Regency romances are fun, and diving back into history can be a wonderful escape. So, if you want to write a regency-era romance, here are some tips.
1. Understand reader expectations and the appeal of the genre
Say "Regency romance" and glamorous balls, gorgeous dresses, witty banter, appealing heroines, and dashing heroes will generally come to mind.
But the English Regency, (1811-1820, when King George III's illness caused his son to be declared Regent) was not just a time of glamor—there was war, leaps in scientific and industrial progress, poverty, internal political unrest, and more. But, many (most?) Regency romances rarely venture into grittier history.
Even Jane Austen (who was writing contemporaries) rarely mentioned war or industrial unrest and kept her stories to the personal and romantic, and while Georgette Heyer who arguably founded the Regency genre, did deal with war and poverty on occasion, the overall impression left is fun. Since then, so many writers have created their own spin on the Regency, and it's that collective version—and all the historical screen adaptations—that most readers think of as "the Regency." And they'll judge your book against those.
A Regency romance is all about characters facing difficulties and engaging with emotional truths. One of the appeals of the Regency era is that though it's historical, it's accessible to modern readers, partly because of the widespread familiarity with the era, but also because in the hands of a good author the things characters are dealing with resonate with modern readers, even though it's quite different from their own reality. Escapism is very appealing.
2. Get your history right
It's important to do the work to understand, not only the history, but the attitudes, mores, conventions, manners, laws, and so on that will affect your story. So many of these will impose restrictions on your characters, but in the hands of a good writer, they can provide wonderful sources of tension and drama.
Many readers don't particularly care about historical accuracy, as long as they get a good story—there are "history lite" and fantasy versions of the era. However, many readers do care and are very knowledgeable about history, and they really hate it when an author makes an egregious error. So, my recommendation is to do your best to get the history right.
3. Research for inspiration
Most writers enjoy doing research, which can give us wonderful, often unexpected details that can make the world of a story come to life. As well, it can give us ideas for stories and scenes. So much is available on the web—diaries, letters, travel accounts, autobiographies, fashion and lifestyle magazines, all of which can give you a feel for the times that no history book can replicate.
But beware of falling down research rabbit holes and wasting your time researching some small detail you might never use in the end. The other danger is the temptation to stuff your story full of the fascinating information you've discovered, but think of it as an iceberg—only the tip should show. Regency romance readers are reading for story, not a history lesson. In Regencies, stories always rule.
4. Consider your vocabulary
The Regency era is chock full of specific vocabulary, and that can be enormous fun. There are dictionaries online you can consult. I once went searching for a term for "funny business" that a bossy landlady might use, and was on the verge of making something up when I came across the term "joining giblets" in Grose's 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, (free on Gutenberg) which gave exactly the effect I wanted. But as with dialect, be sparing in your use of slang terms and stick to a small handful that will give the flavor of the era (and the class) without confusing readers.
5. Remember it’s a stratified society
Regency society was very class-conscious and stratified, and while industrial progress was bringing a new wealthy middle class into prominence, the upper class was busy closing ranks to keep "the lower orders" in place. It was not easy for people to move up in the world, and while many Regency romances deal with exactly this situation, you need to make it believable, and not underestimate the difficulties. But as I said earlier, dealing with restrictions can add to the fun of plotting.
6. Get titles right
Regency romances are often set in the world of the aristocracy, and one thing that drives many readers bonkers is when authors get English titles and forms of address wrong. The late Jo Beverly created a very useful page on her site which explains English titles for writers, jobev.com/title.
7. Know your geography
Another mistake some modern writers of Regencies make is underestimating the time it would take to get from one part of the U.K. to another. A journey that might take a couple of hours today could take several days in the Regency. Travel by horse-drawn, poorly sprung carriages, on roads that were often mud-churned and even impassible in places, made Regency travel slow.
8. Use humor—if it comes natural
It's my belief that the main reason Regency romances, of all historical novels, are associated with humor is firstly because of Jane Austen and then because of Georgette Heyer. (If you've never read Heyer, do so—she's very funny.) And many successful Regency romance writers of today are funny, too, which is part of the appeal of their books.
But there's no requirement to be funny, and many successful Regency writers aren't. In fact, if it's not your natural bent, don't even try. There's nothing more painful than someone trying to be funny when they're not.
9. Polish your dialogue
Sparkling, witty dialogue and fun banter also feature in many of the best Regency romances. Again, I think Jane Austen was our forerunner here. I believe that one of the reasons her books have lasted so long and still appeal to modern readers is that she includes a lot of clever dialogue, which modern readers can instantly connect with, whereas so many of her contemporaries have faded away. But that's just my opinion. Heyer, too, wrote brilliant dialogue, as do many of our top Regency romance writers. So, polish your dialogue and make it sparkle.
10. Consider sex
As with all romance genres, Regencies vary greatly in sexual content, ranging from "sweet" novels with no explicit sex scenes, to books that are quite erotic, including same-sex romances. Regencies have a large and widespread readership, and just as readers do, choose the level of sensuality you are most comfortable with. There is a market for everything.
11. Find a happy ending
This is the final tip, and it's an absolute necessity. Your story must end happily—and the characters must have earned their happy ending. That's the promise you make to your readers. It might be obvious, almost from the beginning, which two characters will end up together, but your job as the author is to put this outcome in doubt. It's all about the journey. That's where much of the satisfaction comes from.
Readers want to finish reading a Regency romance on a happy sigh, and some will even turn back to the beginning and read it all over again, because they're not ready to leave the world you've created.
And that's the job.