Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Historic Heroes, Contemporary Readers, Part III

Historic Heroes--Contemporary Woman's Wishlist

Poor Historical Romance author! You just don't have it easy, do you? On one hand, you want your story to be as historically accurate as possible, from historical facts to setting, to characterisations, the lot.

But on the other hand, you must realise that your contemporary readers are very much products of their time and generation. The social mores of the Nineteenth, the Seventeenth, the Fourteenth centuries are very different. With the exception of a bunch of Uppity Mormon Women and a few other raving Bluestockings and Bloomer Girls, women were pretty much considered the Weaker Sex.

So where do all these spit-fire redheaded bodice-splitting heroines you keep writing about come from?

They are the offspring of the marriage of history wearing idealism's ballgown and a modern marketing dork.

I don't envy you, Historical Romance author. You must come up with characters that your contemporary readers can identify with, without creating a time paradox.

It's a shame your contemporary readers don't understand the hard work you've put into your dialogue, to make sure that your vocabularial and grammatical choices are historically accurate. Sixteenth Century Bronwyn is not going to utter the phrases, "Okay," "Hey guys," or "What's up?" And they don't understand the hours of research you've delved into to make sure that manners, mantles and mores are correct yet invisible.

Instead, they analyse every detail of clothing, places, names, addresses, Almack's layout, and heaven forbid you make the mistake of letting a woman enter the clubs on St James.

But they will not forgive you for writing a heroine who sits meekly by, waiting for the man to come to her, even though that's often what happened.

And they absolutely will never forgive you for writing a hero who would be interested in such a milksop.

And thus, I present to you, dear Historical Romance author, the Contemporary Woman's Wishlist.

1. Our Hero must be strong and sensitive at the same time. Historically, men were supposed to be strong and stoic, yet we want our Historical Romance heroes sensitive as well. He's got to be strong to the world, yet sensitive to the Heroine.

2. Our Hero must be one smart cookie. Literacy is a must, even though there were lots and lots of men throughout history who couldn't even read, much less read well. We want Our Hero literate! (Don't believe me? How many Historical Romance heroes have you come across who couldn't read?) He'll be top of his class, the cleverest of the lot, and never gets the wool pulled over his eyes (unless it's required for the plot, or is pulled by the heroine). The Renaissance Man is alive and well, if only in fiction.

3. Ambition. Yes, indeed, we want Our Hero to be going somewhere. Pirate captains as the very least, thenkyewverramuch, and if he must be midshipman, he must be an upwardly mobile midshipman. (Right, Mister Hornblower?) None of this "contented with his lot", no farmers (unless they're gentleman farmers) and certainly no lower class. We've all read Catherine Cookson and have no interest in some poor, drunken wife-beating factory worker. Give us something that resembles our 21st Century meritocratic values, even though such values would surely be out of place in historical contexts. (Your contemporary readers just don't understand why"aping one's betters" and "getting above one's stations" were such bad ideas.)

4. Our Hero must be dashingly, no, devestatingly handsome! He must be all that is noble and worthy and rich and titled and good and wonderful and for some unfathomable reason, manages to remain a bachelor until his thirties. After all, Contemporary Woman is in her thirties and has no desire to lust after a Hero who's in serious need of therapy, has some nasty hangups or psychotic ex-girlfriends, and for some unfathomable reason, Jailbait just isn't that appealing. Also, Our Hero being heavily in debt is no good.

Now, is that too much to ask? Well, too bad, because that's what we want.

You know all those good qualties we like about C21, and all the wonderful escapist romantistic idealism we like about "The Good Old Days?" We want it all.

Thank you, Historical Romance author. I expect you to deliver soon.


EJ McKenna said...

It's really not too much to ask....


Holly Greenfield said...

I really enjoyed your post!

Zara Penney said...

"well wrut m'dear" - Zara waves from her Regency journey.