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Monday, March 1, 2010

Forgotten Past

There are times when I am working on one of my Regency novels and I wonder how much background information to provide. If you are a regular reader of Regency and I refer to Whites, you already know that this is a Gentleman's Club with a bay window where patrons sat, and a famous betting book. It is referred to often enough in romances that a Regency reader need no further explanation when the author writes, "Sir Jones strode out of his house in Mayfair and headed toward Whites." However, what about the person who picks up a Regency romance for the first time? They are not going to know what Whites is. Or for that matter, the importance of an address in Mayfair? What if the author writes instead, "Sir Jones strode out of the house and headed toward his favorite club, Whites." Would that provide enough information? Do you need to know that it was famous for its betting book and bay window? And, is it necessary to point out where his house happens to be? If so, should the author add, the fashionable district of Mayfair? Here is how the sentence could read:

"Sir Jones strode out of his house, located in the fashional neighborhood of Mayfir, and headed toward Whites, where is held a membership at the Gentlemen's club best known for his betting book and bay window."


Whites and Mayfair aren't the only things that come into question that Regencey readers and authors take for granted. Who can tell me what Boodles is? The ton, Almacks, whist, wallflower, on the shelf, rake, dandy. . . . There is an entire list, not to mention the rules of deportment one must take into consideration, or at what hour does one pay calls, or the best time to be seen in Hyde Park, etc.

I suppose my questions is, how much is too much for a regular reader/author of Regency romance and how much is too little for a first time reader of Regency? Is it possible to strike a balance? I would hate to lose potential readers because they don't need the explanation and want to move forward in the story, nor do I want to lose potential readers new to Regency because they are somewhat confused by the terminology. One recent reader, very new to Regency, suggested a list of terms and meanings be placed at the back of my book but I think that may be a bit much.

If you are a Regency romance author, have you found a way to strike a balance? If you are a Regency reader, what would you consider too much explanation? If you are new to Regency, what would you like explained?


  1. Hey, Amy. What a fun post. I may be in the minority, but I don't feel the need to explain anything. :)

    At one point in time, every Regency reader was new to the genre. I remember when I picked up my first novel and no idea what the phrases, locations, etc meant. And I loved that. It was a new world I got to discover. And I love putting the pieces together to figure it all out.

    It drives me NUTS when I read things that explain every detail. Because I do know the period so well. Page space is SO valuable these days, and I don't think you can afford to waste any of it, explaining such things.

    A few years back I started critiquing with a medieval romance author. I didn't know the first thing about medieval days. Not a thing. But I read so many different manuscripts, that I picked it up. It was just like when I first started reading Regency romance. That initial art of discovery and learning about a new time period.

  2. Lydia,

    I am not sure I can remember reading my first regency or how much explanation was provided. But I do know I learned more with each book I read.

  3. Amy,

    Such an interesting topic. My themes are medieval and Scottish and my critique group members - none of who write historical romance/novels - at first didn't have a clue. But they discovered this new world very quickly and have come to like it.

    I've read many Regency romances and managed to put 2 + 2 together. Too many references to different places might put a new reader off, but if they love the story and setting, I'm sure they're happy to learn. It's all part of the authentic experience, IMHO. :-)

  4. Hence the reason I just can't write regency, THERE ARE TOO MANY RULES LOL. Seriously though, I think there is a balance of trickling in needed information in any time period. I can't imagine how difficult it must be for a regency. You have to learn what works for you and what doesn't.

  5. Amy, I love this topic! I'm with Lydia and Steph. I don't provide any explanations at all. And it drives me nuts when authors do. I've judged contest entries that explained things like Whites and I've encouraged them to take it out. Read the greats in our genre - they never explain. They assume most of their readers already know what they're talking about, and if they don't, they'll look it up if they like the genre enough. My first Regency was "An Offer from a Gentleman" by Julia Quinn. I knew NOTHING! But I whipped out my computer and looked up the terms and words I didn't know at every turn. By the time I finished the book, I was pretty well versed in Regency-speak :)

  6. Great post on a difficult topic. I think the only way to know is to round up both kinds of readers, both newbies and avid regency specialists. I rarely read regency, but most of the time I can figure it out from context.

    I don't think you want to cater to the outlier who has no sense of history whatsoever. To do so would slow your story with endless explanations. It's probably safe to assume that your target audience is someone who knows and loves regency.

  7. Great topic for a post, Amy. I'm with Lydia, Jerrica, etc. in that I don't like it when every little thing needs to be explained. When I first started reading Regencies, the internet wasn't as widely used as it is today, by any stretch of the imagination. There was no Wikipedia to be able to look up things like White's and the ton. And those authors didn't explain it. They trusted their readers enough to believe that we'd be able to figure it out through context or through research, in some way or another. And you know what? I figured it out, and I came to love it.

    All of the Regencies that I currently read are written in the same manner - no explanation. And sometimes, I'll run across things with which I'm unfamiliar. Usually, I'll just keep reading and see if I can figure it out on my own. After a while, if I still haven't figured it out, then its time to break out the Wikipedia. LOL.

  8. Yeah - I want to expand on what Catherine said too.

    This may seem unrelated, but it's not.

    Way back during my screenwriting days, I attended lots of film festivals and screenwriting conferences. And at that time, Christopher McQuarrie was a huge deal. For those of you who don't know the name - and I wouldn't expect any of you to actually know who he is - Chris is the Oscar winning screenwriter of The Usual Suspects. Brilliant film.

    I've heard him speak many times and I find him to be nothing short of a genius. But enough about my crush on Chris McQuarrie. When discussing The Usual Suspects, people kept telling him how amazing the story was. And it was. But his response was that he simply trusted the audience to be intelligent. He didn't want to spoon feed them the plot. He didn't feel the need to explain or over-explain every little plot point for the lowest common denominator in the group. And, to me, that is why that movie still shines. Chris' screenplay, directed by the super-talented Bryan Singer, and edited brilliantly by John Ottman (who also did the music) is a new classic because the storytellers involved had enough faith that the audience could follow along and get swept up in the story.

  9. I recently had the opportunity to share my first manuscript with many readers who've never read regency, or even romance, by participating in Textnovel. I didn't explain the meaning of the terms, and I never received anything other than positive comments about the story and characters. (That crowd happens to be an awesome group of people.) Anyway, my point is if people who've never read the genre can appreciate the story without being familiar with every term then I don't think we necessarily need to slow things down with explanation.

    Does anyone else feel that takes the reader out of deep pov because the character wouldn't be thinking, "I'm going to White's, the gentlemen's club famous for the bay window, from my exclusive Mayfair home."? I'm just thinking aloud here.

  10. I agree with everyone that the explanations are not needed. It was when the questions were asked and the suggestions made that I wondered if I was taking too much for granted.

  11. Interesting question. Some readers are going to know all the words already so you can't go explaining everything. But others are still learning. I guess it takes a lot of skill with context to make it work.

  12. I probably shouldn't mention this, but I hated history when I was at school. Bored me to tears! I think I might have fallen asleep a time or two during class.

    When I started my bookshop I had hundreds of historical romances on the shelf and I began to read them. At first, I dont think I paid attention to the historical detail. Took me ages to work out that a viniagrette was not a bottle. LOL. What I liked was the romance, sexual tension and the awkward and laugh out loud [and scare the customer] moments in the books.

    Thats what I'm aiming for in my writing. I dont want to write pure history. That would put me to sleep.

  13. I agree that we should never write down to the reader. I expect that my readers will be able to figure out a good deal with minimal explanation. I think the most important thing is to get your details that you do give correct. Beyond that I would say focusing on the characters development and the plot trumps to much historical explanation unless it is extremely important to your story. I have a story centered around The Treaty of Tilsit, so I do go into explanations here and there about what the treaty is, but the explanations are never more than a sentence or two. Otherwise, I think the reader would simply skip over the explanation.