Balancing Humor and Levity in Historical Romances

Life is full of peaks and valleys, of sadness and joy. So, too, should fiction. Author Christi Caldwell talks about balancing humor and levity in historical romances, and how her life is often her greatest inspiration.
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I’ll be the first to confess I’m not notoriously known as the funniest person in my family. The youngest of my seven-year-old twin daughters on the other hand? She is a master of dry humor and jokes well beyond her age. She never met an episode of Mr. Bean she didn’t love. My son? He never fails to deliver the ultimate knock-knock joke. And then, there’s my other twin who, with her love of hugs and song, reminds me in every way of Poppy, from the movie, Trolls. Every time is “Hug Time!” Her joy is contagious.

As for me, I’m a master observer more than anything. I take in every moment and store each memory away. A lot of that comes from my years conducting research for the Dodd Center at UConn, and in my years training as a history education teacher.

(When Is Historical Accuracy Inaccurate?)

I’ve come to appreciate that humor stems from the people in our lives; one’s friends and family, and the moments we share with them. I can’t even tell you how many of those instances in my life served as inspiration for scenes in my books. There was that time when my five-year-old daughter, who’d just begun playing soccer, dropped down onto all fours in the middle of the field. One of her little friends from pre-school, didn’t even miss a beat…he just jumped on her back, and she proceeded to give him a ride around the field, the two of them having created their own game of horse and rider.

Among my favorite things to write is the big, loving family. That doesn’t mean loving families don’t know difficulties; we do. But what helps one through those hardships, heartaches, and struggles are the people in your life. Be it the family you were born to, or one’s found family. And when our first child was born with Down syndrome, we learned a good deal about “found family.” I digress…

I don’t think I fully appreciated the gift of our support network until we entered lockdown. Yes, I was always grateful for the amazing family and friends we had, but I didn’t appreciate just how much, until we couldn’t see them. Back in March 2020, we went from Sunday dinner at Nana and Papa’s to Wednesday being locked down in our house, the five of us. Almost overnight, we found ourselves separated from our friends and family. I missed them, and I missed those lighthearted moments and joyous times together.

My husband and I, however, were blessed to also have continuous time together with our three little ones. And each and every single day I was able to appreciate all the more, all the special things about my children and husband; things they did or said that left me with a stitch in my side from laughing. Like the time during my girls’ remote school kindergarten class when I caught my youngest twin sitting motionless with her hands up, tipped in opposite directions, and her head cocked to the side, because she liked pretending her screen froze.

In those earliest days of the pandemic, I returned to those stories I loved to write. Big families like the Audleys from my All the Duke’s Sins series. Big families made up of all unique individuals. The overprotective brother and the spirited and clever younger sister. The hardworking siblings. The loyal, loving ones. Bickering brothers. Men and women whom we can each relate to, in some way.

That is who I strive to create on the pages of my books—real people with their own quirks and unique personalities, and characteristics that leave a reader smiling, and even recognizing parts of themselves, or people they love, within the story.

Balancing Humor and Levity in Historical Romances

I’ve been asked: How do I balance humor and levity in my historical romances? The truth is…I don’t set out to deliberately write those light moments. Rather, I write people into my books, and they are the ones who fill me with an endless well of emotion that will sometimes leave a reader crying, sighing, and even laughing. The characters—their lives, their struggles, their experience, their love story—ultimately all provide the balance.

And that is such a part of the Audley family in my All the Duke’s Sins series. Rafe and his siblings may have been sired by a duke, but living and working in a mining town, they’ve been removed from Polite Society. As the author, I loved exploring who these characters are. They’re a family who is rough around the edges, and as real as any of us.

The levity in my books comes from the characters themselves. I see each hero and heroine and each secondary character as these layered individuals who need to be fleshed out as real people are. What quirks are inherently theirs? And the relationships between each hero and heroine and their friends and family allows for the most beautiful dynamics.

Regardless of year, be it 2021 or 1821, families are families, and as it was perfectly said in the Muppets Take Manhattan: Peoples is Peoples.

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