Writing historical romances is one thing; writing Regency romances quite another. Someone – unfortunately, I don’t remember who – once referred to Regency England as ‘the era that never was’.
The time period existed, certainly (strictly speaking, the Regency lasted from 1811 to 1820, but Regencies are frequently set as early as 1800); as well as the historical events we write about, like Prinny’s excesses and the Peninsular War; but the Regency England depicted in today’s romances is far from a slice of past reality. It is a fantasy world created by Georgette Heyer (ok, by way of Jane Austen) and then embellished by everyone who’s written about it since.
In the tradition of both Heyer and Austin, Regency romances tend to have an ironic tone.
Sure, there are people who write Regency romances that aren’t amusing. In my opinion, they’ve pretty much missed the point. You want tragedy? Go Victorian. Edwardian. Whatever. Regencies should be fun.
Regencies run the gamut from the traditional comedies of manners to the more modern romances. Some have very little to do with the actual historical period and just throw in ‘Regency’ somewhere to whet reader interest. This is a sure way to annoy Regency readers. We’re a picky lot.
Just like the Polite Society of their era, Regency romances involve lots of rules. Too many, to my way of thinking, when I look at some of the period message boards. Is the story not more important than whether the heroine is wearing the proper underwear?
And right there, in a nutshell, is the difficulty of writing Regency. It’s become the genre that is being devoured by its devotees’ obsession with the ‘proper’ way of doing things. The Beau Monde (certainly not the only Regency message board around but definitely one of the best and I read it religiously) is an excellent example of lots and lots of people spending lots and lots of time searching out lots and lots of trivial details. Sometimes those details are immensely helpful. Sometimes I think we’re all becoming a trifle obsessive.
Yes, you have to have to learn enough about an era to be able to present it properly; and for those of us who love the Regency, that’s probably a lot, because the research itself is fun. But a good story involves much more than whether the research involved is correct. A writer can put together a wonderful collection of historically correct data and still have a story that stinks.
Some writers use a lot of detail, others don’t. It’s a matter of personal preference. For an excellent example of good Regency writing with minimal background, read Amanda Quick.
Granted, young ladies behaved in a certain manner, or they weren’t young ladies at all. To my way of thinking, young ladies are a great deal more fun to write about if they don’t follow the blasted rules. Of course, to write about a rule-breaker, one has to know what the rules are. But not to the point of obsession, please.
And what is this ongoing debate about whether one should or should not use contractions when writing Regencies? Please! One should use what’s appropriate for the specific sentence in the specific paragraph on the specific page.
If the contractions question pertains to dialogue, and I think it must – because otherwise it’s really dumb – then consider this. Dialogue written entirely without contractions is going to sound very stilted and become nigh-unreadable real fast. Dialogue written with all contractions is going to sound extremely informal, and not historical at all.
Frequently I see questions posted about a ‘Regency term for’ thus-and-such. Often such terms do exist. Eric Partridge compiled an excellent Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. Another helpful little book is Francis Grose’s The Vulgar Tongue. But let’s not forget that the incomparable Heyer made up some of the wonderful phrases that she used.
One of the really fun things about Regency is the language. But it’s best applied sparingly.
There is an immense amount of research available on the internet. Not all of it is correct. The true is same, unfortunately, for printed research books. Two supposedly reliable sources can differ considerably on the same event. History appears to be a very fluid thing.
My advice to anyone setting out to write a Regency romance? Don’t overwhelm yourself with historical details. Figure out your plot and limit yourself to what bits of information you actually need. Don’t bog down your story – and your creative process — with unnecessary stuff. If you’re in any doubt about the research you do decide to use, double check.
Really, writing Regency is less about the details than about the tone and general feeling of the period.
Immerse yourself in Georgette Heyer. Lots of people have written about Regency England since, but no one has done it as well. Read until you have the era fixed clearly in your head. Then sit down and start to write your own story.
Don’t forget to add some titillation.
And above all, have fun.