Amazon Bestselling Author and three time Golden Heart Winner Delle Jacobs knows whereof she speaks. Her Medieval Romance, FAERIE, has sold over 50,000 copies!
I’m writing this in London, having just finished a tour of Waterloo on the 200th anniversary of the battle. All that has nothing to do with writing medieval romances, but here I am anyway, and I will hope for a great internet connection so I can chat with you. I just might be a bit delayed.
I write both medieval and Regency era romance, but some processes are not all that different. For any successful novel you need good character development and visually exciting settings. You need a good, believable plot, and always for any romance, a satisfactory ending with a committed relationship.
A medieval romance though, must specifically dovetail with its time period, and to be successful and believable you must have authentic, unique and believable characters who fit into their time period yet can be understood and with whom the reader can identify. Unfortunately, you can’t be completely authentic or your reader will not even understand what’s going on. But not being authentic means you don’t have a medieval story. It’s the conundrum of using the modern to create the ancient.
The medieval world is so different from today’s world, it can feel like it came from another planet. You cannot use the language spoken because it could not be understood by anyone who in this time period has not specifically studied it. The way people thought, their lack of science in a deeply faith-based society in which all people belonged, regardless of class is very much unlike today’s world. You can’t just put a heroine in a kirtle, and hang a veil over her head. Hero is more than a knight in shining armor. And whether or not you like it, your characters have a life that is completely circumscribed by religion that might seem to us to be more like mythical folklore than math or science.
Yet while you have to have a reasonable background suitable to your characters, you have to write them in a way your readers can accept as real, and at the same time, you have to make your characters fit into their world socially, yet give them uniqueness.
You can set the story in a stone castle, populate it with a spunky heroine in a dress with pointy sleeves, a stalwart hero in shining armor, throw in a cathedral, a primitive village, a villain in black armor swinging a mace, or all kinds of other details, but you still don’t have a medieval story. Instead, you’ve got Halloween in words on the pages. You have an imitation period story, not the real thing.
Your saving grace as an author is that people are all different. Each person is unique, and needs to be treated as such. If you want to have a memorable story, you need to find the unique aspects of your main characters. You could so easily write a heroine who meets all the requirements of her culture, but if you don’t add something that makes her stand out. You have a boring heroine.
When I wrote FAERIE (a paranormal medieval) in 2011, I wanted a heroine who was only half human, and the other half Faerie. Like everyone else in her world, she has many contradicting beliefs, some of which are based on medieval Christianity, but others remnants of the region’s pagan past. Leonie’s physical appearance was unusual, yet not outside the norm. She was very tall and thin, and her hair was utterly out of control with outrageous blonde curls that grew far too long to be normal. She was impulsive, and outrageous in her behavior, often speaking out when she shouldn’t, and behaving ways in which ordinary maidens would not consider. She was, in a word, immature. Having been raised by an uncle without either mother or father, she felt out of place in her world.
She was not the usual maiden, but her yearnings to be like other people, to become the wife and mother that her destiny prescribed, often got her into trouble. She was hungry to belong, and desired to be just like everyone else, but she couldn’t be. And like many a teenage girl, she had a crush on the very older guy who rejected her. Yet she had many endearing qualities like loyalty to her family and friends, compassion for those in pain, and reckless courage that brought readers to identify with her. She had a long way to grow to become a full-fledged adult, but she had no idea just how much she would change or how to do it. She was a girl in the midst of a rite of passage she didn’t think she could complete.
Thus, she was both a woman of her own time, clearly medieval, yet she was unique. And that was why her story was such a success.
So whatever else I might tell you about writing medieval romances, the one thing I have to suggest is that you make your main characters endearingly real people who can exist within their own cultures, yet who do not or cannot fit perfectly because something about them is different.
Do not make them modern. No foot-stamping heroines who don’t’ get their way or who want to become independently self-supporting. That simply doesn’t fit with their world. Yet like many a girl in many a culture or time, they might be immature, perhaps have a jealous or peevish streak in response to the hero’s rejection of their all-too real crush on him because he wants a bride who is circumspect and demure, something the heroine can never be. You can use the cultural fact that girls married at a much younger age at that time, yet even then a relatively young girl would often be relatively immature and not quite ready for a life as an adult woman. Give her room to grow and watch her do it. All young girls are immature at some time, and they all must struggle to become the adult they want to be.
Whatever you choose for your heroes and heroines, give them emotional flaws and assets universal over time, yet mix them with struggles that are uniquely theirs in their world and you will have people who are truly medieval yet are understandable to the modern reader.
Thank you for reading. ~ Delle Jacobs
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Delle-Jacobs/e/B0041F0WBC