January 16, 2012

Romance

Romance. It takes up a large majority of the Christian book market, even those that are placed under a different genre (as you may have noticed if you've glanced at the novels labeled "historical fiction"). For those writers who find such books sappy or simply poor imitations of Jane Austen's classic works, it can be tempting to flee romance altogether and to scoff at the idea of writing it. But the fact of the matter is that most stories, particularly ones with female main characters, will end up having some degree of romance in them, and writers must take this into account.

Over on her blog, authoress Rachel Coker recently talked about her reasons for including romance in her novel Interrupted, due to release in February. And, interestingly enough, they were pretty much the reasons that prompted me to do the same with The Soldier's Cross. Originally I resisted the idea of having there be any romance connected with the main character; I didn't want my story to end up being just another romance under the Christian label. But in the end I did it - and not because I knew readers would want that element and that they would hate me if the book didn't have a happy ending. There was in fact one basic reason behind my decision: a writer cannot leave his or her main character at the same place in the end as they were in the beginning. This is especially true for female protagonists like Fiona, who start out the story alone and vulnerable - "uncovered" in the biblical sense of having no male protection. If you leave your character in this position at the end, you leave questions unanswered.

Perhaps one reason why some writers balk at the thought of bringing romance into their stories is that they think of it in its stereotypical form. The hero meets the heroine, there is immediate attraction but seemingly insurmountable obstacles, lots of tension and angst and butterflies in the stomach, the obstacles suddenly give way, hero marries heroine and they live happily ever after. This is the usual formula for romance novels (there are, after all, only six plots in the world) and it is no wonder that some writers shy away from it. I even read a novel a while ago where a character stated that it is impossible for anyone to be in love if they don't have the usual butterflies. But the fact of the matter is that this is not how romance has to play out, especially in novels where it is not the focus of the plot.

Take, for instance, Rosemary Sutcliff. Many or most of her novels deal primarily with themes of friendship, duty, and honor, and yet she also incorporates romance in a refreshing way. Instead of coming packed with angst and emotion, the romance between the young man and the young woman is often more implicit than explicit. The reader is given to understand that the characters love each other; no great show is needed. In Sutcliff's novel Simon, the protagonist only needs to be with the girl in a few scenes for it to be clear that there is an understanding between them, which Sutcliff then establishes in the end.

There are without a doubt wrong ways of bringing romance into a story - too many to list. But there is no one right way of doing it, as evidenced by Sutcliff's approach; she did not tread the well-worn path of romance, and in the end she produced a much more realistic take on love than is usually found in fiction. Every couple in real life is different, and couples in novels ought to be different as well. At the outset ignore, as best you can, the popular or classics romances of fiction, even such enjoyable ones as Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet or Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre. Consider your hero and your heroine, who they are, how they think, and how they emote. Think about backstory and how it might affect the manner in which they love. Are they the type to love passionately or to love quietly? Does the romance need to be blatant, or can it be a quiet understanding? If you are writing historical fiction, don't dismiss the cultural norms or forget how the people would have acted. If you're writing fantasy, remember that every culture has those norms and try to incorporate them. There are so many variables to take into account, and these are what will make the romance unique.

There was an anxious strain in her voice, though she was evidently trying to conceal it, and it sent a warm, almost lazy contentment through Tip like the sunshine he had been dozing in. She did care, and though the thought did not thrill him as her kiss had, it pleased him—and somehow that was more satisfying.

- the white sail's shaking

14 comments:

  1. I agree! And I would NEVER classify TSC as a romance at ALL.

    Abigail, how do you make such beautiful posts?

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  2. Well said, I agree, most heartily. :D Most of my stories contain a little bit of romance in them, though various different varieties. (Hope that made since. >.O) I hope none of them are cliche, at least not in a bad way.

    And this is Alex, by the way. I have yet to figure out how to get WordPress to label me as "Alex" instead of "goldenink". >.O It won't with blogger, for some reason. Ah well. I shall just have to be confusing for now.

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  3. Ashley - Thank you! I do think that TSC ended up falling definitively into the historical fiction genre, which is what I wanted. And in the end, I liked the bit of romance in the story as well. As for my blog posts, I think I owe a lot of the "prettiness" to the art from Pinterest, so I can't take credit! I am glad you like Scribbles' look, though.

    Rhoswen - Glad you enjoyed the post!

    Alex - I would have figured out who you were...in a couple days! So far all of my stories have had some element of romance in them, too, although White Sail's is the first where that element has involved the main characters and been prominent. I doubt the romance in any of yours is cliche; from what I have read of your writing, you're excellent at coming up with fresh storylines.

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  4. I agree as well. Romance nowadays has taken on a new form. And people forget what the Bible says about dating and what it was like during the 'good ole days.' Great post Abigail.

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  5. Ah yes. Romance, in the general sense of the word, conjures up pictures with a Michael Landon Jr. flair that I find most irritating. However *love* is a different matter. Love has so many faces one can never get tired of it--simply peep in 1 Cor. 13 and you'll have enough to go on for years! I do like stories with a bit of that kind of romance in it...come to think of it, aren't all stories built off of relationships? [not necessarily romantic, but you know... :]

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  7. Thank you for sharing this topic so beautifully, Abigail! The romance content in novels, even Christian, are usually one of my greatest set-backs to reading them(as I mentioned in my e-mail to you), simply because of the Hollywood stereotype of displaying romance in the novels. Often they are far too emotional, that you feel quite uncomfortable by the end of the story. When I first got your book, I was hoping I wouldn't encounter that issue and be disappointed. But I was SO happy when I read the Soldier's Cross because the romance that was there was so refreshing, and felt like real-life situations and you were careful to keep it simple and beautiful but also wholesome for your readers which I think is important as well :).

    My story has romance in it as well, but it all starts from a family arranged betrothal onward and is basically how the couple stay faithful to each other and love each other, even when they're separated by miles, years, and opposition from the antagonist. But the story isn't only about their romance, but their life as they find Christ and face the consequences of their faith in the historical setting of their time... I hope that makes sense.

    I once told a friend this, when we were discussing this issue, "Romance is okay, I'll have to admit, I am very cautious about how much romance I put in my story. I think it should be written naturally, that would be in a pleasant, captivating way, and yet not unhealthy to the reader. It ought to be simple, without too many details, emotions or scenes given... One of the reasons I'm careful not to divulge too much emotions is for the edification of the readers. It certainly wouldn't be good to get the reader imaging that romantic scenario that would affect his/her emotions in any negative way."

    Well, I better close this comment before it gets any longer, but I'll just say I enjoyed reading this post, well actually I love reading all of your posts!

    Blessings in Christ,
    ~Joy @ joy-live4jesus.blogspot.com

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  8. Gabrielle - Romance wasn't all rosy and perfect in days gone by, but I do think that in trying to correct some of the past's ills, our society has veered to the opposite extreme. Part of writing a good romance is finding the correct balance.

    Rachel - I didn't address it in my post, but as I was writing it I was thinking along the lines of what you said: Life is built around relationships. There is a tendency in fiction to emphasize romantic relationships at the expense of others, but there are other forms of love. Thanks for bringing that up!

    Joy - Anne Elisabeth Stengl did an excellent post on romance in young adult versus adult literature. She basically takes the same stance on it that I do, so you might find it interesting. I won't steal her thunder by repeating it all!

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  9. Here we are, Abigail, my companion post to yours: I Always Mistrusted His Appearance of Goodness. Hopefully it will be as coherent and enjoyable as yours. I think, as usual, that it all comes back to knowing the characters. Because they are more than stringing just the right words together or knowing just the right formula to make a romance work.

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  10. Abigail, this is a fine post with terrific discussion.

    People sometimes ask if there is romance in my novel, and I have to answer yes, but qualify this yes without spoiling the story. My heroine's goal isn't married love, though she wants that.

    *SPOILER*

    She loves someone, and he loves her, but she refuses to marry him. Because of how I imagined the two, this had to be.

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  11. I think that writing romance as a Christian is something that takes a great degree of wisdom and discernment. As you've noted, it's no good to fall into the Hollywood pattern of love. I've read even Christian books (historical fiction) that presented romance in a way that only enticed the emotions of the reader (details of a lingering kiss, for example). Or they were careful to avoid detailed physical manifestations of love, but presented scenarios where a character made an unwise decision for the sake of love (for example, a Christian woman who has determined to only marry within the faith telling a nonChristian man that, although she can't marry him because of her convictions, her heart will be his forever-- which I consider to be extremely unwise and unfair, at best).

    On the other hand, well-done romance that emphasizes mutual sacrifice and (at least implicitly) follows a Biblical pattern of relationship development--that kind of romance can add a great deal to a story. I personally loved Love Comes Softly; it was fresh and didn't rely completely on the romance in order to drive the story forward. I always found that my romances tend to emerge naturally within the story and are almost never planned. I had to smile when I read that you initially resisted putting romance in The Soldier's Cross, but felt compelled to; I heartily concur! It's happened to me more than once. Thanks for the thoughtful post. I enjoy reading your blog. :-)

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  13. Maria - I have no idea whether this ties in at all, but that reminds me of "Roman Holiday." It had rather a sad ending, though a good one. Thanks for commenting!

    Yaasha - I do find that romances in novels that purport to be Christian tend to one of two extremes. Either they are trite and insipid, as though any show of love on the part of either character would be sinful, or they are much too sensual and self-oriented. Perhaps that comes from so many stories being romance-focused, instead of allowing the romance to develop as part of the organic whole, as you mentioned.

    Glad you liked the post! I've enjoyed seeing all the feedback on it.

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meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
finished writings






Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
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Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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