Never trust anyone over 200Or, what do you do with characters in historicals?
A case history:
This character was raised in benign neglect and wore a dress until he was about five. He was frequently beaten for minor offenses and his closest relationships were probably with servants. At the age of seven, he was sent off to a boarding school where he was made to memorize and parse long sections of the classics, beaten by his teachers, and bullied and possibly sexually assaulted by his peers. He may have risen to be one of the bullies himself.
Several of his siblings died, including his older brother, and he was not to have a career in the Navy, as his family originally intended, but was now the heir to a large and complex estate.
He believes that Britain rules the waves, foreigners, Jews, and Catholics are evil, women are either whores or marriageable, and any sort of sexual activity that does not lead to procreation is shameful. He drinks far too much. He's very quick to take offense and is prepared to fight to the death with anyone who insults his honor.
Yikes. He's a psychopath.
No, he's the hero of a Regency-set romance, so what I'm saying is that the problem with historical characters is that it's possible to have too much history. But the whole point of writing or reading a historical is that you want some authenticity and to be immersed in another time.
So my first piece of advice is be very, very careful with character questionnaires. You want some history--but not too much. Use what you can, write around the rest. Make him sympathetic to readers, but not anachronistic--he's never going to let the butler or valet address him by his first name, however well they know each other. He's never going to tell people--or even think--he doesn't want to inherit the title or continue the family name.
Now rewrite the biography:
He was raised in a large loving family (and yes, potty-training was the equivalent of house-training a puppy and little boys did wear dresses. All quite normal, as was physical punishment). He survived the horrible conditions of boarding school.
Because he loves his family, and grieved for the loss of elder brother and other siblings, he knows he must do his duty as the heir to the estate. He reluctantly gives up his dream of becoming a great naval hero. He treats his tenants, some of whom have known him since he was a child, with kindness and respect.
He meets a woman who teaches him what's what and how to do it, and how to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Even better, she might be foreign, Jewish or Catholic. They part on friendly terms.
He still believes Britain rules the waves, drinks beer for breakfast, and is prepared to fight to the death with anyone who insults his honor.
How do you approach the blend of history and fantasy? What sort of historical characters do you like? What problems do you encounter when writing them?
And happy Valentine's Day, everyone! Hope you're having a chocolicious and smoochy day.
Read an exclusive interview today with Cupid at Risky Regencies, and visit a new blog, Lust In Time, where I'm guest blogging and giving away a book tomorrow (Friday Feb. 15).
Labels: historical characters