Someone once asked me how I create a world for whatever book I’m writing at the time. Since I write historical romance, you’d think the answer would be simple – research. But it’s a bit more complicated than that.
While I do spend a considerable amount of effort studying the history of a particular time and place, I also must create fictional characters who have a backstory which shaped them. Every important character has a family. Fathers and mothers leave their imprint on their children, for good or bad. Brothers and sisters play an important part in each hero or heroine’s childhood. Qualities – positive or negative – instilled by parents or mentors become lifelong traits.
Let me give you an example.
In Promise Me, a story set in the Regency time period, Court Shelburne nearly loses the love of his life through his unreasoning jealousy. His lack of trust begins early on, when his mother is too involved with her current lover to return home to the bedside of her dying son – Court’s older brother. That traumatic event is the catalyst for everything that follows.
Now, I don’t start out by telling you, the reader, that’s why Court feels unworthy of love. Or why he’s so quick to believe that Philippa has betrayed him with his best friend. All we know for certain at the beginning of the story is that Court believes he holds the moral high ground – while at the same time he’s plotting his coldhearted revenge on his faithless wife.
However, things are not always what they seem.
When first creating a story, I ask myself: What secrets are they (hero and heroine) keeping from each other? These secrets often stem from incidents in their childhood.
But not always.
In Lachlan’s Bride, set in the reign of James IV of Scotland, Lady Francine is keeping a secret belonging not to herself, but to her sister, who’s died five years before the tale begins. Yet at the time of the story’s events, the concealment of the past becomes pivotal to the continued safety of Francine and her daughter.
Once again, I don’t tell the reader at the beginning of the romance that Francine is boldfaced lying to Lachlan MacRath (and everyone else).
But in the end, of course, all will be revealed.