In my mess-in-progress, the hero is a gentleman by birth and by virtue of having been an army officer, but he takes up ballooning as a business, not just a hobby. I haven’t found any historical examples of anyone like him, but I have come up with what I hope is a decent explanation for why he takes up flying.
A lot of stories might not see the light of day if the authors worried too much about plausibility. Chicks-in-pants is one of those plot themes. Although there are some historical examples of women who pulled off pretending to be men… And it worked for Shakespeare, so why not?
One of my other more unlikely plots was in The Redwyck Charm, which I recently re-released in paperback. The heroine tries to escape an arranged marriage by masquerading as an opera-dancer. Silly, yes, but it was fun to write and is a favorite with my readers who say they like lighter stories. The idea came to me when I read this passage in The Mirror of Graces (an etiquette book of sorts published in 1811):
Extraordinary as it may seem, at a period when dancing is so entirely neglected by men in general, women appear to be taking the most pains to acquire the art. Our female youth are now not satisfied with what used to be considered a good dancing-master; that is, one who made teaching his sole profession; but now our girls must be taught by the leading dancers at the Opera-house.
I found it interesting that young ladies might have learned some elements of ballet. The author goes on to say that no gentlewoman could take the time and effort to develop true proficiency. Though I tend to agree, I don’t pretend that my heroine is more than a half-way decent amateur, getting by more because she’s a big hit with the young bucks who go to the opera to ogle the dancers.
How do you feel about far-fetched plots? Any favorite examples that worked (or didn’t)?
I’ll give away one copy of The Redwyck Charm to a random commenter. Comment by next Thursday (2/14) and I will announce the winner on Friday.
I do like girls-dressed-as-boys and vice versa historicals, from Georgette Heyer’s The Masqueraders onwards. They do seem far-fetched, given that one can almost always correctly guess boy or girl these days when both wear jeans and T-shirts etc., but I think that’s partly because we know they could be either and so check for other clues, consciously or otherwise, whereas in the eighteenth & nineteenth century it wouldn’t have crossed anyone’s mind that a young man was actually a woman.
My favourites are Lady Rogue by Suzanne Enoch and The Lady’s Secret by Joanna Chambers.
HJ, that’s an interesting idea regarding different historical time periods. There were times and places where cross-dressing was illegal. Not that that would have prevented someone who had a serious reason to do so, but it would be less likely they’d be suspected.
I’ve been thinking for a while that we lose out by being too worried about “could it have happened?” For the most part, I really care about historical accuracy, but your Shakespeare point is one I thoroughly agree with. I think Heyer’s a good example — she really cared about accuracy of detail, but she had ladies posing as gentlemen and vice veresa, kidnapped heiresses, super-villains, and all sorts of fun things.
Oh, and I suspect what we consider social dance and what we consider ballet were much closer back then. When you read the steps for all sorts of social dances back then, you see lots of what we call ballet terms…
I’ve seen critique groups shoot down ideas that might have made good (if wacky) stories. Well, I eventually got out of one where I was told that a second son of a lord would never consider marrying the heiress of a tradesman. Sad…
I don’t mind things that are a little out there, especially when it is a light, fun piece. If it is a “serious” historical, stick with the facts please.
I’ll have to think a bit to remember any I’ve read.
I agree there’s more latitude in a lighter piece.
In a more serious historical, I appreciate an author’s note that explains the background of anything that was unusual. For instance, Mary Jo Putney had the heroine of Shattered Rainbows donate blood to the hero in what is clearly an experimental procedure, and in the author’s note she explains that there were early attempts at blood transfusion during the Regency. And in this case, the blood types happened to work out OK.
One of the all-time greats is Jo Beverley, who frequently has far-fetched plots. Consider MY LADY NOTORIOUS, where not only does the heroine masquerade as a boy, but the hero masquerades as a woman. It may be far-fetched, but she make me believe every word of it.
The question is never whether the plot is likely but whether the author had made it convincing. And I’ll take far-fetched any day over a “plot” that requires someone to keep a secret for no reason other than to provide a conflict.
Jo Beverley’s such a fantastic writer. I admire how she captures the sense of whatever time period she’s writing in. It always feels real. Yes, secrets that lead to misunderstandings can be annoying. Though sometimes there’s a good reason that keeps the characters from readily talking about whatever it is. It’s still a judgment call–at what point should the characters open up?
I think far-fetched plots are a lot of fun, as long as they don’t take themselves too seriously it’s all good. I’ll have to second the reference to Jo Beverley. I love A Lady’s Secret which features a cursing nun, who of course isn’t a nun at all.
I love far-fetched plots! But I think it takes a good writer to pull it off and make us believe.
sometimes I’m surprised by an element of a plot, but as long as it’s supported by some logic I’m ok with it. And then I’ll hear or read about something that actually happened which seems unbelievable and have to give fiction a lot of leaway. I just like the dots connected in a storyline.