Sunday, May 28, 2006

It's the little things

I feel like there is complacency among historical romance writers, a complacency which weakens the genre. We are all aware of big inaccuracies and how they can really ruin a story for us as readers. But what about the little details?

I recently read a story where the author had obviously researched one aspect of her novel quite well, but she let the rest lapse. For example, the heroine was wearing a cotton shift in colonial America in the 1750's. Not a big deal, but if a reader knows anything about the period or knows anything about textiles, they would know the price of cotton was so high at the time that only the most wealthy could wear it. Really not a big deal and certainly not something a section of readers are going to know. However, it shows a lack of passion in the writer.

I've always believed a historical writer should write about an era they love. In loving that era, they should know all about it. They should glory in the small details. They should be trying to pass on that passion to their readers. When I read a historical, I want to be transported to another time and place. While I don't require the novel to be a hard hitting expose of the time period, I expect the writer to do her best to know her details.

Did it ruin the book for me? No, but I was disappointed. In this day and age, the wealth of resources available to an author makes me hold them to a higher standard. In ten minutes, the author could have figured out everything she would have needed to know about women's dress in 18th century America and been accurate. But she made assumptions. She was lazy. I suppose I feel somewhat insulted as a reader although I'm positive that wasn't her intent. And in all fairness, not too many people would catch it. But I find it sad that she didn't care enough about the time period to make it as accurate as possible.

I'm probably being a little harsh, but I love history and I love historical romance. I know some readers believe the crucial element is the hero and heroine, that the story and setting should be there to pump up the characterizations and conflicts. But when you as a writer take on a historical, you are taking on the responsibility of making your characters products of their times. And to make them believable, the details are important. Make me as a reader feel your love for the era. If that isn't possible, then perhaps the genre is truly dying.


Toni Anderson said...

I probably wouldn't have noticed that detail, but a lot of Scottish historicals irritate me because they just think putting a hot guy in a kilt and making him Laird and live in a castle is all it takes. Grrrhhh.

Peggy said...

The cotton dress wouldn't have caught my attention either, but I know there are many historical readers who know the time period they read inside and out. Even, apparently, better than the author. But what's really sad is when an author adds something that even those who are not really familiar with the era notice. A slip of a word, term, expression, HOLIDAY NOT YET BEGUN (my own blog complaint). Those make the author look amateur and pull me out of the time period.

Tess said...

I hear you loud and clear. It's why I tend to obsess over the little details when I work on an ms - will spend hours trying to find something out, just so I don't piss off potential readers (assuming my work gets picked up by a publisher *g*).

Janie said...

That might not have caught my attention. I don't know. I'd have to read it in the story, but I do like my history done properly.

We are so demanding, are we not? ;]

However, I do work hard to get little details right, and well, and also the context right. For example, just because something, say like a book was available in a certain year doesn't mean people, ordinary people might have access to it. Those kinds of things. Like vaccines. Sure they finally got them, but did every child get one? Hardly!

Of course, we might be working a bit too hard. I don't know.

Camilla said...

Which is why I don't write historical romance anymore! I was frustrated--and still am--over the complete disregard shown towards getting the details right not only by readers, but by authors and publishers. You're right--if an author has a passion for an era, she'll know it like the back of her hand and then some--and be able to write a wonderful, "non history tome" piece of fiction!

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Devon Ellington said...

I also find that sometimes I need to set something in a time period about which I previously knew little or was not that interested in; however, doing the research, I become passionate about it.

Always good to expand one's horizons, right?

And it is always the details that make it or break it for me.