Historical Romance or Historical Romantic Fiction?

Is there a difference? Well, yes.

Lately, I've been pondering about the types of books I write. I keep saying that my novels don't fit into a specific box - but publishers (and reviewers) love those boxes!

So, how do I ensure my books find the 'right' readers? Or should that be the other way round? ;-)

First of all, how do you approach historical romance as opposed to a romantic adventure? The big difference is the love story. Romance focuses predominantly (naturally!) on the love story, the development of the main characters - in my books one male, one female - often classified as category (i.e., following a certain pattern). The historical setting, background, etc, are secondary. Still important to an extent, but they don't overshadow the love story, the internal and external conflict of the couple-to-be, with all its twists and turns. It might be used to throw obstacles in the characters' path, keeping them from each other until the end, but always linked to their own internal growth.

Historical romantic fiction (or historical fiction with romantic elements), however, allows for more external influences such as actual or made-up historical events to appear. In my case, I provide my main characters with additional external obstacles, with more focus on those occurrences and how they affect their lives (rather than focus on their budding feelings). Character development is still very important - after all, nobody likes to read about characters that don't change or don't learn anything throughout the story - but in essence, historical events shape the story rather than love.

My first published novel, Highland Arms, 'turned' towards the romance genre after starting out as a historical adventure about Highland smugglers and rebellions, with a bit of romantic action thrown in. It was difficult to consider where to submit it to, so I joined a lovely bunch of girls in a romance writers critique group, and with their help the story developed its romantic side. Of course, reading similar romance novels also helped create a theme. Highland Arms finally found its place in The Wild Rose Press's array of Scottish romances. But is it romance?

My latest release, Dark Deceit, the first in The Anarchy Trilogy, is different again. It started off as a medieval murder mystery (but I realised I wanted the characters to travel farther afield; plus the Cadfael series is already set in those days), then I tried to change it into a romance. Didn't work! Now, the focus is on the characters all right, but each following their own destinies (making almost lethal mistakes along the way), but all in the political chaos of the 1140s 'anarchy'. The characters are more selfish, more focused on survival, on duty, given the nature of the times. Dark Deceit has murders, fights, family secrets and shifty real-life characters with their own agendas. Yes, it contains seductions (but no sex) and shows characters' emotions, but in effect, Dark Deceit is historical fiction with romantic elements, not romance.

As a writer, I have my own style, whether it fits into a box or not. Could I force myself to write differently in a historical setting? I'm not sure. I like my stories to show my personal interests: adventures in specific historical periods. That's why Highland Arms is set in my favourite location, Loch Linnhe / Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands just after the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion, while Dark Deceit in set in Normandy - another historically rich area which utterly intrigues me - in 1141. History provides me with much scope for action (rebellions, murders, civil wars, loss of property, changing loyalties, etc), while the romantic element weaves like a thread through it. That's me!

But... I'm testing new waters. My current work in progress is a contemporary novella set in Idaho, a romantic suspense. No historical tidbits to feed to my readers here, just a story about a journalist on the run after witnessing a murder, helped by a hunky US Navy SEAL on injury leave who was sent to track her down.
Category. Box. Tick!

I'll let you know how it goes... ;-)


  1. The categorising of your novel is a pain at times. I've written a historical romance, three contemporaries veering towards the 'mystery' lines withought any serious murder elements. It's not been a smooth path to have them pigeonholed into 'the correct' marketing place.
    Good luck with your contemporary wip, and I look forward to no.2 of the Anarchy trilogy.

  2. It's a probem I can identify with, Cathie. Although my genre tends to be crime and mystery, they frequently edge into paranormal and sci-fi territories.

    But we live in a tick-box society, don't we?

  3. Cathie, they say "write true to you!" (I can't believe I'm saying this, lol) but not everyone wants to read romance. Perhaps your story is more mystery/suspense and it's just not being promoted in that way... I know a ton of suspense/mystery readers out there, and I toss your name out as often as I can. Being a huge Highland Arms Fan, I love that story and your writing!

  4. Nancy, that's the word I was looking for: pigeonholed! Thanks for your kind words.

  5. David, you're spot on. Definitely a tick-box society. Still, we persevere outside those boxes... ;-)

  6. Neecy, thank you, my lovely friend. Yes, you're saying this because you've experienced it. Love critting your works!

    You're one of those fab girls who helped mold Highland Arms into what it became, so thank you! :-)

  7. WONDERFUL article Nancy. I enjoyed every word. I call my work 'historical love stories'...Vivid historical settings with characters wrapped around events & real people, but the theme of 'finding true love' woven throughout the novel, binding the hero & heroine together, wrapping them around real occasions, holding them together even when the real world intrudes to pull 'em apart. This works best for me 'n my characters. Love your blog.


    Cindy Nord
    NO GREATER GLORY/Samhain Publishing
    Always Romance. Nothing Less.

  8. Thanks very much, Cindy. Lovely of you to stop by. 'Historical love stories' sounds like a fab description of your writing. :-)

  9. As a reader, for me HIGHLAND ARMS and DARK DECEIT are without the shadow of doubt to be put into the historical romance box even if they are totally different. I LOVED them both ! I'm an avid historical romance eater ... haha ... the very special Cathie Dunn flavor is one of my favorite ... some more, PLEASE !!

  10. Thank you so much, BlackTulip! So happy you like my stories. So it's historical romance for you? Interesting! Thanks for sharing.

    I wonder what you'll make of the contemporary one once it's out... ;-)


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