What Makes a Great Historical Romance?

If you ever get to know me personally, you will soon find out that I love to analyze just about anything.  My quest for the day is what makes a great historical romance book?

To answer that question, I turned toward one-star reviews left for books written by famous historical romance authors from the big publishers. You would think I’d be reading the five stars instead, but what is lacking in historical romance stories has my interest piqued. Here are the top-ten complaints I discovered.

  1. Predictable Plot.  Supposedly, these are books where you already know how it’s going to end after reading a few chapters.  In other words, there isn’t a plot twist or anything else interesting in between boy meets girl and the happily ever after.  The story is supposed to reach a climax point (not the other kind of climax, ladies) before reaching the satisfying end.
  2. Contrived Plot.  I’ve seen contrived plots on television but what’s the definition and why does it irk readers?  Frankly, there is an excess of comments if you Google the term.  They apparently stretch plausibility, such as setting up situations that are unbelievable and deliberate.  Other thoughts are that contrived plots are forced and unnatural.
  3. No Tension – No Sizzle.  Well, this one is obvious.  Hero and heroine are a dud.  Is sexual tension always the spice of the story?  Of course, how can you believe the love if there isn’t any sizzle?
  4. Too Much Sex or Not Enough Sex.  There doesn’t seem to be a happy medium when it comes to this complaint.  There either isn’t enough sex or there is too much sex.  I suppose a story should come in between the sheets somewhere.
  5. Dialogue – Boy, this one rampant, of course.  Historical romances with too many modern statements don’t go over very well.  Authors must write Regency-speak or Victorian-speak, regardless if we actually lived in those eras. However, I question whether every historical romance needs to sound like Jane Austen’s writing or Charlotte Bronte’s prose.
  6. It’s a Ghost -This is an interesting complaint aimed at well-known authors who have released multiple books. Statements like, “Makes me wonder who actually wrote it.”  “What have you done with the author?” “Someone else must have written this book.” Do you think long careers make some authors fizzle out? Do they rehash plot lines and run out of inspiration?  Food for thought.
  7. Boring.  It’s either a boring story or boring writing.  The boring story is an obvious one — nothing to keep the reader interested in continuing the book.  Another common complaint that arises are scenes that are too descriptive. How long does it take to describe a person, a room, landscape, or even a sex scene? Too much is often termed writer’s fluff.
  8. Poor Editing.  Surprisingly, these comments are not for independent authors.  There are plenty aimed at large traditional publishing houses.  It makes me wonder how much author support has been cut back due to financial reasons. An odd style that drives me absolutely bonkers is no quotation marks for dialogue.  And don’t get me started on sentences that start with “and” and the lack of the Oxford comma.
  9. Unlikable Characters.  This brings me back to what is a likable hero or heroine?  Check out my former posts.  There are some personality types readers do not like in their books.
  10. No Character Development.  Characters are made of cardboard or are fully formed.  Character development is a hot topic but also a difficult one to pinpoint.  Of course, characters need flaws, positive traits, and growth.

In conclusion, everyone reacts differently to a book.  It’s interesting to read polarized positions of the same novel, making you scratch your head if they read the same story.

As always, chime in!  What are your complaints?  I love to hear from our followers.

Your Admin for Historical Romance Books

One thought on “What Makes a Great Historical Romance?

  1. Great list! Dialogue problems always bothers me. Words that weren’t invented, much less in use, for the period they’re supposed to live in…I don’t want to hear them coming out of their mouths. 🙂

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