Historical vs. Contemporary: Which is Harder to Write?

by Julia London on February 23, 2012

I get asked this question all the time:  which is harder to write, historical or contemporary?  People assume the historicals are harder because of “all that research involved.”  Not true.  The historical research I’ve relied on for the last fifteen years has been confined to one twenty year period in British history.  I know exactly where to look if I can’t remember a social or political detail.  I’ve read widely from novels and texts written in that era.  I know it almost as well as I know the 1970s when VB and I wore overalls (don’t deny it, VB!).

Contemporaries are harder because readers know if I am blowing smoke.  If I said that a modern-day character died and left no heirs, most readers would know that the estate would go to the nearest blood relatives, starting with the parents, then siblings, and so on.    But if I presented in an historical novel-say The Revenge of Lord Eberlin--that an earl had died and left no male heir, so therefore his adopted daughter inherited, you would most likely buy it because you, dear reader, are most likely not up on the laws of primogeniture in England in 1810.  But I am!  And that couldn’t really happen!  (But I did it.  To find out how I did it, and I am not blowing smoke, you will have to read the book.  hahaha).

Another difference between the writing of historical and contemporary is the pace.  I am not talking about the plot, but of the prose.  We are used to the shorthand we use in speaking to one another, and dialogue in a contemporary can fly.  In historical romances, the tone is more gentle and proper, and the prose slows down a bit to accomodate.  I tend to use more adverbs in historical novels than I do in contemporaries.  Example:  “What do you mean, you’re not going?”  and “I should think it reasonable to assume that you are to attend, my lord.”

Another common perception is that characters and plots are different.  Not so.  The characters may be constrained by different external forces, but people are people, and always have been.  Falling in love is the same as it always has been, and the obstacles that keep us from one another have been imagined for centuries.

You know who has the toughest writing job at Whine Sisters?  Not me.  It’s Sherri, who mashes genres together and creates seamless fiction.  Or Julie, who writes an underworld complete with its own justice system.  Makes my head spin.  Or Dee, who has to create suspense and sustain it on every page.  Or Jacquie and Kathleen, who both write so wittily that I laugh out loud, and that makes me pea-green with envy.

Don’t you wish they had a book out this week?  Well, they don’t.  But I do!  Pick up The Revenge of Lord Eberlin, and be sure and visit my Facebook page for a chance to win a Kindle Fire and $100 gift certificate!

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

figuranta February 23, 2012 at 2:31 pm

well my waiting was well rewarded i loved it as i love all her books, not long 2 wait 4 the 3 book that sound amazing as well. x

by the way when u heading next time 2 london? :D

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Julia London Julia London February 23, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Figuranta, I am so glad it was a reward! And fortunately, the Seduction of Lady X is out next month. Woo-hoo!

As for London, you never know. Maybe sooner than you think ;-)

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Nitty February 23, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Just finished “Revenge” about 4am this morning. Couldn’t put it down! Thanks for always breaking my heart and putting it back together again. It’s always such a thrill!
So happy the third “X” is coming out next month!!!

Doesn’t matter, historical or contemporary. You’re a master of both!

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Julia London Julia London February 23, 2012 at 1:56 pm

You are fast becoming my best friend, Nitty. I really appreciate the praise and I am so happy you loved the book!

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Gail Nichols February 23, 2012 at 1:03 pm

I love to read your books Julia. You have such a gift for writing. I wish I could write like that. Are you really going to be in Round Rock on March 4th I would love to meet you in person:)

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Julia London Julia London February 23, 2012 at 1:56 pm

I am really going to be in Round Rock on the 4th. I am hosting a tea at the local bookstore. I would love to meet you, too, Gail.

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Ti Colluney February 23, 2012 at 12:57 pm

I have some lovely duct tape in-case you need it. (You did say I cracked you up). Hot pink and hot purple are my faves!!!

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Julia London Julia London February 23, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Colored duct tape? Who knew?

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Kathleen O'Reilly February 23, 2012 at 10:22 am

Julia, Congrats on the new book! I love reading your historicals, getting swept up in the time and place where things are slower, and glances are long and languid. I’ll be picking up my copy today. However, I think it will have to be airplane reading on Saturday. Today is carpet installation day. :)

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Julia London Julia London February 23, 2012 at 12:38 pm

Even better. Make sure you hold it up high so everyone can see it

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Dee Davis Dee Davis February 23, 2012 at 9:50 am

I think your the one with the gift! And I love that you can take me away to a world filled with beautiful gowns and regal manners and sex in a glance. Fabulous… and next week, the payoff for finishing my novel. (hopefully today) Keep your fingers crossed.

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Julia London Julia London February 23, 2012 at 11:27 am

Hooray! I love when I am the prize :-)

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Jacquie D'Alessandro Jacquie D'Alessandro February 23, 2012 at 9:17 am

I am so looking forward to this book, Julia! And because I’m an Amazon Prime member, I’ll have it tomorrow! Yay!!
Like you, I love the language of historicals. I also love the manners and social constraints. I love that the mere touch of hands could have so much meaning, that there was so much restrained passion. I think it’s difficult to impose believable social barriers in a contemporary story as we live in a such an “anything goes” society.

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Julia London Julia London February 23, 2012 at 11:27 am

That’s a great point, jacquie. I should add that to my list of differences. But for me, as a reader, I much prefer the innuendo and the tension than the actual anything goes

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VB February 23, 2012 at 11:30 am

As a reader, ditto!!

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Julie Kenner/J.K. Beck/J. Kenner Julie February 23, 2012 at 6:49 am

See, I think you just make it look easy :) Go, you!!!!

I do like the language thing. “Midnight” is an historical, and that was my favorite part of writing it, the slower, richer way the characters spoke to each other.

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Julia London Julia London February 23, 2012 at 8:29 am

I like the language, too. I also like pretending I live in a castle and wear gorgeous gowns.

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Sherri Browning Erwin Sherri Browning Erwin February 23, 2012 at 5:38 am

Hahaha, yeah, that pesky inheritance thing in historical. Avid readers of the time period and other writers are especially hard on you when you make a mistake or play with facts, so that adds to the pressure to get it right. I find the same amount of research necessary in any time period, and just as easy to get things wrong no matter how much you know. And then, the reader mail comes. Dun dun dunnnn.

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VB February 23, 2012 at 9:28 am

One of you should do a blog about reader mail. I understand writing an author to express your enjoyment of their writing, or even to ask a question. I get that. I am fascinated by readers that would shoot off an email to lecture you on some real or perceived mistake you made. Do a lot of readers do that?? I cannot see myself doing that. Unless a book began with “After General George Washington discovered the Americas…”

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Julia London Julia London February 23, 2012 at 11:29 am

I don’t get that in reader mail. But I see things like that in reviews left at amazon. Anonymity makes people kind of nasty at times. You know as a writer you can’t please all people all the time.

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Ti Colluney February 23, 2012 at 5:07 am

Julia, this is why I prefer to lose myself in Historicals. I will read contemporary but I really do prefer to get lost in a Historical, or sci fi. TT. Fantasy. Ok so I do read everything. And as a struggling writer myself, I know how hard it can be.

Congrats on your new release! I have added it to my ‘must finds’ when I hit book shops.

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Julia London Julia London February 23, 2012 at 8:30 am

Thank you, Ti! And thanks so much for helping spread the word.

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