It has been a very long time since I've been here, mainly because I've been working on a non-historical. I just finished a fantasy romance which took place in contemporary times.
There is a certain freedom to writing contemporaries as opposed to historicals. The contemporary heroine can be a strong "kick-ass" kind of woman without constraints. The path is more difficult for the historical writer.
Yes, there were strong women in history, we know their names. But when it comes to writing a romance, I think it is tough to create a strong heroine while still maintaining the flavor of the period.
Strong women are a mainstay of my writing. So writing a woman of strength is necessary for me. But making a heroine believable and strong in a historical setting brings its own challenges.
Oh, there are the Napoleonic spies or the heroine who dresses as a highwayman and steals from the rich to give to the poor. There are women who become knights and the like. Those stories are great, but that is surface strength. I want to write a heroine who isn't extraordinary, whose strength is within and sees her through the adversity of being a woman in her particular time period.
Heroes are easy. I know, that is a blanket statement, but there is more freedom to give a man traits which exemplify strength and yet not leave the realism of the period. A woman's strength needs to be more subtle, we don't have the advantage of just putting it out there. We have to lay a foundation if we are going to make her extraordinary. Too many authors don't do this I find in historicals. It makes their books lightweight and easily forgotten. To dip into a heroine's true inner strength and make her someone we find formidable isn't nearly as easy.
I think writers are concerned that creating a strong heroine can make her unlikeable or less appealing. Maybe. But less appealing doesn't mean less compelling. We create this awesome heroes who are strength personified then give him a heroine considerably less powerful. She doesn't have to wield a sword or a gun to be strong. She doesn't have to take on a man's role to be interesting.
We need to find what makes a woman strong in her period, give her the obstacles she would find in her life. Take the weaknesses or constraints she would face and build up her character from there.
So many of the historicals read as light weight costume dramas, I'm turned off. I want to read books with more backbone with interesting characters. Not that there isn't room for both, but it seems like there are fewer and fewer historicals out there that take full advantage of the period, that gives the reader a reason for reading the historical.