Sunday, July 20, 2008
Defining the Historical Novel
I'd like to read the sage advice of some of you seasoned authors about narrowing down the historical genre by definition. I run across writers, including myself, that struggle with what to exactly call their historical novels when querying agents or publishers. It appears they want something more precise than simply 'historical fiction'.
In my novels I have strong elements of love along with suspense. But they are not formula, you know, girl mets boy in chapter 1 and by chapter 3 they are married, and the entire book is from the girl's point of view. My novel that I am submitting is from the hero's point of view mostly, but also includes the point of view of my heroine. One agent asked me after I had queried her, 'Is your book historical romance, historical suspense, historical romantic suspense, historical adventure, historical intrigue, or just historical'. It got me thinking, what exact category my historical falls into. Now when sending out proposals I refer to the novel as a romantic historical.
Another point. I've never been clear on the reasons why the industry, especially in Christian publishing, prefers novels that center solely on the female lead. I've read a few of these novels and found myself longing to know what was going on with the male character. I could not get inside his head, understand his motivation, and I wanted more from him than just being a prop. I wanted him to be 'the quintessential hero' and swoop in and save the woman he loves from peril.
Does it not seem to you that we need a resurgence of the male hero as well as the female? Isn't that what gets women's hearts pounding when they read novels or watch movies like Pride & Prejudice? Yes, the novel is from Elizabeth Bennett's point of view, but did not Darcy grow into an unexpected hero? And what about Sense & Sensibility? Colonel Brandon saves Marianne in more ways than from a storm. He saves her from the storm of heartbreak, poverty, and loneliness. His love for her is patient, reserved, and constant.
The photo above is from the 1935 movie 'Captain Blood', one of my favorites. It's a good example of the strong hero and the wise heroine, both deeply in love but separated by class, social stigma, and politic circumstances. A favorite scene is where Captain Blood sword fights the notorious Captain Lavasseur to save Arabella from his evil clutches. If you have never read the book, and enjoy an old read, I highly recommend Raphael Sabatini's novel. He wrote a series of novels based on the hero Captain Blood.
Earlier this year, I received a message from a fellow author who offered to read the first couple chapters of my novel in progress. I thought I had made it clear that the story is a historical with elements of romance and suspense. She thought she'd be reading as sampling of a lusty historical romance, and so with that mindset, even though she said I am a talented writer, she was disappointed it did not fall into the industry's definition of an historical romance. She suggested I throw out the beginning, about the hero, his patriotism in the Revolution, his capture and escape from the British, his inheritance, and his journey to England. Instead she told me to write it solely in the female character's point of view. If I do that it will be an entirely different novel.
I never set out to write formula fiction or historical romances. I never had the thought to join Romance Writers of America. Interesting though, Nora Roberts writes a lot of her stories from the male point of view, such as the Chesapeake stories with the Quinn brothers. She once told me, 'Rita, write a darn good story. That's what publishers want, and don't worry about all the rules.' Notice she said 'don't worry'. In other words do not fret or become paranoid about them. However, as one author commented on this blog , it's important to follow the publisher's guidelines.
Please post your comments on the writing of historicals.
How do you define your historical novel?
Are there publishers out there who will publish historicals that are NOT formula romances?
Has the feminist movement killed our fantasy of the Knight in Shining Armor?
Posted by Rita Gerlach at 12:14 PM