Thursday, February 9, 2012

Writing Historical Romance

Why do I write historical romance? 

Like Charlotte Bronte related, Im just going to write because I cannot help it.

I write romance because when I sit down with a pencil and paper and start thinking, that's simply what comes out. Stories about (seemingly) star-crossed lovers and situations where something huge (whether situational, physical or emotional) is keeping the lovers from being together have always drawn me. The first book I ever read that made me want to write a book was Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I read it, reread it, studied it, read it some more.

The relational difficulties between Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler amazed me—but what drew me most was the fact that, even though the reader never once saw the story from Rhett Butler’s perspective, they knew his side of the story just as well as they knew Scarlett’s. And I knew that was what I wanted to create more than anything in the world. That is why I write historical romances from first person perspective (past tense). I simply cannot help it. My goal in writing a book is to bring the reader through the story solely from the heroine’s perspective, while also letting them get to know the hero just as well, through the heroine’s eyes.     

Do I use a formula in writing my books?

I have come up with my own formula which works for me. Though, I never considered it as such until I was writing my second book and knew what worked from writing my first. And it took me two years of trying to figure out how to write a book in the first place to get that down. I just kept trying different ways of putting my story together until it finally worked out perfectly.

How might a Christian author approach the creation of a romance differently than a secular romance author?

In the secular publishing market there are very strict mandates on what a writer must write to first, sell to the publishers, and then sell to the booksellers. I don’t write for the secular market so I’m not that concerned about those specific formulas. I write for the Inspirational/Christian Publishing market, where it seems there is more free rein in creating interesting, life-changing, meaningful stories—as long as you stay within their guidelines—which as a Christian author, I find easy to do.

How does one go about writing a book?

I view writing a book much like putting a puzzle together. But instead of having the box with the “finished product” to look at as a guide, I only have a very vague picture in my imagination of what it might come to look like in the end. I’m a Plotter when it comes to putting a story together. I like to have a solid outline built before diving into the creation of chapters. As I figure out what some of the puzzle pieces are and what they mean to the story, the big picture becomes more and more clear. Now I don’t—I can’t get the entire story figured out before I start writing. That would be impossible, and quite stifling. I figure just enough out to start, and then once I do, more and more of the puzzle pieces are revealed and I can tell what more might be going on in the story than I’d first counted on at the beginning of my “plotting.”

There are other ways to write a book—that just plain don’t work for me. I have friends who are “Pantsers” (they write by the seat of their pants) and simply sit down and start writing their book from start to finish. Honestly, I’ve tried it and I just end up getting stuck on plot issues, lost in the middle of “things happening”—and I have no idea why! I like to know the reason behind every one of my character’s words or actions as I’m writing them. It just makes more sense to me that way.

What do I think makes an effective romance?

Simple, the reader needs to like the heroine and WANT to see her find the perfect person for her. Not just the “perfect man,” but the perfect soul-mate created for her by God. 

My heroine always has some sort of spiritual truth she is in need of learning that keeps her from living the life God wants her to have... a truth that God is desperately trying to get through to her. In a way, I make it so that God uses the hero in the story to teach her what she’s been missing. Of course, she doesn’t want him to do this, which causes some tension. And then I throw in a romance doomed from the start for them to try and work through. 

         And then I move onto Chapter Two.

I fill my chapters full of all kinds of tension—not just the romantic kind. I build tension between all the various characters and how they relate to my heroine. If I have any scene, it is going to have more than one purpose. It’s going to make the reader think, wonder what more might be going on behind the scenes, and of course, make the reader keep turning the pages.


Amanda said...

This was very informative. I am really excited for you and your adventure.

Susan said...

You forgot to mention the binder:) One of the things I love most about your writing is how you do see everything solely through your heroine's eyes. I don't write that way at all and typically don't like to read it, but every once in a while I find a story that's done so well...and yours pulled me in it seemed effortless - though I know it's anything but!

Dawn Crandall said...

Thanks, Amanda. :D

And oh yes, the binder. Sometimes I love the binder... and sometimes I hate it. :) Same goes for how I feel about my manuscripts in general. One week I'll be incredibly happy with them and the next week I'll wonder what I was ever thinking. Such encouragement from someone who has actually read Amaryllis Brigham from cover to cover is so wonderful to hear. :) ...And just like that, I feel better already. Thanks, Susan. :D

Sheri Salatin said...

Great thoughts, Dawn. I'm a middle of the roader - not a true pantser and not a true plotter.

Big picture (very broad) and rarely ever written down, then I start. I have to make notes about my characters as I discover them. :)

Brandi said...

Helpful insights, Dawn! I could learn from your plotting techniques. I'm a Pantser, but I do catch mistakes during the revision stage that could have been eliminated had I done more plotting.

Historical romance is a great category to write. For me, the research is part of the fun.

Happy Friday!