Historical Romance Research
Writing a historical romance is a lot like taking a college course, if you do it right. It starts with an interest in the subject. In the case of historical romance, the subject is the time period. Then you have to find out everything you can about the time period, all the interesting tidbits, from soup to nuts, literally.
The trick, if there is one, is not to inundate the reader with all that hard-won knowledge. Many aspiring authors get so excited about their research that they write what’s known as an “info dump.” Often, this takes the form of a laundry list of details. Sure, the reader wants to feel immersed in the time, but do they need to know what every platter on the banquet table holds? Probably not.
In Under Wraps, the heroine of my love story lived in Boston but needed to get to Monterey, California. Naturally, I researched the transportation methods of making that long trek in 1852. As it turns out, the cross-continental railroad hadn’t been finished quite yet, so much of the way had to be made by wagon. Alternately, she could take a ship around Cape Horn and land in San Francisco. The ship option looks pretty tempting, until one considers the log of passengers. If our heroine wants to avoid being tracked, she has to take the wagon route. So what did that entail?
I spent countless hours in the San Jose Public Library, with particular emphasis on the California Room there. There were oodles of personal diaries of people who’d crossed the country on covered wagons. And each was fascinating enough to write a whole book about. Finally, I drew out a map.
But there were other historical issues that needed to be resolved. For example, the opening of the book focuses on our peripatetic heroine’s escape from a harem in Turkey. I wrote the entire book referring to the capital city of Turkey as Istanbul, before I found out that the city wasn’t officially called Istanbul until 1923. Oops. Fixed that.
An author’s research sets the tone for the story, but it should never take the place of the character development, plot trajectory, or action. It spices up the setting, and helps the reader ease into the time period. It’s a corner piece of the puzzle, but there’s a whole lot of other important stuff needed to complete the picture.
Under Wraps is a M/F, traditional, spicy, historical romance.