Top tips for writing a wartime romance novel
Saga writer Ruby Reynolds shares advice with readers ahead of her publication of A Wartime Promise (Orion)
1. Research, research and then research some more
Don’t be afraid to see where the research takes you. The more time you can spend in the archives, reading around your subject and chatting to real people who were there, the better. Unless you happen to have been alive during World War 2 it’s impossible to imagine how life must have been so don’t be afraid to step outside of your subject matter. My novel, A Wartime Promise is set around the Women’s Army but I interviewed women who had served in the WRVS, Fire Service and as Wrens too to get a feel for the period and what life was like for the women fighting for their country.
2. Don’t feel like you have to include everything
With all those weeks and hours in the archives then it’s tempting to want to include everything you have discovered as otherwise it seems a bit of a waste. But remember the research isn’t the story and you’re not creating a documentary. Sometimes research is simply a way of getting deeper into your character and can often introduce you to plot points you hadn’t considered.
3. Keep it gritty
It’s tempting when we look back at the past to want to make everything sentimental. The truth was life wasn’t like that! There were bombs dropping, people dying, bodies stacked up in the streets. Not only that looting was rife during the Blitz, everyone pulling together is nothing more than a fantasy. While not everyone wants to read about the true horrors of war, don’t feel as if you have to sugarcoat real life as well. The fabulous author Kate Thompson in her new novel, The Allotment Girls (Pan Macmillan) has one of her characters dropping the F bomb on page one in reference to Hitler. Whilst shocking, it’s also more than likely accurate.
4. Remember the period
The crucial thing about a wartime romance is that people were a little more chaste. Although the war changed certain attitudes about sex, with many realising life was short so what was the point in waiting, for most Victorian attitudes still prevailed. Therefore, it’s perfectly acceptable to pepper your manuscript with lots of longing looks and hearts pounding before moving straight to the love scenes if you choose.
5. Think about regional language
Regional dialect and words can really add depth to your characters but don’t alienate your audience by using words that many readers won’t understand. Try a nod to the language but don’t allow it to take over your work. I often use the term ‘yer’ as in ‘you’ to show someone from the Midlands in conversation. Some readers loved it, some hated it, some said they wanted more. You (or yer) will never please all of the people all of the time.
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