Welcome debut author Marci Jefferson! She’s going to give us a few hints about plotting and deepening motivation in a historical – read on!
As an avid reader, I enjoy almost any historical novel. And who doesn’t love a good historical romance? Have you ever noticed how history tends to be incorporated into novels in various ways? Sometimes history features as backdrop to a character-driven story. Always enjoyable! But sometimes historical facts and events shape the plot and impact the characters. All characters need goals, but isn’t it interesting when their goals are tied into historical events? Today I’m going to talk about how to layer history into the different elements of good fiction. SPOILER WARNINGS.
Let’s start with a simple example from the timeless romance, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. In Jane Austen’s classic, the Bennet sisters seek husbands. They don’t do this because they’re bored (though they might have been a bit) or seek adventure. They do it because, in the early nineteenth century, marriage was a woman’s only means to secure her future or better herself. Many historical heroines desire marriage as their character goal. But this historically-based ideal explains the character motivations behind the goals, and it is made clear from the opening lines.
How can you use historical events to build your plot? In Madeline Hunter’s New York Times bestseller THE SINS OF LORD EASTERBROOK, the hero is a brooding, troubled alpha in need of a woman’s soft touch. As the story unfolds, you learn that Lord Easterbrook spent his youth in Macao where he was entangled in the Chinese opium trade raging in the early nineteenth century. He isn’t just brooding, he struggles with opium addiction. When a woman from his past re-enters his life, he helps her seek justice for real crimes committed in opium trade back in Macao. These connections to historical events not only shape the characters, they connect them to the world’s larger-scale problems and consequently add depth to the plot.
Regardless whether a story is plot or character driven, authors can build this simple concept to into every scene. Take an example from one of my scenes in GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN in which a nervous Frances Stuart grips her rosary so hard and so long it creates deep indents in her palm. Did that ever happen? I have no idea. Could it have happened? Well, she was a Catholic in possession of a rosary during the religious turmoil of the seventeenth century, so it’s possible. The use of this sensory detail was included because it drew the reader into her emotions.
But take it a step further and look at why Frances was squeezing the daylights out of her rosary in that scene. Powerful King Louis XIV has just given her a necklace and asked her to be his official mistress, and she’s terrified of how he’ll respond when she refuses. Now, did King Louis XIV ask Frances Stuart to be his mistress? I have no idea. Could it have happened? Well, a famous diarist did record that Louis XIV gave Frances Stuart a jewel and loved her even more than a man loves a mistress, so it’s possible! The use of the historical diarist’s entry was turned into a major plot point in the novel, adding tension and aligning my heroine with a history-making king.
All it takes to incorporate history in your novel is a little time to consider all the different ways the world impacts human life. And yep – you guessed it – this principle works with contemporary fiction, too. But I’d love to see tips and tricks from other writers here at Romance University. How do you add layers to your plot? Do your derive your character’s motivations from the world around them?
GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN will be released by St. Martin’s Press on February 11th. Synopsis:
Impoverished and exiled to the French countryside after the overthrow of the English Crown, Frances Stuart survives merely by her blood-relation to the Stuart Royals. But in 1660, the Restoration of Stuart Monarchy in England returns her family to favor. Frances discards threadbare gowns and springs to gilded Fontainebleau Palace, where she soon catches King Louis XIV’s eye. But Frances is no ordinary court beauty, she has Stuart secrets to keep and people to protect. The king turns vengeful when she rejects his offer to become his Official Mistress. He banishes her to England with orders to seduce King Charles II and stop a war.
Armed in pearls and silk, Frances maneuvers through the political turbulence of Whitehall Palace, but still can’t afford to stir a scandal. Her tactic to inspire King Charles to greatness captivates him. He believes her love can make him an honest man and even chooses Frances to pose as Britannia for England’s coins. Frances survives the Great Fire, the Great Plague, and the debauchery of the Restoration Court, yet loses her heart to the very king she must control. Until she is forced to choose between love or war.
How do you add layers to your plot? Do your derive your character’s motivations from the world around them?
Join us on Wednesday for Harlequin Editor Patience Bloom. Patience has an event February 11th at the Barnes & Noble in the Upper West Side in New York if you’re in the area!
Bio: Years after graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University, immersing herself in a Quality Assurance nursing career, and then having children, Marci realized she’d neglected her passion for history and writing. She began traveling, writing along the way, delving into various bits of history that caught her fancy. The plot for GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN evolved slowly after a trip to London, where she first learned about the Stuart royals. Marci is a member of the Historical Novel Society. She resides in the Midwest with her husband, making hair-bows for their daughter, trying not to step on their son’s Legos, and teaching a tiny Pacific Parrotlet to talk.
@marcijefferson on twitter
- Character Motivation Part Two—Discerning Motivation, Actions, Goals with Heather Webb 
- Writing the Inspirational Historical: How Much is Too Much – Ruth Kaufman 
- Weekly Lecture Schedule: Mon., February 10 – Fri., February 14, 2014 
- CTW: Historical Romance ~ Blending Fact With Emotion 
- Dialogue in Historical Fiction with Nicola Cornick