(These were initially posted on in Summer 2007.  I’m reposting them here, as they are no longer available there.)

We’ve all got the drill down for physical accuracy in our romance novel depictions—the Regency hero with the Brutus hair cut, champagne-polished Hessians, matched grays pulling the high-perch phaeton. Our heroine is fashionably immaculate in a high-waisted dress and carries a reticule. (Why do all heroines have tiny feet, and curly hair that always behaves? I think there is a serious dearth of Bad Hair Days in romances.) Medieval heroes are formidable swordsmen and ride thundering stallions. And so on.

But what about other aspects of accuracy, social and psychological? How much accuracy to you want to read about, and how high a priority is it in your wip? And how much work are you willing to do to get there?

I think this is more of an issue with Medievals than Georgian and Regency-set romances. The low status of women, the pervasive influence of the Catholic Church, the scarcity of education, and the frequent, unpredictable, and deadly ravages of war, plague and famine (those horsemen were spot-on) make any glamorous depiction of the Middle Ages wildly optimistic. How would a heroine do in a society that debated if women had souls? There seems to be fewer Viking-era romances being written these days. This is probably a good idea, as life was even more difficult in those days.

Even Regencies present a somewhat idealized era. Remember that even the great Mr. Darcy had to ask Mr. Bennet for Elizabeth’s hand—she could not make that determination herself. Animals were still seen as tools, as chattel, and even though there must have been instances of great affection between human and pet, the casual cruelties, the working to death of animals, the bear baitings, were still very common, though it would be completely unacceptable for a leading character in a romance to condone such activities. The ruling class of Regency England was largely Tory, and extremely conservative. These were the days of the Enclosure Movements—families forced off land that their ancestors had tilled for generations—to be replaced by profitable sheep-raising enterprises. Many of the upper classes desperately feared change, and felt the ruthless suppression of the lower classes was necessary to preserve their life of privilege. How would that play in a romance?

Where do you stand on this? How much does the “entertainment” factor trump a grimly realistic portrayal of an era? How many female spies could have operated in Britain during the Napoleonic Wars? Do you think a “wallpaper” setting is adequate, or do you feel that your story needs to be set within an accurately-portrayed society? Can an incandescent love story shine brightly within a harsh era, and still be believable? Do you have to read Catherine Cookson to really see what life was like for the working class, or can you, Jane Austen-like, ignore poverty, war, struggling lower classes, and natural disasters?

Where’s your balance? And how do you get there?