I knew that C.S. Lewis and I had more in common than our Christianity when he said, "You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." Welcome to a celebration of faith, tea, and the written word. I'm always engaged in a book, and whether it's one I'm reading or one of the inspirational historical romances I write, there's always a cup of tea close by. Join me in a cup as we chat about faith, our favorite books and the exciting places our reading and writing adventures take us.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Historical Romance...or Just Historical?

I'm reading a book right now that was marketed as a Historical Romance (from an inspy publisher). The book is good, no question, but reading it has triggered a one-person conversation in my brain that I'm still working out:

What makes a Historical Romance different from a Historical?

Because in my opinion, this book isn't a romance at all.

Here's how I define the two genres:

Historical Romances are romance novels set prior to WWII, or for some publishers, to the Vietnam era. The story-line focuses on the hero and heroine (H/H) and the journey of their relationship. Without this romantic relationship, there is no story. Every conflict affects the romance.

A Historical novel is set prior to WWII (or, again, Vietnam). Romance can be and often is included in the story, but it is not the main focus of the story. Conflicts don't necessarily affect the romance.

So what makes a romance a romance, aside from the main thread of it being a love story?

I can think of two "rules" (and by "rule" I mean it isn't written in some handbook somewhere, but it is something that seems to happen in the majority of romances I've read, and/or an editor or multi-published author has stated it in an interview or in blog posts etc).

One "rule" is that the hero and heroine are well-defined. The reader shouldn't have to guess who's getting married at the end. (Yes, there are love triangle stories, but the reader should be able to figure out who ends up with whom.)

Another "rule" is that the hero and heroine shouldn't be apart for long. Editors vary on the length of time. One suggests the characters should never be apart for more than the span of ten pages. Another prefers that the scenes where they aren't together be kept to a minimum, and ten pages would be waaaaay too long. Either way, the hero and heroine are together. A lot. The reason for this is simple:

Romance can't bloom if the couple isn't together.

Yes, there are exceptions--a villain kidnaps the heroine, or they're in a war, or there's an illness, but in those scenarios, the couple is at least thinking of one another when they're not together. They're working to get back together.

And yes, rules are made to be broken. Stories can work very well breaking these two pseudo-rules (that are not, after all, on anybody's rule list but mine).

But the truth of the matter is, genres come with certain expectations. If I pick up a cozy mystery, I expect a clean read featuring an amateur sleuth who solves murders. If I pick up a suspense from the book tables at Costco, I expect murder, a race against a clock, and an alpha protagonist.

Same goes with Historicals and Historical Romances. I expect different things when I read them.

Which is why I'm of the opinion that this book I'm reading is a Historical, not a Historical Romance. I wouldn't have guessed the hero is the hero unless it was stated on the book cover, because another guy gets most of the page time. The hero and heroine rarely appear in scenes together. If they have a relationship cooking, it is way, way, way on the back burner.

Which is fine, but not the romance I expected.

Is it time for me to loosen my rules, or are they reflective of your experience, too?

Which do you prefer, Historicals or Historical Romance?


Debra E. Marvin said...

I agree. Historicals can have romance, but historical romance focuses on the couple's journey from two singles to a couple (with an obvious ending).

I just had this come up in a judging situation I'm in, but it discussing the variety of stories called Women's Fiction. (how much romance can be there, without it becoming a Romance novel?)

Susanne Dietze said...

Good question, Deb. The lines can blur and it can be tricky to define genres.

Part of it is reader expectation, I think. That's certainly my issue with the book I've been reading.

Thanks for popping by!