There is a hypothesis that there are only seven basic plots. However, this should not deter new novelists, who need to devise their own special twists in the tale and write from the heart.
I write historical fiction, so I shall focus on it in this article.
So, you might ask, what is the classification of historical fiction? The Historical Novel Society’s definition is: ‘The novel must have been written at least fifty years after the event, described, or written by someone who was not alive at the time of those events, and who therefore only approached them by research.’
Historical novelists are under an obligation to their readers to transfer them into another time and space, which need to be based on fact, even in, for example, time slips when the social and economic history should be correct.
My novels are romantic ones in which the characters, other than historical figures, are imaginary, and the backgrounds are researched to the best of my ability.
In order to ground my fiction in times past, I weave real events into my plots and themes. To recreate days gone by I study non-fiction and visit places of historical interest, including museums, which are gold mines of information.
There are many excellent novelists who write, historical fiction, romantic historical novels and genre historical romance. However, unfortunately, there are others who write so called historical novels. These cause me, and presumably other readers, to suspend belief.
Once, I was torn between shock and hysterical laughter when I read a mediaeval romance in which, the hero, a knight in full armor, galloped to a castle with sheer walls to rescue the proverbial maiden in distress. Without removing his armor, or putting aside his shield and weapons, he flung himself off his horse, and scaled the stone walls that had neither handholds nor footholds. The author then describes him climbing through a window - impossible as a castle in that era only had narrow apertures through which arrows could be fired. When the knight climbed in through the mythical window, the fair heroine, seemingly unaffected by her ordeal, asked: ‘Would you like some eggs and bacon and a nice cup of tea,’ as though she were offering him a modern day English breakfast. At that point, the sense of the ridiculous overcame me. I lost faith in the author and did not read on.
Of course, the above is an extreme example from a novel accepted by a mainstream publisher. However, all too often I am disappointed by 21st century characters dressed in costume who have little in common with those who lived in previous eras. Over the centuries, emotions, anger, hate, jealousy, love etc., have not changed, but attitudes, clothes, the way of life and speech has.
In order to ground novels in historical periods, a novelist should study them and verify their research. Inaccuracy in any novel, whether it is set in the past or present, annoys the reader; and, there will always be someone who points out a mistake, or even tosses the book aside and never reads another one by its author.
Recently, I was enjoying a historical romance when an American author described the heroine admiring bluebells in bloom and simultaneously picking ripe blackberries in a wood in England. In the United Kingdom, bluebells bloom in spring, and blackberries ripen in the autumn. This is not the only novelist, who has jerked me out of a story with horticultural errors.
Misnamed characters can also make me pause when reading. The first pages of a mediaeval novel held my attention until I reached the part when the heroine’s sister, Wendy, joined her. I sighed and went to make a cup of Rooibos tea. J. M. Barry first used the name in his novel Peter Pan.
It’s all too easy to assume that, for example, Gavin is a modern name, but it is recorded in York in 1604, and Gavin derives from Gawain, one of the Knights of the Round Table in Arthurian legend. When searching for a name, for example, suitable for a Tudor novel, the author might be tempted to call the heroine, Lorna, although R. D. Blackmore invented it in 1869 when he wrote Lorna Doone.
I’m sure that I’m not the only historical novelist, who agonises over character’s names, so I recommend The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, an invaluable resource.
Since R. D. Blackmore wrote, a significant change in some published fiction has been the introduction of explicit sex, whether or not it is gratuitous. In my opinion less is more. The impact of the scene in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, in the book and in the film, when Rhett Butler literally sweeps Scarlet off her feet and carries her to their bedroom, would have less impact with explicit details of how they made love.
In conclusion, a skillful historical novelist should hold the readers’ attention and take them into the realm of fiction on a factually accurate, enjoyable journey.
The Captain and The Countess
Romantic Historical Fiction by Rosemary Morris
e-book Published by MuseItUpPublishing
Why does heart-rending pain lurk in the back of the wealthy Countess of Sinclair’s eyes?
Captain Howard’s life changes forever from the moment he meets Kate, the intriguing Countess and resolves to banish her pain.
Although the air sizzles when widowed Kate, victim of an abusive marriage meets Edward Howard, a captain in Queen Anne’s navy, she has no intention of ever marrying again.
However, when Kate becomes better acquainted with the Captain she realises he is the only man who understands her grief and can help her to untangle her past.
Extract from The Captain and The Countess.
Captain Edward Howard bowed indifferent to yet another of his grandmother’s protégées. Conversation ceased. All eyes focussed on the threshold.
“Lady Sinclair,” someone murmured.
Edward turned. He gazed without blinking at the acclaimed beauty, whose sobriquet was ‘The Fatal Widow’.
The countess remained in the doorway, her cool blue eyes speculative.
Edward whistled low. Could her shocking reputation be no more than tittle-tattle? His artist’s eyes observed her. Rumour did not lie about her Saxon beauty.
Her ladyship was not a slave to fashion. She did not wear a wig, and her hair was not curled and stiffened with sugar water. Instead, her flaxen plaits were wound around the crown of her head to form a coronet. The style suited her. So did the latest Paris fashion, an outrageous wisp of a lace cap, which replaced the tall, fan-shaped fontage most ladies continued to wear perched on their heads.
Did the countess have the devil-may-care attitude gossips attributed to her? If she did, it explained why some respectable members of society shunned her. Indeed, if Lady Sinclair were not the granddaughter of his godmother’s deceased friend, she might not be received in this house.
The lady’s fair charms did not entirely explain what drew many gallants to her side. After all, there were several younger beauties present around whom the gentlemen did not flock so avidly.
He advanced toward the countess, conscious of the sound of his footsteps on the wooden floor, the muted noise of coaches and drays through the closed windows and, from the fireplace, the crackle of burning logs that relieved the chill of early spring.
The buzz of conversation resumed. Her ladyship scrutinised him. Did she approve of his appearance? A smile curved her heart-shaped mouth. He repressed his amusement. Edward suspected the widow’s rosy lips owed more to artifice than nature.
“How do you do, sir,” she greeted him, when he stood before her. “I think we have not met previously.” Her eyes assessed him dispassionately. “My name is Sinclair, Katherine Sinclair. I dislike formality. You may call me Kate.”
“Captain Howard at your service, Countess.” Shocked but amused by boldness more suited to a tavern wench than a great lady, Edward paid homage with a low bow before he spoke again. “Despite your permission, I am not presumptuous enough to call you Kate, yet I shall say that, had we already met, I would remember you.”
“You are gallant, sir, but you are young to have achieved so high a rank in Her Majesty’s navy.”
“An unexpected promotion earned in battle, which was not subsequently commuted.”
“You are to be congratulated on what, I can only assume, were acts of bravery.”
“Thank you, Countess.”
The depths of her ladyship’s sapphire cross and earrings blazed, matching his sudden fierce desire.
Kate, some four inches shorter than Edward, looked up at him.
He leaned forward. The customary greeting of a kiss on her lips lingered longer than etiquette dictated.”
About Rosemary Morris
Multi-published historical novelist, Rosemary Morris was born in Sidcup, Kent. As a child, when she was not making up stories, her head was ‘always in a book.’
While working in a travel agency, Rosemary met her husband. He encouraged her to continue her education at Westminster College. In 1961, Rosemary and her husband, now a barrister, moved to his birthplace, Kenya, where she lived for twenty years. After an attempted coup d’état, she and four of her children lived in an ashram in France.
Back in England, Rosemary wrote romantic historical fiction. She is now a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Historical Novel Society and Cassio Writers.
Apart from writing, Rosemary enjoys classical Indian literature, reading, visiting places of historical interest, vegetarian cooking, growing organic fruit, herbs and vegetables and creative crafts.
Time spent with her five children and their families, most of whom live near her is precious.