Get The Romance Writer's Handbook -
Writing an Old-Fashioned Romance Novel
By Jessica James
When I was doing research for my historical
fiction novel, Shades of Gray, it didn't take me long to
fall in love with the writing style of 19th century
novelists. What is it, I wondered, that made my heart
race when the hero finally won the heroine's hand? How
did authors from the 1800s make the plot so deeply
romantic without the use of sex? Why did a mere glance
from the hero or a smile from the heroine at the end of
the book make a satisfying ending?
As an aside, I began devouring old novels to get a feel
for the language and the cadence of sentences - but I
learned so much more. Manners, etiquette, lifestyle,
dress, were all discovered between the pages of old,
dusty novels, and helped immerse me in the Victorian era.
I am glad to have stumbled upon this method of research,
because, in addition to all of the topics mentioned
above, I learned two other important facets of life in
the 1800s: culture and tradition.
The morality, the virtues and the sacred principles that
our forefathers lived by are vastly different from how we
live today. We cannot transcribe 21st century values on
our historic characters' motives anymore than we can
re-write the historic past from whence they came.
More and more, Americans are longing for those days and
looking back to a time when the principles of honor and
honesty were sacred, and when both men and women were
judged on their moral conduct.
It is sad and disappointing to see authors who take real
historic figures and depict them with the lewd and vulgar
behavior of this century. It is a complete
misinterpretation and misrepresentation of historical
fact - and brings me to my next point.
It's called romance for a reason
If you look up the definition of romance - you'll find it
means fable, legend, saga, yarn. Indeed, in the middle
ages, romances were usually tales of courtly love,
chivalry and knighthood - most often involving a knight
caught in conflict between love and duty.
The use of sex to express love in a romance novel is a
modern-day contrivance and writing crutch that generally
takes away from the overall romantic tone of a story. Can
you imagine the dissatisfaction had Elizabeth fallen into
bed with Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice? Most likely,
we would never have heard of the novel today, the success
of the plot being built upon conflict of emotion - not
Conflict and emotion
These are really the two main ingredients of any novel,
but they are crucial to the success of a romance novel.
Love at first sight may happen in fairy tales, but the
slow, often unintended, progression of a relationship is
what engages a reader emotionally in a story. When the
two main characters are at odds, when they must overcome
obstacles that are often inadvertently caused by their
own misunderstandings, the conflict created causes the
reader to become engaged.
A plot cannot work without conflict. And conflict cannot
work without emotion.
The hero plays a role
If you've got a great plot with a lot of conflict and
emotion, then you only need one more vital ingredient for
an old-fashioned romance: a great hero.
One thing that sets classic romances apart from modern
ones is that the hero - besides being a man's man - is
somewhat mysterious. He is masculine, courageous, usually
handsome - but there is a somewhat secretive side to him
that makes the reader wonder what he is thinking. He is
larger than life, but not in a super hero sort of way.
Rather, he is strong in principles and conduct, and
powerful in will and determination.
If you would like to try some late 1800s to early 1900s
fiction, I suggest these authors:
Captain Charles King
George Cary Eggleston
Jessica James is the award-winning historical fiction
author of the best-selling Civil War novel Shades of
Gray. This epic love story is the winner of two Best
Regional Fiction awards and was named FAVORITE BOOK of
2008 across all genres by two book review sites. The
novel is written as a classic tale of love and honor and
has risen to #1 on the Amazon best-seller list in the
romance/historical/U.S. category, ahead of a book it is
often compared to - Gone with the Wind. Jessica James'
official website can be found at http://www.jessicajamesbooks.com and her blog at http://www.jessicajamesblog.com