Thursday, March 26, 2009


I’ve always enjoyed historical romances and historical fiction beginning with my favorite, Gone with the Wind. I loved it because of the characters, the plot and the setting—the south just before, during and after the Civil War (Just in case someone doesn’t know!). As a New Englander, I wasn’t familiar with extreme humidity, red clay and live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Sometimes I feel like I’m old enough (and tired enough) to have lived back in the 1860s, but actually I’m not. But when I read Margaret Mitchell’s book, I felt as if I’d been there right in the middle of the action with Scarlett and Rhett—and the war. I’d worn hoop skirts with flounces and corsets that sucked in my waist to 18 inches. Now there’s fantasy for you!

Because I love reading historicals, I decided to write them, as well. And I chose a time frame and location I love—Newport, Rhode Island in the Gay Nineties, the Gilded Age. The multi-millionaires who populated the town during the summer season were high energy, self-indulgent people, but what really fascinated me was the backdrop in which they played out their lives. Society was their stage. All the aspirations of the women were reduced to social climbing and social acceptance (in an opulent setting) because that was the only goal possible for their time and for their class. Culture and economic situation are such important aspects of setting.

Physical backdrop--flora and fauna, climate, topography etc--are often what we think about first—but that’s only part of it. Setting also includes the social attitudes of the time along with the historical background. All these factors should fit together perfectly. Can you imagine Pride and Prejudice set in modern day India or the wild west? Setting is far more than just the framework in which is story is being told.

So choose your setting with care because it defines and limits your story’s possibilities. It creates the mood and ambiance and can dictate the writing style. For example, Jane Austen’s style wouldn’t fit in with a hard-boiled detective novel.

Reader involvement, plot or suspense, character and theme may all link to setting.

Settings in romance novels are especially important because readers enjoy escaping their ordinary lives and like the reassurance that life can be beautiful and romantic. Dreams can indeed come true. Many romances take place in settings that are far away, exotic or out of the ordinary. At different times, Caribbean islands, European kingdoms, Latin America, and the southwest, especially Texas, have become popular locations. If you want to set your romance in a big city garbage dump, some readers would turn up their noses, so to speak, at that location. They would expect a dump with its sights and smells to produce a satisfying romance and it wouldn’t happen.

An abundance of concrete detail shows the reader a lifestyle/location far from our everyday lives. Escape is appealing. These stories often have loose plot structures. The author usually has time to dwell on description and detail. The style is heavily ornamented and sensuous—some books more so than others. Physical detail can help create a romantic mood and ambiance. This contributes to the reader’s emotional response. The characters shouldn’t be under too much immediate plot pressure which might compete with the romance. This is important to me since I love to develop intricate plots.

But (you might ask):

What about romantic suspense novels? Some are more romantic than suspenseful and vice versa. Yet these novels require elements of both. Physical details in a RS are shown more briefly than in a straight romance because the reader is interested in a pressure-packed plot. There’s not as much time to explore lush descriptions or even the characters’ feelings. The style is often crisp and understated. Yet the romance has to be included or the reader will be disappointed.

So, I’m asking writers of romantic suspense: how do you combine them to create a fast moving, yet romantic novel? As Ruthy would say, curious minds want to know.

P.S. If this blog entry seems a trifle disorganized, it’s because I wrote most of it yesterday, Wednesday, the day I was notified I’m a GOLDEN HEART FINALIST in the inspirational category for my manuscript Love on a Dime!!!!!!

I’m so excited I still can’t focus on anything else. After the call at 7:30, I ran around the house screaming like a lunatic. Then I received another call from Terri, the lady who’d just phoned with the good news. I saw her number and I was afraid to answer the phone. What if she was calling back to say she’d made a terrible mistake and I wasn’t really a finalist? They wouldn’t really do that, would they? Fortunately, all she wanted to know was which name I wanted to go by—Cara or Carolyn.

So all day I basked in the glow of the Golden Heart contest. Despite a miserable cold and cough, I grinned and grinned and grinned. I’m still smiling.