Posted On December 17, 2014 by Print This Post

Writing the Inspirational Historical: How Much is Too Much – Ruth Kaufman

Help me welcome Ruth Kaufman who has done a very unique thing with her soon-to-be-published book. Read on and find out what she’s done!

RuthKaufman63The research required to write a believable historical in any period can be daunting. But writing them gave me a reason to acquire many beautiful and fascinating books. However, because I’ve invested in more than 200 on 15th century England and learned quite a bit about that time, I’m not inspired to move to a different century or country…despite the ongoing popularity of Regency and Scottish settings.

And the farther back you go, the fewer original materials exist. Scholars and historians are less certain or uncertain about what actually happened, say, at a certain battle. On one hand, I might need to know where King Henry VI was or what he was doing on a certain day and be frustrated when I can’t find out after checking several sources. On the other, when more than one resource says something like, “No one knows about X or Y,” I take that as a gift, an opportunity to fill in the blanks and create the information I need.

But how much history is too much? You want to include enough setting and detail so readers feel part of the environment, while not overdoing details and making it sound like Ruth the author wants to pour out every fact discovered during meticulous research. When an editor sent me a second revision letter for the Golden Heart® winning manuscript, AT HIS COMMAND, which I’m self-publishing next month, she wrote, “your commitment to historical accuracy is one of our favorite things about the manuscript…but at times the accurate depiction of court interferes with the romance.” The difficulty in making the requested changes was trying to guess which times she thought details interfered and which she liked. Of course, another editor or reader might have a different opinion, which could send an author spinning down a rabbit hole…

RuthKaufman_AtHisCommand_His_285kbBecause religion was a huge part of medieval life, I also wanted to write an inspirational. The faith element must also be believable. As a pantser, an author who doesn’t plot in advance, I needed a reason for my hero to want to leave court. Since he was weary after fighting in the Hundred Years’ War, wanting to go on a pilgrimage (popular at the time) made the perfect starting point for his faith journey. The heroine had lost her family to plague, and lost her faith because of it.

Incorporating a faith element, IMO, is similar to incorporating history. Not only does it require research and decisions on what to include when, the author must ask, “How much is too much?” You want to appeal to inspirational readers without preaching. Your hero and heroine should each have a faith journey that resolves in the end like the romance and conflict. But, as with history, those journeys shouldn’t overwhelm the romance.

I prefer historicals in which real history affects the characters and plot over romances simply set in a castle. Characters wear the right clothes and eat the right foods, but the plot could be moved to a different century with ease. So I weave actual historical figures and events into the story.

If writing historicals or inspirational historicals interests you, here a few suggestions to help you get started:

Choose your time period by assessing your interests. What events, notable people or places resonate with you? Are you drawn to art or fashion from a certain time? I chose mid-fifteenth century England because I was in a production of Richard III in college and wondered how much liberty Shakespeare had taken. The more I read about the actual RIII, the more I wanted to know. At the time, there were already romances involving him, so I chose a less familiar king.

RuthKaufman_AtHisCommand_Ins_300kbWho decides what to include? Which historical tidbits to include are often chosen by the author to create interesting plots, settings and characters. In one ms, I used a real historical mystery that still hasn’t been solved as the catalyst for the plot. But the faith element, IMO, needs to come from each character’s story arc. Thus, what to include is chosen by the character, if the author is seeing through their eyes. Let him or her guide you, perhaps via interviews about their back story. You might pursue your faith element as you do GMC (goals, motivation and conflict) in any romance, asking, “What does each character want or not want in terms of religion and why, and what’s keeping them from getting it?” That being said, there were a couple of places where I did go back and add something if I felt the inspirational element hadn’t been mentioned in too many pages or the progression of the journey wasn’t clear enough.

Decide when to research and when to write. You may spend hours and hours immersed in research, but only new words on the page count. After I had a general understanding of events and notes on key details, I researched as I wrote. I’d leave this: // wherever I needed to fill in what they wore or ate, for example. That way I wouldn’t be pulled out of the writing zone, and could search later for // to fill in the blanks. On occasion, adding a new detail, such as, say, a sauced chicken dish, could heighten the scene I already had. Examples: if the sauce was too spicy and made her choke, the hero would then rush to her side. The dish reminded her of her deceased mother. I try to sprinkle details rather than have a whole paragraph(s) of description.

Assess the amount of each element: You could go through your draft and color code faith, history and romance to make sure the romance stands out. I actually searched my manuscript for the words faith, God and prayer to see how often I’d used them.

In the end, how much is too much in any book is up to the author first, then the readers.

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What do you like to see in historicals and/or historical inspirationals as a reader and/or as an author?

Join us on Friday for another great post from Adrienne Giordano!

And stop in from December 24-31 and comment to win a free book in our Christmas Book giveaway!

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Bio: Ruth Kaufman is a Chicago on-camera and voiceover talent and freelance writer, editor and speaker with a J.D. and a Master’s in Radio/TV.

Two versions of her medieval AT HIS COMMAND release January 14, 2015. One is inspirational and mild, the other has no faith element and opens the bedroom doors.

Writing accolades include Romance Writers of America® 2011 Golden Heart® winner and runner up in RT Book Reviews’ national American Title II contest. Her true, short story, “The Scrinch” is in St. Martin’s anthology The Spirit of Christmas, foreword by Debbie Macomber.

She’s appeared in indie features, short films, web series and national and local TV commercials, and has voiced hundreds of explainer videos, e-learning courses, commercials and assorted characters.

Learn more at www.ruthkaufman.com and www.ruthtalks.com. Follow her on Twitter: @ruthkaufman or Facebook: Ruth Kaufman Author & Actress.

Pre-order links:

AT HIS COMMAND-Inspirational Version

AT HIS COMMAND-Historical Romance Version

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Discussion

19 Responses to “Writing the Inspirational Historical: How Much is Too Much – Ruth Kaufman”

  1. Thank you for the post Ruth. I love historical romances but I’ve been apprehensive to write one. I believe your tips can be applied to almost any time frame however. The first version of my inspirational romance (contemporary) was way too didactic and preachy. The second version was a little better, although the romance was hindered by their faith. I’m hoping the 3rd time will be a charm. Your post will be a great help to me!

    Posted by LeAnne Bristow | December 17, 2014, 7:35 am
  2. I was looking forward to this article because my novel was set in the early 19th century. Your tips only confirmed that I did it correctly! I was a little frustrated that the little details of daily life were so hard to find, if they even existed. But then it occurred to me: I am a writer! I could create anything I wanted….based no the information that I had. I was so concerned with being accurate….but when accuracy doesn’t really exist, my imagination can fill in. It is FICTION! I am a nonfiction reader, so sometimes I got stuck with being precise. I do have creative license! In the end, I love the research because it does inspire you and makes your characters rich and the story seem believable. But it can be daunting and put off the actual work of writing. Balance, as with everything, is needed.

    Posted by Elizabeth Torphy | December 17, 2014, 9:24 am
  3. Very helpful!!

    Posted by Traci Krites | December 17, 2014, 10:16 am
  4. Thanks for a fascinating post, Ruth! I’m a relatively recent convert to historicals. My favorite genres were always romantic suspense and contemporary romance. About seven years ago all that changed. I met some authors of historicals and found out some of my friends were completely hooked on them. They gave me recommended reading lists and now I’ve got a whole bookcase of historical “keepers.” I’ve never been drawn to contemporary inspirational romances, but after reading your post I can see where religion can play an important part in historicals.

    I’m a research geek, but I think it’s partly a form of procrastination for me. I can spend hours – days, even – researching the tiniest little details that often don’t even end up in the story. But I think it’s worth the time if it gives me a fuller picture of the character or the story.

    Thanks for joining us today!

    P.S. We met once when I first moved to Chicago from Cincinnati.I look forward to reading your short story AND At His Command. I may have to read both versions – I’m intrigued by that idea!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | December 17, 2014, 1:26 pm
  5. Hi Becke! Great story about your path to historicals. As I mention above, it’s easy to get lost in the fun of research and instead of also putting new words on the page.

    Thanks for saying you’ll read both versions! If you do, let me know what you think.

    Posted by Ruth Kaufman | December 17, 2014, 1:30 pm
  6. Afternoon Ruth!

    I am NOT a research nut…lol….I read and adore historicals, but thinking of all the research that must go into one to write it? That gives me the heebee-jeebies!

    Question – was the second book easier to write since you’d already done the research? Or was it basically like starting over again?

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | December 17, 2014, 3:28 pm
    • Carrie,

      The two books I’m talking about here are actually the same book, but one is mild and an inspirational, while the other has no faith element and opens the bedroom door, as they say.

      I have written other medievals, and, yes, the history was a bit easier because I was familiar with the time period. But most of the details, such as clothing, food, where the king/queen were, had to be revisited.

      Posted by Ruth Kaufman | December 17, 2014, 8:18 pm
  7. This is a great post. I don’t write historicals, but I enjoy reading them.

    Posted by Mercy | December 17, 2014, 5:48 pm
  8. Sorry to be late to the party! I think it is difficult for the modern reader to understand how very much the church ruled all of life in the medieval time period. Typically, we writers need to cut back on the religious aspects to appeal to the modern reader. For example, my hero in IN THE MASTER’S BED was a student at Cambridge and would have had his hair in a “tonsure,” as a monk would. Bald on top with a fringe around the edge! Hard to make that heroic! So I fudged and said he had let it grow over the summer. But that tidbit, and how it showed his character, I hope gave readers a glimpse of what life was like.
    All best wishes with your publication(s)!

    Posted by Blythe Gifford | December 18, 2014, 9:55 am
  9. Thank you, Blythe, for the good wishes and great example of when an author needs to choose how much historical reality to include.

    Even in the inspirational version of AT HIS COMMAND, I didn’t want to mention on every page how religious life affected daily life.

    Posted by Ruth Kaufman | December 18, 2014, 10:45 am
  10. As one of the many who struggles with the “how much is too much” question, I found this post informative and helpful. Excellent, Ruth, and thanks.

    Posted by Màiri Norris | December 21, 2014, 5:10 am
  11. Outstanding article. I especially appreciate specific steps I can take to keep from spending too many hours researching as well as color coding. Deciding how much is too much is tough but I agree it’s up to the author.

    Posted by Ashley York | December 21, 2014, 10:34 am

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