I write contemporary. Not paranormal, not historical, not fantasy. Contemporary. It’s just where I’m destined to write. But I love to read historicals in addition to my normal contemp. So, inspired by Miss AJ herself, this will become a two-parter. (Note: It should probably be said that this is mostly in reference to my favorite historical period, and arguably the most often used historical period in romance, the Regency period in England.)
This week: What I love about historicals. (In no particular order)
1. The clothing. I love reading about the clothing. The complexities of the outfits women wore are just amazing to think about. The stays, the corsets, the lacing and billion tiny buttons (which reminds me of my wedding dress and the thirty minutes it took me to get into and out of that thing for every fitting). The sheer volume of material for women can create and lend itself to some memorable and sometimes hilarious situations both in daily life and in the process of getting to…ahem…the act. Just the overwhelming difference between what women wore daily and what women wear now (cue me looking down to my sweatpants and t-shirt) makes for interesting and fun reading.
Of course, men’s clothing, while a bit more stuffy and layered, was much the same as it is now. Breeches (pants) with easy access, a shirt, a cravat (tie), jacket, etc. Sigh. Men always have it easier when it comes to fashion.
2. The social rules. In contemporary writing, we know that in this day and age it’s not uncommon for couples to have premarital sex, whether they are headed for matrimony or not. It’s not an immediate obstacle to intercourse, unless of course the character has a personal hang up or belief system that would prevent him or her from practicing premarital sex. Women can date, be alone with men,
But in the historical novel, oh how things are different. Women are chaperoned, women are watched like a hawk by their mothers and aunts and matrons. Nothing screams “great fun” like trying to outrun Great Aunt Martha and her eagle eyes! Even an overly-passionate kiss is enough to ruin a woman, let alone sex. This can make for compelling stories in a few ways. It can draw out the actual consummation between the hero/heroine, leading to a sensual (but not sexual) banter. Or it can throw them together in an unwanted marriage if they’re caught, leading to great power plays and conflicts. And of course, it’s always fun to torture a hero by holding what he wants (the heroine, of course!) just out of reach, thanks to societal constraints.
3. Women married young. They were out in society by 17 or 18, on the prowl for a husband. Cause let’s face it…women are really only good for one thing, and that’s making babies, right? (You’re catching the sarcasm here, I hope.) This age restriction does tend to lend itself to younger heroines, which can sometimes annoy me, if I’m honest with myself. But when you get a nice, ripe old heroine (like, say, 25, ha) it’s interesting because you know there has to be an intriguing back story as to why she’s still single. No “normal” girl would make it to 25 without being married. So, what’s her deal? The better the backstory, the better the novel.
4. The fun tidbits of real history in a well-researched novel are so cool to read and really lend an air of believability to the whole thing. For example, the characters visiting real landmarks, or meeting real historical people. Entertainment, history and a chance for learning something new (if you weren’t already familiar with the era) all rolled into one!
5. The time period it self. Yes, if you’re writing a historical in Regency England it might be possible to ignore Napoleon and the war, but for whatever reason, reading about a war from 200 years ago just seems more, well, removed than the war of today. The (historically accurate) things that happen, while sad in a sense, seem more distant, and I can somehow lose myself more when talking about that war than maybe the War on Terrorism. That might be a personal issue though.
There are probably a billion more, but for now that’s it. Tune in next week (if I haven’t gone completely comatose from the move) to part two, titled Why I Would Hate Living In A Historical Novel. 🙂