by Donna L. Rich
There are many details one can miss when engulfed in pride of accomplishment. For instance, I’m published in contemporary, my most recent of which, Love for the Right Reasons, will be out in March from Heartsong. Nevertheless, I love writing and reading historical.
Here’s where the pride comes in. Having had twelve years’ background in tracing my genealogy back to my Mayflower roots, I’ve prided myself on detail when it comes to penning anything from the past. I’ve even proven some information in a New England history book incorrect through evidence of birth, death, and marriage certificates. But, it’s somewhat like being prepared for the enemy’s attack from the front when he comes in from the rear and gets you! No matter how accurate my details are up front, I’ve found there are always some particulars I’ve missed.
Some of those fine points are found in plain old human behavior in whatever time period one writes. For instance, one can have every detail of the story in place using the correct language of the time, the accurate locations from historical maps, and the proper etiquette of the day and still make errors by giving the characters inappropriate attitudes not acceptable for the time period.
One of my manuscripts has an extremely strong-willed heroine who has learned to get along by herself in her world. How does one go about allowing a strong character her freedom to be obnoxious at times? How far can one go in an historical when creating a strong woman character?
According to Do’s and Don’ts of Yesteryear by Eric Sloan, “Difference of opinion is no cause of offense, but downright contradiction is a violation of one of the canons of good society.” What if my heroine was headstrong, bent on having the last word, and did exactly that – contradict those she disagreed with? Does that make my heroine an unlikeable person to the reader as long as she “reforms” by the end of the book? Does she have to submit to the requirements of the time in the beginning of the book? Will my readers hate her even if she changes throughout the book and gives her life to the Lord? Perhaps, the headstrong woman should be a secondary character instead?
I am no expert on historical romance. What is your input?
Meanwhile, here are a few resources I like to use when researching historicals:
www.usgenweb.org (historical research, diaries, censuses from every state)
http://www.merrycoz.org/voices/bartlett/AMER06.HTM#e (Dictionary of Americanisms)
http://www.1828-dictionary.com/ (Noah Webster’s)
Donna L. Rich is a member of ACFW and writes contemporary and historical romance. She and her husband live in Huntington, Indiana, and adore their beautiful blended family of six married children, seventeen grandchildren, and soon to be four great-grandchildren. Her third book, Love for the Right Reasons is due out March 15 from Heartsong.
Even with historicals, I think the reader expects their heroine to be true to her character. And I don’t see someone like Annie Oakley caring a fig about social canons. Great article.
Thanks for your comment, Patricia! Good point!
Donna, my protagonist promotes a strike in a New England mill in 1836. The fact that she is leading a strike against wage cuts is daring enough, but I want to capture her bravery by the way she speaks as well. She stands for what she believes in, but she also ‘reforms’, or softens, by the end of my story.
I appreciate your insight and your honesty today.
Thanks, Jenni. My heroine had a definite “attitude” returning home after serving as a nurse in the Civil War and coming home a widow. I had to change her attitude somewhat to make her more likeable in the beginning and still leave room for her to reform by the end of the book.
Donna, enjoyed this post and am still thinking about Eric Sloan’s comment and mostly do agree with him. Some heroines are just born in the wrong time period I guess! Congratulations, girl!