally comprehensive and it is only my opinion but I hope it gives aspiring authors some useful ideas!
Start with a strong hook/story idea – think about the possibility of giving a historical twist to a contemporary situation such as speed dating. This need not be as anachronistic as it sounds. Think about a Regency ball and the amount of time that the partners can actually spend together, exchanging information and getting to know one another. It is time pressured. There are a great many contemporary situations that have strong parallels with historical ones.
If you are keen to use a “standard” Regency idea, such as the hero winning the heroine in a card
Start the book straight into the action. On her website, award winning romance author Liz Fielding has the following advice: “A great opening to a romance sets up questions in the readers mind… Start with something happening. Get the hero and heroine on the page. Grab the reader’s attention.”
Create strong characters. You need to create a hero your readers will fall in love with and a heroine your readers will identify with. This is a whole area in itself!
Make sure that your plot is sustained throughout the story. It is important to have a strong plot in a longer-length historical. You need to be working with an idea that can change and develop. You also need a big, convincing conflict to keep the characters apart and not something that could be resolved during one heart-to-heart conversation.
Show the way that a strong relationship develops between your characters. They need to communicate with each other during the story so that their relationship can grow. One of the mistakes that a lot of new authors can make is that they don’t allow their characters really to talk and interact at depth and this can give the impression of a relationship that is stalled for a great deal of the book, only to be resolved rather easily with the HEA ending.
It’s also important to show the characters’ motivation for their actions very clearly. And these motivations must be consistent. Even when a character is behaving “out of character” it has to be believable. Sometimes it helps to think about motivation in the context of the “GMC” – Goal, Motivation, Conflict. What is that your characters want? What is the logical and consistent reason that your character wants this goal? What is the huge obstacle that is standing in their way?
Hooks at the end of each scene and each chapter are essential. Finish each scene on an “up” or “down” note, focussing on the hero or heroine. (Soap operas in particular use this method to keep the viewer engaged).
Background and setting can be a very powerful tool in creating the atmosphere of a historical novel. You do need to do your research but you don’t want to dump it all on the reader in the first few pages! The language of the dialogue is also subtly different from modern conversation. Love is eternal and the emotions that people feel may be universal, but the society and culture within which the relationships take place change over time. So does the way that people express their feelings. The manners and mores of a particular period have a profound effect on the key players in a story. The Regency period is a good example of this as the rules by which society operated were codified so clearly. You can take the rules of your particular historical period and use them to your advantage. You don’t need to see them as restrictions. They are opportunities. And even if your heroines are the sort of spirited women who will break society’s rules, setting them within the confines of society and showing them kick over the traces will demonstrate the sort of strong characters that they are.
So in summary the book must have:
An atmospheric setting
Communication between the protagonists
A whopping big emotional wallop at the end!