There seems to be an expectation of little to no sex in historical romances. As a reader, I found this extremely disappointing. What makes me sad is the lack of historical romances that unabashedly dive into the relationship and include the heat of passion. As a writer, I knew my work would be outside the preconceived expectations of the historical romance community. Yet, there is a demographic of readers who want hot historical romances.
Sex has been a powerful motivator throughout history. It’s been used as a weapon and a reward. There are quite a few historical novels who make reference to this power exchange, but there aren’t a lot who explore it in the context of romance. Why shy away from an act that so clearly has an influential role in society and power dynamics? While every time period treats sex differently, say the Elizabethan period compared to the Victorian era, they have a commonality. Sex, lust, and love all factored into daily life and impacted decisions made by lawmakers and kings. It does not do justice to the story if the vulnerability and passion of sex is ignored or simply glossed over.
Sex is an intricate and unavoidable part of culture, no matter the time period. From the Roman age to Tudor England, the intrigue of the French Court to the repressed nature of Victorian society, sex plays a role. It allows us to consummate love, indulge in lust, garner power, and bring new life into the world. Wielded with vengeance and ill-intent, or treated as a blushing rose blossom to be tenderly cradled, sex plays a role in human nature. Say what you will about sex, but one cannot deny the allure and the reality of its effect on society.
In historicals, I believe intimacy and sex are often overlooked for fear of seeming too modern or too intimate. The balance between historical fact and story often becomes the focus, and sex takes a back seat to the details. What we forget is how effective sex can be as a plot device. It changes the dynamics between the participants. When it is used properly, it can push the story forward and help the characters grow. It can add strength or uncover weaknesses, expose vulnerabilities or empower those involved. The implications of such a powerful act can raise a king to his throne or bring him to his knees…sometimes both at once.
Why do I have to show sex in the story to incorporate its use as a plot device? Well, that would be the difference between showing and telling. If I just said, they had an intimate night of shared passion, it’s not nearly as effective as showing her reaction to his touch, his reaction to her kiss. Being able to visualize the character’s reaction to an intimate moment can truly give an in-depth view of them as a three-dimensional character. The way we are in the streets is not always how we are in the sheets. As story tellers, it is our job to paint both vivid scenes and characters for the readers so they can experience the raw power contained within the words we, as the author, choose. So we must choose them wisely.
Vivid imagery and word usage are two very important pieces of storytelling that are even more important when writing historical romance because of the research involved.
When writing from a particular time period, one must take into account the language of the era. This is one of the key elements in creating a realistic story along with elements of heat that may be unintentional, but effective. For example, swearing and slang terminology.
While doing research for The Prince of Whispers, I realized, much to my surprise, that certain terms we view as vulgar today were not seen as such in the mid-fifteenth century. Out of consideration, I won’t type them, but f*** and c*** are two perfect examples of this major shift in language. In medieval times, these words were common, while by today’s standards, they are considered to be two of the most profane terms one could use.
I used both of these terms in my book, not to be vulgar or shocking, but to emphasize the time period. In that era, taking the Lord’s name in vain, “God’s blood” or “Jesus Christ”, would have been blasphemous and in turn had the same effect as some of today’s most prominent slang terms and swear words. Using these words can emphasize the era as well as intensify the heat between the characters. Euphemisms are all well and good, but in historicals, they must fit the time period or be lost in translation. Again, it’s all about choosing the right words to evoke the power of the act.
This leads me to the vivid imagery. I could spend days describing every intricate detail of the castle, or the clothes, or the meals, but I won’t. Why? Because to me, it’s not as important as the relationship between the characters. I want to feel their angst, their desire. I need to see the emotions in every action, in every word they speak. The character must adapt and grow. It is my job as an author to put them through hell in order for them to find heaven.
Placing the hero and heroine in a position of intimacy can either bring them closer or tear them apart. Again, using sex as a plot device to push the story forward. However, it is how this scene is portrayed to the reader that will translate the intent and desire of the two characters. There is more power in showing the dynamics than merely stating the obvious. This is even more important when writing in a time period where a relationship might be hindered by social constraints.
Don’t fear the heat, the passion, the sex. It’s a natural part of life and an important visual representation of the characters’ relationship. I’m not condoning adding sex for the sake of titillation. My advocacy is for the accurate, and intimate, portrayal of sex throughout history. We should embrace and encourage more sexy historical romances.
Jen Bradlee can get away with murder, metaphorically speaking of course. She is a sensual woman who enjoys people watching, belly dancing, and taking walks in the rain. Give her a man who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and plays hard. The ones with rough edges and a little scruff are the best. She finds cathartic release when she pours all her fantasies and desires into her writing. Comes with a warning label. “Too hot to handle.”
If you are expecting a traditional medieval tale or charming prince, you will not find it here. I am not like other men for I have a voracious appetite and will appease it no matter the cost. Do you doubt my confession? Then I invite you to step into my kingdom.
Women were created for pleasure, tis my obligation to see them fulfilled. When I whisper, they come to me. All save one…Lady Ruby. I can see the desire in her eyes even though her pure and noble heart fights against it. She may be an outlaw, but a rare gem such as she has never been found in Meradin. She is my challenge, my penance, and my weakness. Nothing short of Almighty God Himself can keep her from me. I shall possess her. Ruby is mine.
Dear reader, will you begrudge me your company when you learn of my past and how wicked I can truly be? Or will you come to me willingly, surrender yourself to my charms, and beg for more? Surely my tale of intrigue, murder, and treason will be enough to tempt you to sin with me if only for a short while. Come with me, and I will lay myself bare.
Prince Crispin Saville