Ask Yourself Why

Yes, this is a very open-ended question. Why what? you’re wondering.

The answer is why a whole bunch of things. Understanding some fundamental whys for both you as the writer and for your reader can help you not only start your manuscript, but finish and revise it. Otherwise, it’s easy to ask yourself as you try to write that tricky scene for the fifth time, “Why am I putting myself through this?”

Below are a few of the questions it pays to answer for yourself as you embark on this ambitious project.

Why write a book at all?

This is not such an unreasonable question. When you set to work on a full-length fiction manuscript of any genre, you are committing to months—possibly years, in some cases—of often frustrating work. If you believe said book can be a ticket to quitting your day job, or financial independence, you are sadly mistaken. Yes, there are some immensely successful authors out there, but the percentage of those is minuscule. It behoves you to have a different, non-financial reason.

But there’s no right or wrong answer to this question, of course. It’s fine to embark on this project simply to prove to yourself you can do it, if you’re the kind of person who is motivated by such things. Whatever you say to yourself, know that if you do actually want to produce a finished, polished manuscript, you’ll have to be willing to face setbacks, consternation, possible discouragement, and rejection—not just from agents and editors if you want to publish traditionally, but from reviewers and readers. It’s a harsh world out there, and although there will be readers who love your work, there will likely be readers who don’t.

Why historical romance?

I’ll start by sharing my own reasons:

The world is a scary place. It’s easy to overlook the small, joyful things. It’s also tempting to look for a comforting escape from problems and situations you are powerless to affect in any positive way.

I found myself turning to historical romance as a reader, deriving great comfort from being immersed in a world focused on the simple human need of love and companionship, in times where roles were more strictly defined.

As a writer, I’ve been trying for years to push myself harder and harder to write stories that matter to me, and that I hope matter to other people. They almost always include romantic elements, but were never completely focused on that romance. But the sad truth is that, the more I have come to understand about writing, the harder it is to meet my own standards. Writing, while still necessary, was becoming effortful in a way it never had before.

Just for fun, I started drafting a historical romance—a Regency romance—as an outgrowth of my avid reading. And guess what? It brought me joy. It has rekindled my feeling of gotta get to my manuscript! And it is a true challenge.

With these as my reasons, I was armed for the struggles ahead!

What is it that led you to this genre? What captured your imagination and made you eager to fashion your own engrossing story of true love in a time gone by? Think about it, and write a paragraph or two to refer back to as needed, whenever you feel stuck or frustrated.

Why this particular period and place?

When you write historical romance, you commit to creating a historically true setting—which means research. Lots of research (but not unending, as I discuss in the next section). That means there has to be something that draws you to that particular time and place, whether it’s Regency England, the American West before the Civil War, or World War II France.

Remember that you’ll be spending many, many hours in that world, so it should be one that ignites your imagination.

Why this couple?

Like the period and place, your protagonists have to be engaging not just to your reader, but to you. You have to like them—love them—care about them. You have to be willing to put them through the wringer, but you also have to be committed to their happy ending.

What sets them apart? How did they appear to you? Why do you think you can spend months in their company? Think about it.