#3: Dating Before Tinder—Historical Romance Tips
Until fairly recently in western society, an upper-class bride’s virginity on the wedding night was of such immense importance that girls were cloistered, guarded, and chaperoned. So how do you infuse romance into your historical novel while staying at least somewhat true to the time period?
- Remember that human nature never changes. People have always done their best to sneak off and meet each other and always will. It’s a safe bet that 30,000 years ago parents would knock their matted, lice-ridden heads against the cave walls in frustration at their rebellious, sneaky teenagers. Somewhat more recently, I used to climb a tree outside my window to meet my boyfriend—which was precarious because it was actually more of a sapling—until my mother cut it down, leaving me angrily staring at a stump from my second-floor window.
- Don’t ignore the social norms of your time period. Use them to heighten tensions and give your characters ways to evade them. In Legacy of Kings, the Persian Princess Zofia—whose virginity is a matter of state when she is betrothed to Alexander—lives in a harem guarded by eunuchs but still manages to sneak out to meet her lover in the storage cellar.
- Not all girls were guarded by fire-breathing chaperones. Servants, for instance. And as an orphaned peasant, Legacy’s Katerina pretty much bounces around doing what she wants.
- Is it a shame or a sin? While sex outside of marriage has usually been cause for shame until recently, it wasn’t considered a sin sullying your soul (a Judeo-Christian concept) in the ancient pagan world. And some periods had heavier soul-sullying than others—the European Middle Ages and Puritan New England (think The Scarlet Letter)—which would create additional tension in the illicit romance your characters are carrying on.
- The aromas of making out should be historically correct. When a couple in a Regency novel finally embraces, the female protagonist always seems to smell soap and leather on the Darcyesque character whose lips are locked with hers. The leather part worked for Legacy, as ancient Greek guys were always around leather bridles, breastplates, shield grips and sword belts, but I couldn’t mention soap which wasn’t used until the Middle Ages. Our Legacy boys would have smelled of smoke from fire pits, a river-washed tunic, and maybe even a citrus scent. And it’s always accurate to mention the historical salty tang of sweat.
Next week: Avoiding anachronisms (aka, words that are historically inaccurate) that can ruin the credibility of your world.
Remember, LEGACY OF KINGS is available for pre-order here!