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

The Perfect Hero

The perfect hero in historical romanceHERO. Is there one? What fantasy do readers want?

In reality, as much as we are filled with fanciful and romantic thoughts, there probably isn’t a perfect man. Of course, it depends on how you define perfection. Like the variety of readers and their various tastes over heroines, there is no absence of criticism over the perfect male. Once again, I’ve strolled through the reviews of some best selling authors to find out what women are thinking.

There are the usual complaints of women who dislike emotionally scared men (except for Fifty Shades, apparently), along with arrogant aristocrats and walking cardboard characters (boy that term gets used a lot). Frankly, I think women who look for the perfect hero want a type of man they can fall in love with during the story. Women are looking for romance and ways to live vicariously through storytelling, no doubt to soothe our lack of it in real life. If you love historical romance, then no doubt you want a swoon-worthy, good-looking chap in breaches, boots, with a ruffled shirt, and white cravat.

So what is the perfect hero? If we look at the typical male stereotypes in works of centuries past, we can categorize them in a variety of ways.

The Darcy Type – Prideful and arrogant but humbled in the presence of one woman. His good sense and social class tell him to walk away. Instead, he bemoans his tortured and bewitched existence as if he’s helpless to resist. “In vain have I struggled, it will not do. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

The Knightly Type – A soulful, kindhearted, and wise man who is your friend. He supports you, chides you when needed, admires you silently, and gradually falls in love. He cares deeply about your well-being and sacrifices his own happiness to ensure your own. When his outward motives reveal a deeper love, he declares the obvious. “Marry me, my wonderful darling friend.”

The Captain Wentworth Type – He suffers in silence over a love lost but clings to the hope that he may regain what he desires. As he quietly watches from the sidelines the love of his life, he waits for the opportune time to once again profess his love. “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever…I have loved none but you.” Who can deny such a plea?

The Mr. Rochester Type – The tortured soul, who is moody and cynical about life. He has a dark secret, that binds him to another, while in the meantime he lures the innocent and young Jane into marrying him. Even though the Rochester type of hero should contain a warning label, women are drawn to his brooding character. His words of love are filled with desperation. “My very soul demands you: it will be satisfied: or it will take deadly vengeance on its frame.” It’s not until the ultimate tragedy plays out that happy ever after arrives.

The Mr. Thornton Type – A successful man of determination in his business and family life. A bit too close to his mother, annoyed by his sister, but nonetheless respected by his peers. He is drawn to a woman of strong character, like himself, and they clash repeatedly like a stormy sea. “He shrank from hearing Margaret’s very name mentioned; he, while he blamed her–while he was jealous of her–while he renounced her–he loved her sorely, in spite of himself.”

The men above are just a small sampling, and I bet you can think of more.

The Edward Ferrars Type
The Willoughby Type
The Colonel Brandon Type
The Mr. Bingley Type

It’s an endless list of possible men who can make you swoon.

I don’t know that there is necessarily a perfect hero by any means because I believe women are drawn to types and situations when they think of falling in love between the pages of a book. Whether they be an arrogant male, steadfast friend, silent sufferer, tortured soul, or irritating sod, they possess alluring and attractive qualities. Every woman has their type. Of course, that makes it difficult for authors to consistently write the perfect hero!

Do you have a particular type of man that you like to read about in historical romance? Frankly, I like the silent suffering male who cannot live without me, like Captain Wentworth.

All our best from Historical Romance Books!

 

Dancing 1872 Style – Notes on the Waltz

“A lady – beautiful word! — is a delicate creature, one who should be reverenced and delicately treated. It is therefore unpardonable to rush about in a quadrille, to catch hold of the lady’s hand as if she were a door-handle, or to drag her furiously across the room, as if you were Bluebeard…”  (The Habits of Good Society: By Unknown Author, originally published 1872. Copyright 2012 Forgotten Books).

Recently on my author Facebook page, I’ve been posting videos of period dramas with romantic scenes of waltzes. Some of my favorites are from The Young Victoria, War & Peace (2016), Cinderella, and Crimson Peak. They look so romantic with women in gorgeous gowns being swung around the room by handsome men.

According to The Habits of Good Society, there were rules to be followed if you were considered to be an “accomplished” individual on the dance floor. The introduction above focuses on how men should gently treat the lady. Apparently, if a man is too brusque with a woman while dancing, it may be an indication of how he is in his personal life.

A man should always smile when taking a lady’s hand, and bowing should still be in style.

“To squeeze it, on the other hand, is a gross familiarity, for which you would deserve to be kicked out of the room.”

I’m sorry, but it’s difficult not to laugh over at that rule. Even though the quadrille is a bit outdated in 1872, it is still danced albeit a bit slowly. Too slowly it becomes ridiculous.

The waltz, of course, is the preferred dance of this time period. In fact, the writer of this book wishes he could rave about it for days. He begins by explaining that position is the first importance, as well as the placement of the man’s hand where it should be – at the center of the lady’s waist. The lady should turn her head a little to the left. Oh, and it’s considered atrocious for a lady to lay her head upon a man’s shoulder! Position, therefore, is of utmost importance.

These points are fascinating:

  • In Germany the waltz is rapid but it slackens the pace every now and then.
  • The Russian waltz men perform like the Austrians and will dance around the room with a glass of champagne in the left hand without spilling a drop. This reminded me of the scene in Crimson Peak where the waltz was done with a candle in the man’s hand that remained burning throughout.
  • To be graceful in England, one must waltz with the sliding step. It’s up to the gentleman to steer, keep his eyes open, and watch where they are going to avoid collisions in a crowded ballroom.
  • Violent dancing (too fast and reckless) can cause injury. The author apparently had seen an occasion where the gentleman broke his ankle and the lady gashed her head.

There are quite a few more references to various dances, including the Polka. Instructions are detailed. The overall sense, of course, is skill, ability, and following the social norms of treating the female with respect.

Ah, the waltz. Let’s watch one from my favorites.

 

The Dashwood Sisters – The Women of Jane Austen

The Dashwood Sisters.  Could there be anything more entertaining than these two women?  They are as different as night and day and both on a pursuit for husbands. Elinor bears everything with quiet decorum and sense. Marianne is outspoken and seeks the thrills of romantic fellowship with no sense at all.

Okay, I’ll confess.  Sense and Sensibility is my favorite of Austen’s works. It was her first novel written in 1795 at the age of 19 and was accepted by a publisher and put into print in 1811 (at her own expense, I might add for all you indies out there)  Though I’m not an Austen expert by any means, I’m thankful for the many resources available online about her life and works from people who are.  Unfortunately, I missed my trip to the London Library in 2011 to see one of her manuscripts on display.

I’m not quite sure what it is about this story. Perhaps it’s all that yearning for love and silent pining inside the hearts of women that draws me so strongly to their characters.  As women, we probably all have a bit of Elinor and Marianne in each of us.

Elinor, who loves the steady, kindhearted, humble man in the form of Edward Ferrars, is the sensible sister of the two.  She bears her love and disappointment with quiet restraint while dealing with her sister’s outward and passionate emotions regarding Willoughby.

Though I’ve never had a sister, the fact that they are so different as night and day is entertaining. Austen does a wonderful job with each of them telling the other about their own exasperation over the other’s personality.

“I do not attempt to deny,” said she, “that I think very highly of him—

that I greatly esteem, that I like him.”

Marianne here burst forth with indignation—

“Esteem him! Like him! Cold-hearted Elinor! Oh! worse than cold-hearted! Ashamed of being otherwise. Use those words again, and I will leave the room this moment.”

Then there is Marianne — brokenhearted Marianne whose life nearly ends because she cannot have the man she loves.  Marianne, of course, is undoubtedly the romantic at heart in this story compared to her sister Elinor who keeps everything hidden for the sake of propriety.  She’s lost all good sense when it comes to her infatuation with Willoughby.  Gregarious, passionate, and handsome Willoughby fits perfectly into her idealist qualifications of what a gentleman should be.

“Mama, the more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much! He must have all Edward’s virtues, and his person and manners must ornament his goodness with every possible charm.”

Though Marianne is happy for her sister’s budding relationship with Edward, she clearly expresses her thoughts of the deficits of his personality in her eyes.

“Oh! mama, how spiritless, how tame was Edward’s manner in reading to us last night! I felt for my sister most severely. Yet she bore it with so much composure, she seemed scarcely to notice it. I could hardly keep my seat. To hear those beautiful lines which have frequently almost driven me wild, pronounced with such impenetrable calmness, such dreadful indifference!” 

For me, Marianne represents all of the girlish and hopeful feelings we possess at 16 years of age regarding love.  Our hearts are filled with romantic notions of being swept off our feet by the most amiable of men, who can recite to us poetry with heartfelt enunciation that brings tears to our eyes. They rescue us when in distress, are attentive, offer flowers, cut locks of our hair to keep with them and promise to adore us for all eternity.

Elinor, on the other hand, is the more mature young woman who sees the wonder of what love can be but also recognizes the cruel hurt and devastation it can bring to a female’s heart.  She not only sees its terrible effects of a broken heart nearly bringing her dearest sister to death’s door, but she also bears the heartache of love lost to another.

As far as modern adaptations on screen, we have been blessed with two beautiful renditions of Sense and Sensibility in film and television.  The 1995 movie version with Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson is a wonderful condensed version. My favorite, however, probably because it is much longer is the 2008 BBC version starring Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield.  The choice of characters for Edward and Col. Brandon excited me a bit more, as well as the cinematography.

Choose for yourself who are your favorites to play these parts?  Who do you imagine when you read Sense and Sensibility?

I give you a challenge to any of my readers if you wish to write about any of the men in this story who vie for the love of these women’s hearts, be my guest blogger.  Just shoot me an email and let me know what you think of Edward, Willoughby, and Brandon.

1995 Movie 2008 BBC TV
Emma Thompson
Hattie Morahan
Kate Winslet
Charity Wakefield

I had thought seriously about leaving the men off this post. But, who can resist? Here you go ladies!

1995 Movie 2008 BBC TV
Hugh Grant
Dan Stevens
Greg Wise
Dominic Connor
Alan Rickman
David Morrissey

Seriously, if you’d like to guest post about any of Austen’s works or characters, drop me an email.

Warmest regards,
Vicki