After penning a few historical novels, I discussed this subject at length with fellow writers. Most agree on the following list. What do you think?
Compelling characters – Readers want to connect with your hero and heroine. Nothing determines the success/failure of a book more than the protagonists. Are they sympathetic enough? Believable? Do the secondary characters add to the plot and help story progression? Interestingly enough, a mentor of mine recently suggested that every antagonist needs redemptive qualities. I respectfully disagreed. It depends on their role. Is it purely self-serving or evil? If so, write their part appropriately. However, I agree most readers appreciate redemptive characters. Go with your gut feeling … there’s a place for both types.
Action – From the traditional Regency, to the Viking era, action contributes to story progression. And I’m not talking ballroom dancing. Give me lightning please, physical confrontation and adventure appropriate for the setting. Since I’m on a Viking kick at present, physical conflict is of paramount importance, of course, leave out any gratuitous violence please.
Limit subplots – Everyone (I think so) appreciates strong secondary characters, intrigue, and twists in a story from any genre. However, one of the most frequent complaints I see from readers concerns complicated subplots. I think this a problem for series authors. We thread ideas for our next book throughout our tales. Too much information takes away from the current storyline.
Love scenes – Is there an elephant in the room? Yes, I write steamy sex scenes. But just like action, too much may hurt the storyline. I know this particular facet is a matter of taste for writers and readers alike. Let the passion and love shine through, but for traditional historical romance, leave the smut out please.
Happily-ever-after – Most traditional publishing houses, great and small, agree on this. Give your hero and heroine a happy ending. If readers want heartache, they’ll frequent a different genre.