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How To Write a Swoon-worthy Historical Romance Story


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Historical romance is a genre noted by the combination of romance and elements from specific periods in real history. The romantic relationships in historical romance novels take place in periods throughout history. The book industry generally attributes the popularity of historical fiction to Walter Scott, who wrote works such as Rob Roy and Ivanhoe in the 19th century. Depending on the publishing house, historical romance is set in a time period occurring either before the Vietnam War or before World War II.

Historical romance should not be confused with historical fiction in general, however. Historical fiction may have a love story as part of the plot and narrative, but it is not the central theme. With historical romance, readers have an expectation that the story will focus on the love story and result in a "happily ever after" ending for the hero and heroine.

When starting to write a historical romance, consider first what time period you are aiming to place your main characters in. This will give you direction when doing research, building the world, and designing your characters' personalities.

Historical accuracy

Once you have decided on a time period and setting, you will need to begin research on traditions, social status, communication, dress, decorating style, and much more to discover details to keep your novel firmly rooted in that era.

One of the best places to gain a good understanding of the history and what to include in your novel is other novels! Discover other books that are set in similar times and locations as what you have chosen, and note some of the details used in those books. Write down what you liked and didn't like, then use that in developing your own innovative characters and stories.

Some key elements to research include:

  • Royal titles
  • Military ranks
  • Proper clothing for the era
  • Transportation methods used at the time
  • Tools used for various tasks, such as cooking and building
  • True events that happened around the area and time in which your story is set
  • Morality at the time

Getting the details right will help keep your reader in the world you have developed, which will also keep them coming back for future novels you may write. If this is your first historical romance, then this is a great foundation for future novels should you decide to continue creating characters in the same realm.

Remember, though, that having this knowledge doesn't mean you should be bogging your reader down in minutiae. Use the information you gather to insert little, accurate details into your world as you build the story, characters, and scenes.

Language and vocabulary

Part of historical accuracy includes using the appropriate vocabulary. Languages change constantly as people use terms in new ways and create new words for various situations, things, people, actions, and places. The Oxford English Dictionary is updated quarterly, and in September 2022, Over 650 new words, senses, and sub-entries, [were] added to the Oxford English Dictionary. While keeping up with every specific change in language throughout history isn't necessary, understanding that people spoke differently 200 years ago can be very beneficial to the accuracy of your historical romance.

Ultimately, how your characters speak is a style choice. If you want to use a more modern version of English for readability, then that will be enticing to readers who prefer the ease that will bring in their reading. Keep in mind, though, that certain vocabulary should be left out. For example, a heroine in a Regency romance would not say, "Hey boo! My peeps want to hit the ball at Elizabeth's tonight, do you want to join us?" Use your discretion and consider what you would want to read in a historical romance novel.


The location in which your story takes place can affect many things about the plot and historical accuracy, and even the language. A Regency romance that takes place in India will have different weather, surroundings, architecture, and supporting characters than a Regency romance that takes place in France. Keep these features in mind as a way to enrich the senses engaged through your storytelling.


Worldbuilding in fantasy and science fiction writing

Combining the geography, language, and historical accuracy all contribute to your world building. World building is often used when describing science fiction novels, but it applies to historical romances as well. Because the background details are not taking place in a modern world immediately being experienced by the reader, you need to create the world in your novel. Your readers will have a variety of experiences with historical events and places, so keeping the world contained to your novel will ensure they get a picture complete enough to support your entire story regardless of the amount of historical knowledge your reader has. There remains a balance, however. Your readers are there for the story and the romance, not a history lesson. World building also allows you to be creative. This is still fiction, so don't be afraid to embellish features throughout your fictional world to make something stand out to the reader.

Care about your characters

Getting to know your own characters and caring about them can help inform their journey. The desire and interpersonal dynamics amongst the various characters — both main and supporting — is what gives your story its core. One method for getting to know your characters is to write what is called a discovery draft. It's an exercise that will help you flush out the personality traits your characters will have and which ones you want to highlight in your story. Chances are that if you are drawn to a certain personality or feature that comes out in the discovery draft, then your readers will be too. From this draft, you will have a good starting point for a more final version of your characters. Don't be afraid to rewrite! A draft is just the first step to a final product. As their creator, you have the ability to change whatever you want or need to about a character for a great story to come together.

As you develop a sense of which characters you care most about, you will then be able to identify key elements of their connections to each other. There needs to be a thread connecting your hero or heroine to each additional character.

Happy ending

One key element of historical romance is the successful romance ending. The hero and heroine need to get together, the characters should be happy, and any villains should have received their punishments or learned their lessons. Romance writer Anne Gracie said, Readers want to finish reading a Regency romance on a happy sigh, and some will even turn back to the beginning and read it all over again, because they're not ready to leave the world you've created.

Throughout your story there should be elements of euphoria, loss, courage, redemption, and fulfillment. The path through the characters' experiences could be like a roller coaster of emotions. They are happy, then something or someone interrupts that happiness, then there is a time of tumultuous problem solving and discovery, then in the end, all is well once more.

Traditional vs. Harlequin

Within the historical romance subgenre lie two categories most familiar to readers: Harlequin romance and traditional historical romance. Harlequin romance is a niche style of romance novel where the romance is steamy and feature fearless heroines and heroes. Harlequins are designed to be escapist fiction that guide the readers in exploring their fantasies. Heroes and heroines in historical Harlequin romances often are involved in the intricacies of royals, nobles, and the rich and famous.

You don't have to choose one or the other when building your romance story, but generally historical romance novels will end up in one of these two categories. Whether you choose traditional or Harlequin style, you will want to follow some of the guidance here to ensure a trove of detail about clothing, real estate, hairstyles, castles, jewelry, and other visual details.

Most popular historical romance time periods

From swashbuckling pirates to knights and ladies, soldiers, cowboys and Viking warriors, there is no lack of romantic inspiration throughout history. Most historical romance is set before the Vietnam War or World War II, depending on the publisher, which leaves a plethora of unique periods throughout written history to choose from when writing a historical romance. Some notable historical settings that offer rich backgrounds for romance include Viking, Medieval, Tudor, Elizabethan, Stuart, Georgian, Regency, Victorian, Pirate, Colonial United States, Civil War, and Western.


A Viking historical romance could span several countries and include everything from war, to commerce, to Viking town drama. Photo by Utaem2022.

Vikings were a group of seafaring people from the Scandinavian countries, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden during the 8th through 11th centuries. They were known for being warriors and explorers as well as good tradespeople. The Vikings were known to be fierce and passionate. This lends itself well to the romance genre.

One key element to explore when writing Viking historical romance is building strong personalities into your characters. Both women and men were warriors and had strong minds and bodies as they made their home across seas, oceans, and land. Another feature to highlight is their knowledge of trade goods. They traded just about everything from furs to amber, wood, and even silks and spices. Develop who you want your key romantic couple to be, then build their worlds around them.


Knight with his lady
Medieval times is one of the most popular periods for romance writers—it even has its own subgenre called chivalric romance. Photo by Diter.

Medieval romance writing has been around since the 5th century and was extremely popular through the 16th century. The most popular focus of medieval romance is the exploits and love stories of knights. Chivalry and adventure abound in these stories. Courtly love is a great driver of plots, with the "damsel in distress" theme being one of the most popular. One example of how successful medieval romance can be is The Princess Bride by William Goldman. The story has knights, thieves, a pirate, a princess, a prince, comedy, passion, and wit. These are all characteristics of writing in this time period.

Key features of medieval romances include love, fantastical events that highlight the strength of the knight or male character, frequent interwoven stories, wish fulfillment with the main characters representing the ideals of the age, a hero's quest, and villains that posed a threat to someone's success.


Tudor woman
Tudor romances have much to say about the magnificent manors on farmland, the styles in court, jewels, and royalty. Photo by Kathy.

The Tudor period is a timeframe in England and Wales between the years 1485 and 1603. This period was a time of economic rebound in England and a time when goods from America were starting to influence England's economy. This type of historical romance is specific to England and Wales, and therefore should stay within that geographic location. This can help to focus your research on a particular geography so that the details you include around your main characters can be very detailed and rich.


Elizabethan woman
The idea of romance in the Elizabethan era should be wrought with angst, as the society at the time focused on marriage for social standing and legitimizing heirs to property. Photo by

Elizabethan historical romance is a very specific timeframe in history that takes place during Queen Elizabeth I's reign, from 1533 to 1603. While this does overlap with the Tudor period, it represents something more specific when it comes to romance. It's interesting that there should be a subset of historical romance designated for this period, considering that Elizabeth I never married and never had any children. Still, there were plenty of romantic ideas to go around outside of the monarch's castle. Again, Elizabethan romance exhibits detail in dress, geography, and societal propriety.


Scottish warrior
The Stuart era would be a good time period for introducing Scottish characters and love stories. Photo by Marko Stamatovic.

After the Elizabethan era came Stuart England, from 1603-1714. England and Scotland were united during this time, which opens the door in historical romance for stories of marriage such as the burly Scot winning over his English bride. Stuart historical romance often focuses on the union between Scotland and England and the wars that took place during these years.


Georgian woman
Key elements of the Georgian time period are Britain's power, the aristocracy, consumerism, and social events. Photo by Kathy.

The Georgian era takes place between 1714 and 1837. This period is a time when Britain was an international power and had begun a time of industrialization. There was a lot of luxury, consumerism, and even pop culture starting to emerge during this time. This lends itself to historical romance stories that are full of fun events and gatherings, outings and travel.


Regency couple
Regency romances depict relationships between members of Britain's highest social class, which was known as the ton. Photo by Tony Marturano.

Regency romance is a specialized type of historical romance that takes place in the Regency era, which is generally considered to be the years 1795 and 1837. During that time, Prince Regent ruled Britain in place of his father, King George. Regency romance was brought into popularity in the 1930s when Georgette Heyer began writing romance novels set in the Regency era. Her first Regency romance novel, The Convenient Marriage, was published in 1934. Regency romances feature fast-paced, intelligent dialogue through which the reader experiences characters falling in love. This era overlaps with the Napoleonic War period in Europe, so there is a lot of high drama to use as inspiration. Some popular themes included in Regency historical romances are wounded heroes and adventure carried through in the stories told by some of the main and supporting characters.

There are two main types of Regency novels: classic Regency fiction and modern Regency fiction. Classic Regency fiction refers to works that were actually written during the Regency era. One of the most notable Regency writers was Jane Austen, who write the very popular Pride and Prejudice, a Regency era romance that highlighted societal disparities and social etiquette. Modern Regency fiction means works written after the Regency era but which are set during that time.


Victorian couple
Many writers who want to set their story in Victorian England often will think of this as a more prudish era, but despite the outward appearance of modesty and propriety, much of the art and literature of the era evoke romance. Photo by Kathy.

The Victorian era takes place between 1820 and 1914 during Queen Victoria's reign. This era saw a lot of social upheaval and political reform under Queen Victoria's rule. This led to a lot of new technology that could greatly contribute to your historical romance world, including scientific discoveries, telephones and telegraphs, and industrial development in textiles.


Pirate historical romance has captivated many audiences over the years. Photo by Warpedgalerie.

With no specific timeframe needed, pirate romance is set on the high seas, with sword fighting, storms of nature, and daring escapes and rescues. These types of historical romances are more fast-paced and adventurous than other types of historical romance. Choose this niche topic if you want to explore your adventurous side! Pirate characters often will have lots of bright and unique personalities that have less of a filter than other character types, so have some fun with it!

Colonial United States

Colonial couple
The American colonies are regarded as adventurous locales for romance. Photo by Fotokvadrat.

In a shift away from England and the British Isles, Colonial American romance takes place in the Americas from about 1492 through 1763. This specific era has a lot of material to choose from when deciding who your characters will be and where they will be located. From Spanish explorers to First Nations and Native Americans, to colonial settlers from England, France, Germany, Scotland, and Ireland, there's no limit to who your hero and heroine can be.

American Civil War

Civil War couple
A country split apart by war and tragedy sets the stage for romance within these stories. Photo by VJ Dunraven.

The United States entered the Civil War in 1861. A lot of historical romance set during the Civil War centers around Southern Belles and Confederate Army soldiers, but there are options for having a Romeo and Juliet type of romance between characters from the Union side and Confederate side. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell is a classic example of a Civil War era novel, though its lack of a happy ending for the hero and heroine may ultimately disqualify it from the romance genre.


Western couple
One of the easiest historical romance genres to describe, Western historical romance is any story that takes place in the American West. Photo by Kathy.

These stories generally focus on traditional western activities, such as ranching, farming, the Gold Rush, and other events that happen in the American West. Western historical romances differ from western romances in general in that they occur before the Vietnam War or World War II, depending on the publishing house.

Any of these time periods will give your story enough scenery, social environment, and character archetypes to keep your audience engaged in the love story. In all, your historical romance will need to be attractive to your intended audience. To keep them engaged, your plot will need to carry an emotional catharsis and some suspense that teases the reader's curiosity. The story doesn't need to be profound to have an effect. It simply needs to create the question of whether the lovers will be together, and then deliver on the promise.

Using these tips, you will be able to embark on a historical romance writing journey that is full of engaging dynamics, characters, locations, and visuals that fans of romance fiction will want to dive into. Don't shy away from multiple drafts to get the interplay between your heroine and hero right. Great love takes time, after all.

Header photo by VJ Dunraven.

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