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I have a tendency to overseason food when I cook. I often succumb to the urge to add extra sprinkle of salt, a few more flakes of cayenne, a third drizzle of garlic-infused olive oil…and then my pan-seared chicken becomes too salty, too spicy, too oily. I am on a constant quest to find that precarious balance between “really bland” and “flavor overload.”
I have the same issue with my writing. I love writing historicals because of the endless possibilities for characters, plots, and setting. The problem is that I love the research a little too much. I want to include all the tidbits of information I find—an extra sprinkle here, a dash more there—but unfortunately at the risk of bogging my story down with details that distract from the romance.
The Earl of Clarendon might have given a fascinating statement to the House of Lords about Count Orloff’s special mission to Vienna, but unless his lordship’s remarks somehow tear my hero and heroine apart (or reunite them), I really need to keep that information in my research files.
On the other hand, historical details can immeasurably enrich a story, much as just the right amount of seasoning can elevate a dish from “not bad” to “delicious.” In A Study in Seduction, the arithmetic game that Lydia, Alexander, and their guests play one evening at Floreston Manor was an actual Victorian parlor trick. I used it to underscore both Lydia’s intellectual abilities and her newfound friendships, which then intensify Alexander’s desire for her.
One of my favorite scenes involves Lydia, Alexander, and Jane walking through London’s Zoological Gardens. I found historical maps and descriptions of the animals on display, which allowed me to make the setting both accurate and interesting. Beyond that, however, the zoo also serves as a metaphor for Lydia’s sense of being caged by her own intellect and her growing belief that only with Alexander can she be free.
Unfortunately, I could find no reason on earth to mention the zoo’s recent addition of the Uran-Utan from Borneo, which was presented to the Zoological Society by the Governor of Singapore, Lieutenant-Colonel Butterworth, and led to the construction of a new primate enclosure divided by geographical….oops. Overseasoned.
Then there are the wonderful details that ground everyone—author, characters, readers—in 1854 London. Street names, clothing, political situations, food—all of these facts root Alexander and Lydia in a specific time and place where, despite the obstacles of Victorian society, their love finds a way to blossom.
The balance between “too little” and “too much” is one I will continue to try and master. I want readers to be caught up in the characters and their romance first, with historical details enriching the intensity of the plot. Like my pan-seared chicken, I’ll forever seek to perfectly season my stories.
- Nina Rowan
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