Recently I listened to a perfectly delightful Regency romance on audio, but some obvious errors nagged at me and got me to pondering which is worse, too much research or too little?
Those of us who write books that require extensive research are always advised to not let the research show. Weave it as seamlessly as possible into the narrative. That makes perfect sense, though it isn’t easy to do. But what about too little research? That’s when errors become glaring enough that some readers, esp. the ones who also write, are pulled out of the story, saying “Wait a minute, that’s not right.”
Sometimes it’s a matter of historical characters acting or speaking in modern fashion. This can be one of the most glaring problems. Then there is the matter of social mores of the time, which vary from one period to the next.
One of the biggest traps novelists can fall into is writing historical characters with 21st century mores. And nothing can make the reader want to throw a book across the room quicker. This especially applies to women. The double standard still exists, but it was much greater in previous centuries. A young woman’s reputation was golden.
War and social unrest have always upset the normal patterns of life, and social mores tend to fall by the wayside during such periods. Still, a historical female character who shows no regard for her reputation isn’t believable unless she’s already a fallen woman and has no reputation to lose.
Personally, I don’t necessarily mind a heroine who flaunts society’s rules; I just need to believe that she knows what she is doing and is well motivated in her choices. The woman who doesn’t understand the consequences of her actions strains credibility. Women had a lot more to lose in the not-so-good old days.
In the book in question, the problem seemed to be more one of the author not understanding how the social season worked. Societal rules were much more stringent, esp. among the upper classes. It was one way the maintained their air of privilege. It all seems ridiculous to us now, but the aristocracy took these things very seriously.
In general, a young lady could not be out in society unless she had been presented at court and made her bow to the Queen. In my Regency romance, Lady Elinor’s Escape, Lady Elinor is hiding out in a dress shop, pretending to be a seamstress, which means she could not also be out in society. But we writers find ways around details like that. The one ball scene in the book is a masquerade ball she attends only because the shop owner retrieved a discarded invitation from the trash. As long as Elinor leaves before the unmasking at midnight, she feels the risk is worth it.
In writing, like Regency society, it’s best to know the rules before you (or your characters) break them.
So too much research or too little? I’m enough of a history freak to prefer too much research showing to wondering if the author did any at all. What do you think?