Monday 30 December 2013

WRITING CRAFT - Christian Romance (Part 2)

So just what do romance readers expect in an inspirational romance?
Basically, everything they expect from any other SWEET romance sub-genre but from a Christian world view. 

WARNING: If you do not enjoy reading SWEET romance novels with low sexual content, you will not really understand this and will disappoint avid romance readers. And I am very aware that these days there are novels classified as sweet which still contain levels of love-making you may not like or approve of in Christian fiction. On the other hand, there are also “sweet” novels that have little or no sensual tension and simply can leave a reader wondering if Christians never have desire for a member of the opposite sex!
This means it is essential to understand those basic elements any novel classified as a romance should have plus the faith elements. I only had space to touch on some of these elements in Part One. The best way to discover these is to read widely in the inspirational romance sub-genre, including novels of varying lengths and from  different publishers.

When you find writers whose style and content you really enjoy, read their books again as a writer and try to dissect why and how they have made you enjoy their type of novel.  Check out the author’s website and/or blog. See if they have made comments and written articles that will help you.

Okay, romance novels all end up the “same” so what keeps readers wanting to read them? Basically it is the story, the characters, the emotional impact and the way the couple overcome all obstacles to their having a believable HEA ending. So whatever the sub-genre inspirational – contemporary, historical, mystery, suspense, etc – this makes the whole plot, setting and characterisation very important.

Plotting:  The romance, while not the story itself, is central to the plot and MUST be adequate. In inspirationals, the faith element must also be woven throughout. Remember, this also can include SHOWING the different responses of characters without faith as well as those with faith - including whether weak or strong faith. Do remember to make sure the reader knows that because a character has no personal relationship with God does not automatically make them a “bad” person. Unfortunately we know that there are many unbelievers who by their lifestyles can put professing Christians to shame.

Character’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict:  With characterisation, I touched on these in last Monday’s post.  Characters should have a goal - or goals. Make sure it fits with their personality and history. Whether a good or bad goal, the reason for it has to be strong enough to motivate the characters in what is thought, believed and acted on in an attempt to reach it.

Of course, these are all very important for any novel but  you must study and understand these elements as applied to romance. Remember, you can make many seemingly unbelievable things believable with strong enough characters who have strong and believable motivation! A strong goal can supply motivation to keep the character persevering through the journey to reach mountains as well as when things happen and they are in the valleys of life. (Sounds like writers!)

Conflict between hero and heroine is essential and also requires extra consideration in how to include the faith elements. There must be believable, strong external and internal conflict that cannot be resolved easily so tension can be maintained between the characters and keep the reader turning the page. It is also important to have conflict that is possible to be resolved.

 Because of what I have personally seen happen between couples over the years, one faith “conflict” that I have tried to highlight in some of my novels is the issue of a believer marrying a non-believer. Then after writing my first single title, Return to Baragula, I wondered how a heroine without faith might feel and respond when she realises that is the main reason the hero with faith refuses to allow a romantic relationship between them to develop. However, in Outback from Baragula I then had to make both characters “lovable” enough for the reader to care about what happens to them despite their differences. They had to have strong reasons, strong enough events, in their past histories to make them the way they were when the story commences. However, that “theme” of being “unequally yoked together” needed to
run throughout the whole story of stolen cattle and dangers they both had to face.
Time line: Another important element in a romance is having the hero and heroine together in scenes long enough to develop a realistic, loving relationship that leads to marriage. Love at first sight? Perhaps there is, but whatever the time frame, their relationship has to grow. They need to be seen together in scenes to show the reader how they get to know each other. Show how and why their relationship develops until they both realise their love for each other. Even after that there may still be obstacles of course preventing them from committing to each other. 
I have touched on only one faith theme here. In Part Three next Monday, January 6th , I will share a little about “How much spiritual content?” “How much sexual content?” and other hints about how readers expect inspirationals to be “different” from other romance novels.

Are there any themes you have read in inspirational romance novels that you thought very important, were challenging and you really loved? Are there some you thought were not relevant or important enough to make you want to read more?

Please leave comments here on the blog as well as on Facebook.


Mary Hawkins is currently revising her latest Christian romance manuscript, Her Outback Cowboy, and still trying to put into practice what she has been learning about romance writing for nearly thirty years. This December she is also celebrating twenty years since her first book, Search For Tomorrow, was published in 1993 by Barbour. She is excited it is again available as an e-book through Barbour’s Truly Yours Digital Editions.

(Currently all her Heartsong Presents Kindle editions are on sale. Not sure when they will revert back to full price.)

Website and blog:


  1. Hi Mary

    Thanks for such a comprehensive overview. I really enjoyed it. I was so happy to see you mention in the section on plotting that just because a person has no relationship with God it doesn't make them "bad". One other thing I'd add - just because a person does have a relationship with God doesn't make them "perfect". I find that is the more common mistake. The idealised Christian who spends most of the story buffing up their halo.

    1. Thank you for adding this, Anne. Guess it is something I just take for granted everyone would know. LOL!

  2. I think you nailed an important issue Mary in the handling of relationships between Christians and non believers. It is something that needs more emphasis, as it is such an important issue. Agree with Annie's comment too about not making the Christian too good as well as the non Christian as too bad. All complex mixtures of good and bad.

    1. So true. We sure have to be salt and light, Dale, to both believers and non-believers.

  3. Mary, thanks for your insightful post :) Characters who are perfect and never make mistakes in the story are boring. There is a difference between characters who are written as perfect, and characters who mistakenly believe at the start of the story that they are perfect and good enough for God. The spiritual journey in the story can be the character's realisation that they are flawed and need a saviour. The unequally yoked issue is important, and I also like inspirational romances with forgiveness themes.

    1. Forgiveness has always seemed to end up in my inspirationals, Narelle, and in some books more a focus and big problem for my Christian characters than in others. Of course we know we should forgive but so often one of the hardest things to be completely obedient about.

    2. Hi Mary - yes, I like to tackle forgiveness too. It's a word that has such a different meaning outside the Christian sphere, we often forget it needs more explanation than we usually give it.

  4. And over the years I've learnt more and more about that "seventy times seven" principle. Although we forgive, memories seem to return the incident and again have to choose to forgive again and again Or is it that I'm still learning about forgiveness? Am just so glad God by His grace forgives so thoroughly when we truly repent that He removes our sins as far as the east is from the west!

  5. I like your point about timelines. I understand the need for a romance to have a happy-ever-after ending, but seeing the hero and heroine marry only a few short months after their first meeting? I'm not convinced this is setting the right kind of example.

  6. I agree, Iola. In my current manuscript I've just finished editing I realised I needed to extend that timeline. This was despite the fact they had known each other very well seven years before meeting again but needed to get to know and trust each other as adults.. However, I do think it can depend to a certain extent also on more than one factor, including the age and experiences of the couple.

    1. A short time frame for a romance can work well if the reader can see the depth and growth of the relationship between the hero and heroine during the story. If the emotional/internal conflict is strong and compelling, and the characters overcome obstacles in the story and grow together, the reader is more likely to believe the characters will stay married and survive the ups and downs of life.

      Mary, I agree that the age and relationship experience of the characters can make an enormous difference regarding the believability of the happily-ever-after ending from a shorter timeline romance story.

      The relationship is tested in a romance story by problems and all sorts of conflict, whereas real life relationships may have months or even years of the relationship not being challenged or tested by major conflicts, issues or tragedies.

      I also think readers understand the fantasy and escapism elements of the romance genre, and they know that real life doesn't quite work the same way as a romance novel.

    2. I think it perhaps should be "Most" reader" recognise the fantasy and escapism but unfortunately some immature readers may not - especially if romance is all they do read!. As a Christian, I believe whatever I write should be a good "role model" even for those kind of folk. It does simply get back t that GMC and there at times I believe that motivation just has to be strong enough to make it believable.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.