I have been struggling with my genre for almost a year now. I write historical fiction, that much I know because I write stories about fictional people set in a historically-based setting. I use real-world facts to provide the skeleton of my story, fill in details, and let my imagination run wild from there.
My stories also have a romantic element. I write about emotions, fears, hopes, dreams, struggles between personalities. I care about the vulnerability of opening one’s heart to someone else, knowing they may destroy, cherish, or be apathetic to it.
As such, I’ve been saying I write historical romances. Quirky historical romances, if I were to be precise. The quirky is because I bring in elements from the other genres I read for inspiration: fantasy, science fiction, women’s fiction, etc. My last book was pegged as gothic because of the setting, ghostly elements, and suspenseful mini-mystery.
Yet, historical romance doesn’t feel like such a great fit, either. Why? Because I read a lot of historical romances. The Julia Quinns, Candace Camps, Mary Jo Putneys, and Amanda Quicks of the world might raise a brow if they actually read one of my books. Why? I don’t write sex. I’m not interested in writing about it, I never hint at my hero/heroine having sex or even thinking about it. There is sexual tension, of course, or else they wouldn’t be attracted to each other.
Thinking about this made me wonder, you know, maybe I’m writing historical romances for young adults. After some soul searching, I realized there are three ways to tell that I’m writing historical romances for young adults.
1. I include enough historical detail to keep the attention of a fifteen year old, and not much more.
I make no claim to being a historian. I am, at best, a hobby historian. I’ve always loved learning, I am a very disciplined sort of researcher and can access a lot of information in a short amount of time. I had two journals full of handwritten notes from multiple primary and secondary sources for Haunting Miss Trentwood.
Yet the one complaint I hear more often than anything else about that book is I could have gone into a little more detail. Just another paragraph or two in a few spots. My point is that I had more than enough information with which to choke the story. Should I have included a little more? Yes, if it would have helped the story. It is not my goal to provide a history lesson, it is my goal to entertain, without stretching the facts of history as we know it today.
For The Rebel’s Hero, I do plan on writing an author’s note at the end of the book because there will need to be more historical background. I’m covering a part of the Civil War that you just don’t hear about as often, and I won’t be able to cover it in as much detail as I’d like within the actual story.
2. My protagonists are coming of age.
Now, Mary from Haunting Miss Trentwood was in her mid-twenties when the story occurred, which is a bit older than the traditional coming-of-age story. The fact remains that in the story, Mary goes through a change and comes into her own, as it were. She has a romance, deals with family struggles, and makes decisions about who she wants to be and what she can do to become that person. Pick up any young adult book, no matter the genre, and it will be addressing the same issues. Think of Libba Bray, Ann Rinaldi, Laurie Halse Anderson.
3. My stories are fairly straight forward.
If the protagonist is in a love triangle, you will probably be able to guess who they will pick before the end of the story. I don’t like tricking my readers into thinking they’ve figured someone out, and then writing a sort of “Gotcha!” where the character suddenly runs off with someone else. I believe I do this because in every love triangle I’ve seen in real life, only the third wheel sees the love triangle. The couple who is actually falling in love has no idea that third wheel is there.
When there is conflict in my stories, it is something where the hero and heroine need to work together… after or while they work through their interpersonal struggles. I find this is a common thread in young adult stories as well: the hero/heroine don’t quite understand one another, but they are attracted and WANT to understand each other. They go through the growing pains of attempting to become a couple, and their bond is strengthened by a common goal. Again, it is the relationship that is important to me, the coming of age within a relationship that occurs.
This isn’t to say that a young adult historical fiction doesn’t have plot twists and turns, of course.
There are other ways, I’m sure, that are pointing me in the direction of young adult. But these are the three that came to mind immediately. What are some other ways to tell if you’re writing (or reading) a young adult book?
– – –
This is part of the ROW80 bloghop.