Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Appeal of the Medieval Period: Sample from the upcoming 2nd Edition of the Historical Research Companion

It's almost ready! The 2nd Edition of The Historical Research Companion to Everything of Interest to a Romance Writer (the "HRC") will be available within the next few weeks. As I have mentioned previously, this edition will mean a big change because I will be "untying" the blog from the book. By this, I mean I will be removing the historical posts from the blog, so this is a "head's up" notice! :) More details and a preview of the new "forward" of the 2nd Edition can be found on the HRC page.

One of the new topics I've enjoyed including in the 2nd Edition has been an overview of the "popularity as a setting" for each historical time period and for many sub-categories. Whether it was the opportunity to delve into the appeal of arranged marriages or the appeal of opposing cultures, each topic increased my enthusiasm for the possibilities of a historical setting. Below is a partial sample on the topic of popularity as a setting for the Medieval Period:

The feudal system of the early middle ages provides the backdrop for perhaps the second most popular historical romance setting (after the Regency) – the medieval romance. Why do readers love a medieval romance?
In the article The Allure of Medieval Romance, author Regan Walker offers this explanation:
“Perhaps it is the notion of chivalry, a valuing of womanhood and virtues such as truth, honor and valor. A knight who rises to duty, and the maiden who would take her place at his side.”
Walker goes on to predict a comeback for the medieval-set historical romance and notes the resurgence is driven in part to the rise of self-published medieval romances, which may be ahead of the market interests of traditional publishers.
There are many more reasons for the appeal of medieval romances, one of them being arranged marriages. Readers love, love, love arranged marriage stories.  And, although an arranged marriage is not a trope exclusive to the medieval time period, it is certainly a setting in which it applies. As later discussed in more detail, marriage in medieval times, at least for the nobility, was primarily an alliance of land, wealth and lineage. But from this less than romantic beginning arises a story that defies the odds when it comes to finding love.
On the appeal of arranged marriages, author Madeline Hunter, in her article with USA Today, Romance Unlaced: Historical Authors on Arranged Marriages, says:
“…an arranged marriage can be among the most romantic and even most empowering situations in which to put a romance's main characters.”
Other writers expand upon what appeals about a forced marriage between strangers:
“Even before sex, or without sex in the book, the two people are forced to leap a lot of normal stages of intimacy. Cut to the chase, in fact. This is particularly powerful in historicals where society's taboos against intimacy could be so much stronger." – Jo Beverly
“… since we always make our heroes sexually appealing, it adds to the 'thrill' of the situation. Who hasn't dreamt of having permissible sex with a hot stranger?" – Callie Hutton
“The appeal of these stories centers around hopefulness, the idea that individuals can learn and grow and that a couple can evolve.” – Jo Goodman
"They're really high-stakes stories — strangers forced into a relationship who must figure out a way to make it work. All relationships are hard work, but arranged marriages especially so. And the trope sure keeps the relationship front and center in the book.” – Vanessa Kelly
All this and more make an arranged marriage trope part of the medieval romance’s appeal.
The medieval setting covers a long and event-filled time period. While some medieval stories have a vague sense of time and place, others are intertwined with very specific events.
The Medieval Scottish Highlands setting is also enormously popular. Although, to be accurate, many of the popular historical romances set in the Scottish Highlands take place much later, such as with Diana Gabaldon’s  Outlander, which is set during the Jacobite risings of the 18th century. But many others are set in the medieval times. Undeniably, the Scottish Highlands, and especially a Highland hero, the Laird, holds vast appeal, and I cannot resist this delicious quote that sums up why:
“They are hunkalicious, wear provocative skirts and have sexy accents .”
Yes, that about says it all. In another excellent USA Today article by historical romance writer Madeline Hunter, Romance Unlaced: Exploring the Appeal of Scottish Heroes, there is this inclusion of an intriguing quote by author Paula Quinn:
"As a writer and a reader, there's nothing more intriguing than a Highland hero. It's association by terrain, by culture, and by sound. Scotland is a land of rugged, timeless beauty and windswept moors, resilient against centuries of subjugation. The terrain makes Scottish heroes hard, tough and robust. Their culture makes them proud, fearless and loyal. In my opinion, a Highlander is the ultimate alpha male, confident in his own power and appreciative of the strength in his woman ... His deep, melodic burr doesn't hurt his appeal either."
Ah, yes, that Scottish burr. Writing an accent is often one of the most challenging techniques a historical romance writer will come across. Quinn and others give advice on how to handle the accent and dialect. The consensus seems to be to use sparingly, if possible, for a variety of reasons. As author Jennifer Ashley points out:
“First, I didn't want to see my manuscript page peppered with apostrophes. Second, educated, upper-crust Scots don't always speak with heavy Scottish accents. Many people confuse the Glaswegian accent with the Highland, and it's very different.”
All this, the dialogue, the highlander’s passion and loyalty for his (or her) clan, the drama of the historical backdrop and more is why a Scottish historical romance appeals.

 Stay tuned for more news to come!


  1. Very interesting! I As a historical writer (and fan of historical novels) I was interested to hear your take on the accent - that's always a question for me when I'm writing. To write accents or not? It seems contemporary novels tend not to write them (using other modes to convey accents such as narration) whereas I've often come across written accents in dialogue in older books.


  2. Thanks for your comment Bessie. :) Yes, I'm always interested too in how other writers handle the accent and I've only tried it myself by limiting it to secondary characters. That is interesting that you've observed it used more often in older books. I think you're right!


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