A rummage through random aspects of the past that interest me and may be of use or interest to other readers and writers of period fiction. Please note that the stories featured and my artwork for the covers are copyright; and have the courtesy to ask permission if you wish to use anything that is mine, and duly acknowledge it if you do.
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Thursday, 16 July 2015
The Elements of Romance [and an appeal]
The appeal first, as I have lost all my recent work when the cats totalled my flashdrive; I know I let someone have a copy of my weather data beyond what's posted here. If it was you, please contact me!
This article below was first blogged on Kat Kane's Romance blog, last year.
The Elements of Romance
The elements of a romance are,
not necessarily in order of importance:
It may sound obvious, but the
first things a romance needs are a hero, and a heroine.
It’s not as obvious as it sounds.
1. The Heroine has to be
attractive, and, since most readers [though not all] tend to be women, someone
with whom the reader can identify.This
means that she needs to be at least one and preferably two or three from a
Beautiful; clever; spirited; full of common
sense; rich; socially well-connected; compassionate; or popular.
It is important that she should
not be all of these, or even too many, because that heads towards the realms of
the dreaded ‘Mary Sue’ whom everyone wants to slap upside of the head.This removes, for the reader, the designation
of ‘popular’.A heroine must have a
flaw, and preferably one which will get her into trouble [see point 4, tension]
such as being terribly innocent in the ways of the wicked world and easily
manipulated by the villain [see point 3]. Compassion can be a flaw as well as a virtue,
if her compassion leads her to rescue mongrels, climbing boys or Covent Garden whores, and involving any gentleman with
whom she is associated willy-nilly into such endeavours.
The heroine must, however, be
someone the reader can love.
It is entirely possible to have a
heroine who is not beautiful, nor especially spirited; Heyer manages it
brilliantly with Drusilla in ‘The Quiet Gentleman’, a plot which may appeal
more to the older reader than to the younger, but then, the heroine of any
romance will always appeal more to some than others.A good writer will manage to present a
selection of heroines whose appeal varies.So long as they are matched by their respective heroes, the story should
be enjoyable even if each person has their favourites.And these may change; as a teenager, I
enjoyed Heyer’s ‘These Old Shades’ with the effervescent Leonie and her demonic
Duke of Avon; being officially middle aged now, I can take it or leave it, and
prefer Miss Heyer’s more thought-provoking stories like ‘A Civil Contract’
which, in my youth, I disliked intensely.
2. The Hero should be
swoonworthy.This can be difficult as
the tastes of all women do differ; I, for example, consider Jane Eyre’s Mr
Rochester more in need of kicking than kissing because he’s a liar. However,
the general consensus appears to be that a hero is best if tall, dark and
handsome, ‘in possession of a good fortune’, not easy to get to know, witty,
humorous and a leader of fashion.
This tends to fill me with
feelings of perversity when writing since I rather object to the idea of
filling the world with Mr Darcy clones.There are enough out there.
Some people feel that a hero must
be a rake; a true rake is not actually a very admirable or satisfactory person,
but a hero might have got the reputation either unfairly or when, released onto
the town with too much money, he sowed his wild oats rather too freely.As convention tends to dictate a virginal
heroine, it is wise for the hero to be at least experienced.A girl wants to feel that she is kissed
masterfully and successfully, not be engaged in a clumsy bout of nose hockey.
The main point of a hero is to be
heroic; to be someone who is there for the heroine when she needs him.Whether this is knocking down the villain as
he attempts an abduction, or merely being able to obtain a hackney carriage in
the rain, he should impress by his ability.This can be quiet competence; or a flamboyant approach.The hero may be a sportsman, even a
Corinthian, or he may be a scholar.It
is much, much harder to make a hero of a dandy, though so long as he does not
love his appearance more than he is capable of loving others, not impossible. It is my contention that the most successful
hero has some combination of the main qualities of sportsman, scholar, dandy or
man-about-town.A Corinthian namely
mostly for his ability to drive to an inch who is also knowledgeable about the
running of his lands, and has picked up some eclectic nursing knowledge when
serving on the Peninsula, like my own Gervase, in ‘Cousin Prudence’ for
As the heroine has virtues, so
too does the hero:
Good with the ladies; sportsman;
clever; humorous; stylish; handsome; rich; well-connected.Pick three and stir thoroughly.
3. The Villain should be
truly villainous, though some saving grace in him is permitted.It also leaves openings for him to reform and
be the hero of a sequel.* He may be a rival for the hand of the heroine, or a
wicked uncle, or he might even be a female, the hero’s ex-mistress, a cruel
mother/stepmother, a designing hussy or any person who opposes the romance
between the Hero and the Heroine for whatever reason.The Villain can even be dead, and it is his
will which is the bone of contention, preventing the Heroine from marrying
where she wishes, for example, by only leaving her his money if she is
betrothed to a certain person. Who might, or might not, turn out to be the Hero.
The Villain can be a plot device to show the Hero as heroic in opposing him, or
not succumbing to her wiles; or as a red herring to lead the Heroine astray and
cause trouble between her and the Hero.
4. Tension is needed to
play on the feelings of the Hero and Heroine.There are many plot devices to introduce tension, of which the Villain
is one.They tend to include a secret
which is not told, causing suspicion; doubt regarding identity or the truth
surrounding one of the protagonist’s backgrounds; jealousy arising from an
overheard or glimpsed encounter which appears to be more than it truly is; lies
sown by a third party to cause trouble; lies sown by a third party with the
best of possible intentions; the well-meaning intervention without
understanding of a third party; and
misunderstandings where both Hero and Heroine are talking at
crossed-purposes.Tension may also arise
from the embarrassing behaviour of friends or relatives, including having to
bail them out of debt, and keep it secret; the open or concealed hostility of
one or more associates; and of course the sexual tension between the characters
that may even manifest initially as hostility.
5. A Plot is necessary.
Boy being meets Girl being, they suffer tribulations and kiss under the silvery
moon is not enough. [with apologies to Douglas Adams.]
It has been said that there are
only seven original plots, but it’s the twists on them that make the
differences.Your star-crossed lovers
might not be named Montague and Capulet, but they might love across class or,
if you feel brave enough to tackle it across religion or colour.It happened!Plagiarism is a dirty word, but revamping a plot with a new twist is
what is generally called research, and Shakespeare is dead and can’t sue.However, there are plenty of ideas to be
found in the very act of research for temporal authenticity; I can’t recall
offhand how many plot bunnies Kat Kane has sparked for me, with her excellent
blog ‘The Regency Redingote’, qv.However, the point is that there needs to be a reason for the main
protagonists to meet; some point of interest which keeps them meeting;
adversity within that to give them Tension; and a resolution of both plot, and
love, with all ends tied up neatly, even if only by implication, and the Hero
and Heroine smooch their way into the last page, roll credits, organ music,
reader sighs with satisfied delight and realises her coffee has got cold
because she was too interested in the denouement.
And yes, some plots are a little
weak and contrived, but so long as they exist AND the characters and dialogue
are strong, you can get away with it. Even Heyer had her off days; I find both
‘Charity Girl’ and ‘Sprig Muslin’ rather too much alike and somewhat trite,
especially compared to some of her stronger works.However any Heyer is worth reading for her
wonderful secondary characters and her witty dialogue.
6. Attraction has to exist between the Hero and the
Heroine.This might easily be displaced
into self-destructive behaviour out of perversity, or through a misunderstanding
of feelings, but it has to exist.The
initial misunderstanding and the arguments, which both may find as exciting as
they find it exasperating, can be a good way of building up their knowledge of
each other and discovery of self as well as each other, and to demonstrate an
initial physical but antagonistic attraction growing into something greater.
Equally, the characters may have
no conflict between themselves, unless engineered by a third party, but still
have to come to know each other, and move from being strangers to a gradually
warmer friendship and beyond.This can
be harder to demonstrate, but when done well is very rewarding.The example that springs immediately to mind
is Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ where Emma’s mental transition to adulthood through the
book brings with it her awareness that Mr Knightley is a man she cares for as
more than an old family friend.Here,
the protagonists are already known to each other, but the Heroine still has
much to learn about the Hero – and herself.
If your characters are engaging
in insipid dialogue and do not create sparks from each other, you might as well
go back and rewrite each with a different lover.They are not going to get it on with each
other.Now I like my romance without any
hard biology, though I don’t object to well-written, well-placed erotic
passages where the plot is strong enough to merit it, but even in a gentle
romance, you should be able to sense the sexual tension seething under the
surface.Which is to say, the reader
with the imagination that wishes to go that far, should be able to picture the
Hero and Heroine going to bed together, rather than finding their greatest
thrill in writing elegiac poetry together.
It is also about more than the
sex; because they should be sufficiently perfectly suited to be envisioned, in
a quarter of a century, playing with their grandchildren, or taking tea and
toast together in their wrap and banyan with their hair still tousled from the
night.That’s the difference between
romance and bodice-rippers.The sex
early on is implied but the attraction of personalities lasts a lifetime.
I’ve been married 31 years and my
husband and I are still in love, so I claim that as a qualification to lecture.
NOTE: I originally used the word 'feisty' instead of 'spirited' for a heroine, because I knew everyone would know what it meant. However, it should be remembered that it should never be used in a Regency novel itself, since at the time it was cant and referred to the tendency of small dogs to break wind. We don't really want a flatulent heroine. Moreover I have seen too many stories where the heroine is described as 'feisty' in which it appears to be a synonym for rude and overbearing. I suppose that's apt; a sort of verbal flatulence.
* I've used this plot bunny for the second book in the Brandon Scandals series, which will be called 'The Reprobate's Redemption' featuring Evelyn, Marquis Finchbury, from 'The Hasty Proposal'. Coming soon.