#HistoricalHeroes Writing Tournament: What do our editors look for?
It’s Week 3 of our #HistoricalHeroes contest and here at Paradise Heights the Historical editors have been introduced to more hunky historical heroes than they could ever have imagined! And after reading the hottest Regency/Victorian and Medieval/Tudor heroes around, it’s time for those Warrior Heroes to get their swords out and attempt to battle off the competition! So, we’re sure you’re all dying to know, what exactly is it Linda, Kathryn and Nicola are looking for?
We always hear that it’s the ‘voice’ or the ‘spark’ that makes a story special, what does that mean?
Linda: If we could bottle that special ‘spark’ and make it available to all aspiring authors, we’d be inundated with requests for it. The special voice/spark/extra something is what all editors look for. It’s that added ingredient which lifts a plot, brings characters to vibrant life, and makes your voice unique. We’re certainly not looking for a pastiche of what’s gone before. It could be the way you use imagery to make connections between words and ideas that creates the fresh approach we’re hoping for with every new submission we receive. It’s so hard to define ‘spark’ but editors know it when they see it!
What is it you look for in a first line – what makes a submission stand out from the crowd?
Kathryn: It’s got to capture my attention immediately! Something short and snappy tends to win me over; one interesting, exciting, intriguing sentence that pulls the reader in and introduces them to the author’s own unique voice. Dialogue can work really well to get across a sense of immediacy and introduce a fast pace, but this isn’t a rule by any means! A good way to look at it might be like a shout line on the back cover of a book – it has to be something that instantly grabs you, hints at something intriguing and makes sure you buy that book to see where the story goes!
Are there any common mistakes that immediately put you off?
Nicola: With historical manuscripts it’s often tempting to go to town with antiquated language, but a gorgeous hero uttering ’twas, ’tis or ’twere makes my heart sink. It’s also a turn off if I’m confronted with a lot of prose and plot details right at the beginning – I want to see sparky dialogue and chemistry between the hero and heroine and then I want to know the ins and outs of the backstory and the plot.
Are there any time periods you’re dying to see more of?
Linda: Regency remains ever-popular. We guarantee at least 3 of our 6 books a month will be Regency (we sneak in late Georgian/early Victorian under this umbrella). Medieval novels (Norman Conquest up to Tudor) are also popular, especially in our extensive overseas markets. Tudor/Restoration are strong in the UK. Westerns work well in North America. We do also encourage less familiar time periods, such as Ancient Greece/Rome, Viking, Tang Dynasty China, and would love to see more storylines which move us into different time periods and different cultures.
What about the balance of power in the relationship? Does the hero always have to be alpha to the max, or can a feisty heroine give him a run for his money?
Nicola: An alpha hero is always a good start – and let’s face it, in most historical situations, this would be the way of life! But there’s nothing I like more than a talented and witty heroine who fights back, who makes your hero sit up and take notice! I think we’ve all seen enough swooning debutantes to last us a while, so absolutely, there’s nothing wrong with making your heroine challenge and seduce your alpha hero!
How important is it to maintain historical accuracy – where’s the line between making something exciting and keeping something true to life?
Kathryn: Here at HM&B we always strive to maintain historical accuracy as much as possible. We do take some licence when it comes to things like personal hygiene (no-one wants to read about a hero who hasn’t brushed his teeth in months!) and as Nicola’s mentioned, we recommend people stay away from antiquated language, but other than that we want to see the characters’ world depicted as accurately as possible. Definitely do your research, but also don’t feel you need to tell the reader everything you’ve learnt in one go. Threading through specific, intriguing historical details (like the taste of the food your characters are eating, the smells that hit them when they step outside) can be a really effective way of bringing your writing to life and immersing readers in your characters’ world without getting bogged down in too much detail.
We can see that the M&B/Harlequin Historical line has a wide range of sensuality levels, but do you have any leanings towards the sweeter side or the sexy side?
Nicola: There is definitely a place in my heart for the sweeter story, particularly if it’s incredibly emotional, filled with drama or perhaps even a beautifully written, humorous read. But there’s definitely something about the sexy side, that pulse-raising tension and undeniable chemistry that is immediately gripping. In a historical read, there can be a lot at stake if the characters act on their passion, which makes it all the more forbidden and exciting!
How do you feel about dialogue? Is it vital to the story? Is there a point when it becomes too much?
Linda: Dialogue is vitally important to your story. It breathes life into your characters and gives them their voice. As we’ve already mentioned in our Top Ten Tips, we’re often feeding back to writers that they need to ‘Show, not tell’. This means letting what your characters say to each other reveal facets of themselves that would take too long, and would most probably be less interesting, via the narrative. Dialogue is also key when it comes to maintaining good story pace. Must keep the readers turning the pages! It’s not a hard and fast rule, but we’d suggest the ratio of dialogue to narrative should be approx 60% dialogue to 40% narrative. Can there be too much dialogue? Yes, this can happen. The plot can suddenly become focussed on two ‘talking heads’ who have a lot to say to each other, but the plot development is static because, for example, one character could be repeating to another what the reader has already learnt in a previous scene. Use dialogue to move the action forward. Dialogue with a natural flow to it is what we like to see in our submissions.
If you could tell aspiring writers one thing, what would it be?
Kathryn: Write about something that excites you! All too often we see submissions that people think we want to see rather than what they’re genuinely interested in, and if writers aren’t passionate about their stories, the writing can become slow and lacking that all-important spark (there’s that word again!). To really keep up the fast pace and the excitement, you need to know your characters inside and out, and be desperate to show their romance in all its glory – if you’ve truly fallen in love with them, so will we!
And finally, you have to tell us, who are your own personal favourite historical heroes?
Linda: I’ve always had a soft spot for an embittered, battle-scarred hero, be he Viking or a warrior just home from the wars. Rugged loners, in need of the love of a good woman, also hold great appeal for me.
Kathryn: I have a serious soft spot for bad boys – so Willoughby from Sense and Sensibility, Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, Rhett Butler from Gone With the Wind, I think they’re all seriously hot!
Nicola: Heroes that fight for what they believe in are sure to win me over, especially if they’re a bit of a rebel to boot. Robin Hood, Jane Eyre’s fierce but honourable Mr Rochester and Hugh Jackman as a sexy Van Helsing (if we can excuse the vampires) are all firm favourites!
What are you waiting for? You have until midnight Sunday 6th July to get your submissions in to us. We can't wait to read them,
Linda, Kathryn and Nicola x