What's the Difference Between a Historical and a Historical Romance?

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

My first historical, Luther and Katharina, releases next week. Already early reviews have been pouring in to Goodreads from readers who received ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies). I don't normally browse reviews of my books because I don't want to become overly puffed up or overly deflated.

But since this is my first historical, I was curious to gauge readers reactions to this slight step away from the normal historical romances that I write.

You might be asking (like many of my faithful readers): Exactly what is the difference between a historical and a historical romance? Both are fiction. But what sets them apart?

The importance of the romance.

For a historical romance, the romance elements are front and center stage. While there may be other external and internal plot elements going on throughout the story, the romance plot rises above them all. Avid readers of romance will expect the book to have all the elements important in the romance genre including likable hero/heroine, romantic tension all the way to the end, a happily ever after, etc.

In a historical, however, there may or may not be romance. Most authors include at least a little bit of a love interest. But the historical genre as a whole doesn't have a required expectation of having romance in it. If some kind of romantic relationship is there, it doesn't have to be a large part of the plot and is often overshadowed by other story elements (like in The Orphan Train by Christina Klein).

The amount of historical detail woven into the story.

Again, since a historical romance focuses on a developing relationship between the hero and heroine, the historical details a writer includes should all help support that goal. Of course readers who pick up a historical romance love being able to learn about a different era and appreciate accurate historical details woven into the story to add flavor and depth. But readers of romances (historical or otherwise) don't want other elements to detract from their enjoyment of the romance relationship.

Historicals, on the other hand, have more liberty to explore historical elements, to bring them a bit more to life, and to center the plot on an event, era, or historical happening. The focus is on what his happening historically rather than romantically (like in Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein).

However, I would caution historical writers not to get too carried away with the historical details at the sacrifice of plot and story-telling. Just last week in a Facebook Group that I'm a part of, a reader said this: "I tried to start a book, but the long paragraphs of descriptions of their hair, their clothing, the food etc. got me down." With historicals, readers are still looking for a riveting story, not a textbook description.

The research process.

Those who've read my historical romances, know that I do a lot of research for them. I value having a story that deeply reflects the time period and gives readers an accurate picture of what life was like during that era. I want them to walk away from my book having learned new things but in an entertaining way.

However, with historicals, I've found that I have to delve much deeper into the research  especially since my plot is broader than the romance and encompasses so much that is going on in that particular era. The scope of research is more intense and takes longer but is necessary to add a richer historical perspective.

 So . . . how are readers reacting to my new historical?

As I've been watching those early reviews roll in for my new historical Luther and Katharina, readers have expressed that they started the book with some uncertainty. They weren't quite sure what to expect or whether they'd like this historical as much as my other books.

One reader said this in her review: "To be honest, I was a little nervous when I first started it... I was afraid that because it wasn't the same type of book Jody Hedlund had previously written I wouldn't like it as much and I really, really wanted to like it! After the first chapter all my fears were put to rest...It was just as great as her previous books and dare I say, more awesome."

Fortunately for my current readers, I'm in a unique position with my historicals in that they're still romances at heart. Not only am I hoping to bring forgotten women to life (women who've been overshadowed by their more popular husbands), but I'm also showcasing little known but incredibly amazing love stories of historical couples.

Yes, Luther and Katharina is historical full to the brim with all that was happening during that era. But it's also a love story.

Created by one of my awesome readers, Shannon Gonzalez!
How about you? Are there other differences I missed between historical romance and historicals? And which is your personal preference and why?


  1. I entered a contest with my entry as a historical romance. One judge immediately said, that's not a romance. The man and woman need to be together most of the time. (I write WWII. When the man is off to war, how can they be together much?) So now I write historicals with a touch of romance.

    1. Yes, the romance genre has some very specific "expectations." Although they are not hard, fast rules, readers do expect the couple to be together often and as much as possible throughout the book. You were probably wise to categorize yourself the other way so that you don't have readers going in to your book with romance expectations only to give you a poor review for not meeting those expectations.

  2. Jody, I, for one, am happy to see you branching into the realm of historicals. I like some historical romances, but often find the romance bogs down the story. Historicals are much more my speed and interest and I think they allow for a bit more freedom in how the story is told. So I'm excited to read Luther and Katharina. Even more excited that I would be otherwise simply because I love Martin Luther. I even pre-ordered it from Amazon, which is something I almost never do for fiction. I hope this new genre is a grand success for you!

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  4. Rule sentiments are a particular classification with their own particular plot and complex traditions. These get less from the nineteenth century contemporary works of Jane Austen, yet rather from Georgette Heyer, who composed more than two dozen books set in the Regency beginning in 1935 until her passing in 1974, and from the fiction type known as the novel of conduct


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