I’m always amazed by how much fact can be written into a fictional book. Of course, erotic romance tends to concentrate on sex or sexual games or the emotional relationship between the protagonists. But underneath, almost all writers include a basis in reality. This underlying reality can help readers identify with the heroes and heroines, as well as characterize them, but it can also impart a great deal of information.
If a writer invents freely as to the information, readers are certain to notice. On the other hand, the writing and reading can be quite tedious if the author delves too deeply into the architecture of the cathedrals in Edinburgh or begins quoting case law to explain why it’s perfectly acceptable for a Spanish lord to whisk his exceedingly gorgeous but reluctant English bride out of the country without even her passport.
When I wrote The Second Sons, I was caught up in the world of classical music. One of the main characters is an oboist, who at the opening of the book was caught up in the newly released Ninth Symphony by Beethoven. Composed specifically under the commission of The Philharmonic Society of London, it was premiered in Vienna in May of 1824 and delivered to London later in the summer, perfectly timed for the opening chapters of my book. In The Rusticated Duchess, the hero approaches the matter of birth control with all practical knowledge that could possibly have been known by an educated, well-traveled aristocrat in 1822. The characters in The Outcast Earl had legitimate and serious concerns about the urbanization of England in 1822, and discussed those issues, as surely one would have done among friends, even in 1822.
Still, it is so easy to get the details wrong. If I wrote a novel about a protected witness and claimed she was under the protection of the FBI instead of the US Marshalls, some of my readers would know I hadn’t bothered to even Google the Witness Protection Program before freely inventing details that have no basis in reality. If I wrote a novel set on the Scottish-English border but failed to identify that a river (specifically, River Tweed) marks the border and border crossings over it, a British reader would immediately notice the gaffe.
However exciting and thrilling the sex scenes, we fall in love with the characters in a story when they are out of bed. During those moments between sexual innuendos and sex scenes, they must be doing something, whether soldiering, dancing, touring with a band, riding with a motorcycle gang, or any of the thousands of normal everyday non-sexual behaviors that humans engage in every day of our lives. Perhaps the heroine is caring for her aging parents. She can still have a well-informed discussion about the benefits of growing lavender and chamomile in her mother’s flower beds. How she conducts such an exchange reveals much of her character: generous or selfish, petty or kind, happy or melancholy. She can also reveal her creator to be misinformed, superficial, or dull.
Please never let me be that, especially not that last one.
Dull is the death knell.