Monday 23 December 2013

WRITING CRAFT: Christian Romance - Part One

So just what is a Christian romance novel?
The Romance Writers of America classify this romance sub-genre as Inspirational Romance. Their website says they are “Novels in which religious or spiritual beliefs (in the context of any religion or spiritual belief system) are a major part of the romantic relationship.”

Many great Christian fiction single titles do have a romantic relationship between main characters but are not actually romance books, just novels with romantic elements. Please note that many avid romance readers become disappointed if a novel is classified as “romance” but they discover it does not focus on the romance as should all romance genre novels. Other readers who do not like reading romance books may be upset if they buy a romance not clearly identified as one.

So, what are the ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS in a novel that makes it a romance novel?
This is very important for not only romance writers but all editors and publishers of inspirational romance to be very knowledgeable about.

Much has been written to help writers on characterisation. Because romance novels are more character driven than plot driven it is essential to study and know how to create believable, interesting characters.

Both the hero and heroine must be chosen with the aim of intriguing the reader. Romance readers know there has to be a Happy Ever After (HEA) end. So, to keep the reader turning pages to see how that happens, both main characters must be likeable enough to make the reader care for them and want to follow their journey of overcoming all problems to reach their HEA.

The length of your novel will also dictate how many minor characters you will need. Remember that a 45,000-50,000 word length usually will not give you enough space to have more than one sub-plot with minor characters. Once you give a name to anyone like a passing servant, waiter, taxi driver etc, that person becomes a minor character to the reader.

Whatever the number of characters you need, choose them well so they only enhance the hero and heroine’s story. In one of my first manuscripts I unintentionally took the focus off the main romance plot by making a minor character and his sub-plot too important. Fortunately an experienced editor saw that and suggested a revision. However, it is still something I have to be careful of and one reason I am now writing longer novels to be able to include more about those characters.

For the hero and heroine at least, I believe you need to do a full biography that includes their attitude and history about spiritual things before that first chapter. Our Creator knows everything about us both outward and inwardly. You as the creator of your characters must know the same. Their spiritual journey should be revealed, interwoven throughout the whole story. It also helps to do a biography for any major minor character.

I hope you have read and digested Anne’s excellent ACW blog last Monday, December 16th, on the Big “C” – conflict. As you plot your Christian Romance novel, do try to put her thoughts into practice.
The essential element of having a HEA conclusion means the conflict has to be intriguing and strong enough to keep the hero and heroine apart for the whole length of the novel. However, do be careful of having conflict between them that cannot be resolved. Again, the length of the manuscript is an important factor here. If you discover in the writing of the manuscript that you find it very hard in the middle of the book to maintain tension between the couple, look at the type of conflict. Beginner writers can often have a simple or unreal conflict that can be too easily sorted out and not strong enough to be maintained. Be careful the conflict is not just a misunderstanding that makes the reader wish they would just sit down and talk it out!

And that last sentence really leads into my blog next Monday, December 30th. Christian Romance (Part Two). Ever heard of GMC? Goal, Motivation, Conflict are essential elements in any novel. How can you adequately apply them to a romance with spiritual elements?

When choosing characters you need to decide on the kind of couple who have problems that keep them from a romantic relationship. I have only briefly mentioned Conflict here. To make the actions of characters in Christian romance novels relevant and believable, they must have GMC for doing what they do, whether right or wrong, to give the reader an essential “emotional experience” and a satisfying, HEA conclusion.

Next week: PART TWO: Goal, Motivation - and more about Conflict especially in spiritual matters.

Despite this busy time, would love to have your comments. Lets talk about characters especially in inspirational romance novels you loved or hated – and why.

Do have a wonderful, rich time of love and fellowship with family and friends this Christmas.

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 her first book
is again available as an e-book through
Barbour’s Truly Yours Digital Editions.
Mary's website and blog for more information
about her other books.


  1. Hi Mary.

    Thanks for your post which is very clear and practical. I read rather widely with genre and I write YA/NA fantasy with romantic elements rather than romance. Sometimes the romance is stronger and at others it is much more a minor element in the plot. However, I find it hard not to include it at all (so maybe I am a romantic at heart).

    While not exactly inspiration romance, some of my favourite romantic protagonists are Elizabeth and Darcy from Pride and Prejudice and Arwen and Aragorn from Lord of the Rings (though I love the Faramir & Eowyn arc too). In each case, the conflict or impediments that keep them apart are believable, integral to the plot and sustained until the end which makes the HEA very satisfying.

    1. I thing one of the most important things for beginner writers is to recognise as you have whether they are writing a romance novel or just one with romantic elements. Once you know the essential elements in the romance genre books you can decide what kind of relationship you what to develop.

  2. Thanks, Mary! I have to agree with Jeanette about romantic elements and those conflict issues. Without the obstacles, the HEA doesn't feel "just right".

  3. I should also add that a romance should have a HEA at the end of the first novel, not the end of a trilogy. Otherwise it's not romance proper. If a story arc goes over the course of more than one novel, it's ok to have unresolved romantic elements. But not if the whole thrust of the novel is romance! This indicates the author doesn't know the genre or the reader's expectations well enough to produce a satisfying resolution.

    1. So very true, Anne. For avid romance readers it can be very frustrating to have to read all the books to get that HEA conclusion. In fact, it would have to be a very, very strong story by a very well known and loved author or the romance reader most likely would not even want - or bother - to read the other books. It could also depend on other issues, especially how strongly the romantic element is woven through the story.

  4. Mary, thanks for your concise summary. It's very helpful to spell out the differences between a romantic plot, romantic sub-plot and romantic elements.

    A few years ago I read a book by a multi-published author who had written 10 plus single title length books. The core conflict in the story revolved around the hero being the secret biological father of the heroine's child. It was one of the most frustrating books I've read because the conflict could have been resolved in a short conversation when the hero first meets the child and does the math in the early chapters. He works out he could be the father but never asks the heroine if his suspicions are correct. I was disappointed by the weak conflict and that book is the last book I will read from that particular author.

  5. Hi Narelle - was this the first book by that author? or a late one? It seems to me that it's almost as much an editor's fault as the author's when the conflict is that poor in a well-established author.

    1. Hi Annie, it was a later book. The author was prolific and popular, and had a number of books published the year this one was released. I do think the quality of books can suffer if an author's writing schedule is overloaded, and that may have been the case with this particular book.

  6. I love characterisation! If I don't 'get' the heroine and hero in the first few chapters I feel very disappointed.

    My favourite couple from an inspirational novel are Natalie and Andy from Laura Jensen's 'Reconstructing Natalie'. This isn't strictly a romance novel, as the main story is about Natalie's battle with breast cancer as a 27-year-old, but there's enough romance in it to satisfy me.

    Great post, Mary. And congratulations on the twenty years! You are an inspiration.

    1. Your have made a very good point, Andrea. I too enjoy novels with believable, "enough romance" with a satisfying conclusion. I think many romance readers do also - as long as it is not marketed as a "romance novel".

  7. Thanks for a clear explanation about Christian Romance Mary.

    1. Thank you, Dale, but I have not touched very much at all on what makes a Christian romance different from other sub-genres. Stay tuned for the next two posts on this topic.

  8. Great post, Mary. Thank you. And many congratulations on the 20th anniversary of your debut novel. What an exciting milestone to celebrate. :)

    1. Thank you, Dorothy. It is also a bit scary! I just wish it was the 10th anniversary with more time to write more books. LOL.


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