Today we welcome Avon historical romance author Katharine Ashe to our blog. Katharine has two recent releases, Captured by a Rogue Lord (March 29, 2011) and A Lady’s Wish (March 15, 2011).
The American Library Association’s Booklist named Katharine Ashe one of the “New Stars of Historical Romance.” Her debut historical romance, Swept Away By a Kiss, was nominated for Best First Historical Romance in the Reviewers’ Choice Best Book Awards. Captured by a Rogue Lord has received a “TOP PICK!” from RT Book Reviews: Katharine lives in the wonderfully warm Southeast with her husband, son, two dogs, and a garden she likes to call romantic rather than unkempt. A professor of European history, she has made her home in California, Italy, France, and the northern US. Please visit her at www.katharineashe.com.
I am about to say something that might sound heretical to action-lovers like us who adore this blog. It’s not, though. Here goes:
Writing an action-filled romance novel does not mean writing a novel full of action scenes.
What makes a romance novel feel action-filled if not the action scenes?
If you will allow me, I’m going to use my newest book, CAPTURED BY A ROGUE LORD, as an example (mostly because it’s so well known to me). A recent review calls it an “action-packed romance brimming over with marvelous characters, sexual tension, witty repartee and action, action, action.” That’s four ‘action’s, and in general that’s a lot of ‘action’ for a historical romance set in Regency England.
Naturally, I am thrilled with this review. I happen to love this reviewer and trust her reviews like I trust my mother. And this book does have a lot of action in it. For instance, in one scene the heroine gets abducted by smugglers then escapes. Another scene is a naval battle, including blasting guns, snapping pistols, and men running around deck as planking gets blown to smithereens and canvas burns.
Most scenes in the book, however, cannot be categorized as action scenes. A few examples of the typical sort of scene I write might suffice. An early scene is set at a London ball in which the hero kisses the heroine silly in a darkened parlor before they’ve ever set eyes on one another. In another scene the hero, an earl, pays a proper social call on his intended betrothed (not the heroine) and her mother. In another, the heroine visits the local hat shop to seek out information on a notorious pirate recently seen in the neighborhood. She then wanders into a church where the hero finds her, and after that they stroll through a garden to her house.
You see what I mean. On the surface, not action. My hero doesn’t spend the whole book sword fighting or racing his curricle down treacherous byways or even chasing after smugglers. And my heroine doesn’t get into scrape after scrape from which the hero must save her.
So how do drawing rooms and walks in the park translate into action?
A romance novel feels active not because of the action scenes themselves, but because of pacing. With proper pacing, even a few action scenes placed carefully into the story can have a big impact.
Pacing in a romance novel, of course, depends on a lot of things: plenty of quick, realistic dialogue, spare backstory, a plot with multiple twists and turns including mysteries that are revealed at strategic intervals, and minimal bouts of internal dialogue. But most of all pacing is about the romantic dynamic between the hero and heroine.
I write swashbuckling action, but above all I write romance. I am more interested in the love story than anything else. It is the reason I write fiction and the core, heart, and soul of my books. If your hero and heroine are well paired and well balanced to each other, and if this is so clear to the reader that she will tear through every obstacle you put in that couple’s way to get to their Happily Ever After, then you have a book full of action. It doesn’t take kidnappings, ship battles, or any other kind of shenanigans to achieve this. Just the perfect hero matched with his perfect heroine.
What’s your favorite romance—book or film—that is filled with action?