May 1, 2012

Going on for Years

Back in January (which seems ages ago) I wrote a post on romance - its prevalence in modern fiction, and how it can be, but does not necessarily have to be, incorporated into a story.  It was necessarily a cursory post and I didn't go down all the rabbit trails I would have liked to explore.  But among the comments, this one by Rachel captured a theme I had wanted but had not had time to look at.  Hitting the proverbial nail on its proverbial head, as usual, she wrote:

...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?

Aren't they?  The question is rhetorical and the answer seems obvious, and yet as I read Rachel's comment I wondered if many authors have not failed to realize it. Amid the overabundance of romance novels - some of which come out and say right up that they're romances, others of which masquerade as historical fiction, suspense, contemporary, you name it - it seems that there are fewer and fewer books looking at other kinds or avenues of love.  Relationships with parents, siblings, friends, and, oftentimes, God Himself are all trundled into the backseat so that the lovers can sit up front.  And I don't know about you, but it seems to me that this is a patently false interpretation of life.

Naturally, at this point I am forced to offer a caveat.  After all, the Bible does say that "for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife"; the one spouse does hold a place of supremacy in the life of the other.  And, too, marriage and the marriage relationship is a picture of that great Love that God bears for His people.  But so are other "forms" of love - else why would we be told that He is our heavenly Father, Christ our Brother, the Church made up of our kindred?  Christ is indeed the Bridegroom, the Church the Bride; but He is also that Friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Analogies, if they can be called analogies (for we can hardly say that God is the one imitating us), between our relationships day to day and God's powerful relationship with His own people abound.  We love, as John states, because He first loved us.  And we love many different people in many different ways.  Romance is not the only form that provides something of a mirror of God's love, but its glorification in Christian fiction seems to say that many authors think it is.  I have many reviews or descriptions of novels that at some point state that the romance "is an allegory of God's pursuit of man."  This is all well and good, but in making such a parallel too distinct, do we not run the risk of obscuring other equally-valid parallels?  And not only do we run the risk, but the damage may already be done.

I've been toying with these thoughts for some time now - at least over the course of writing White Sail's, but also, I believe, while I was working on Wordcrafter.  I hope and trust that each story I write is a little more complex, mines a few more gems, brings up a little more truth than the preceding book.  The Soldier's Cross was a fairly straight-forward tale of a girl coming to grips with God, sin, and salvation.  Wordcrafter is a story of friendship, a novel (unconsciously) built around the narrative of David and Jonathan and that snatch of a quote from Jesus that so characterized His sacrifice: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."  The White Sail's Shaking goes, I hope, a little beyond even that.  It does have romance - heavens, don't think I'm denigrating romance!  It has friendship, and loyalty, and plain, unadorned respect.  Really, in the year and a half I have spent thus far in writing White Sail's, I think this captures, if not the whole story, one major theme:

"A good man can love in many different areas...and love well."

- the white sail's shaking, tip brighton

And it is in my mind that this should be our goal, not only or even primarily in our writing, but in our lives as well.


  1. Three cheers! My current WIP has plenty of love but no Romance.

  2. Hip hip hooray! She's made another awesome post today!

    This is really good, honestly. Gives me something g to think about.

  3. The problem with analogies is that we assume that, because they are similar in one way that we can empirically observe, they must be similar in other ways that we cannot observe. Analogies rely on sense experience- a strong analogy would be one with multiple similarities to our relationship with God that we can observe, with fewer differences. At that, even the differences ught to be in some way perceived by us.

  4. Anne-girl - Each of my stories has had a little romance so far, but White Sail's is the first in which I've really "dealt" with it. It's interesting - and rather difficult! But, as always, fun as well. Thanks for commenting!

    Ashley - Ugh, I've been very lax about posting recently. April was a slow month indeed! I'm glad you enjoyed this post, though, and that it made you think. That's always a good thing!

    Bethany - Analogies are tricky little things. I don't mind using the ones already drawn in Scripture, because they are presented by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; but it is difficult to know to what extent they should be taken as analogies, and when they are to be looked at literally. For that matter, are those high things analogous to our lives, or are our lives analogous to those high things? It's certainly something to consider as we think about the word-pictures presented to us in God's Word.

  5. Haha! To think I so innocently spawned such a hurrah-able post! I am glad you and I think alike on this subject of Loves. :) Thanks for the post, darling!

  6. It's strange, how the mind parallels what is also being thought by another. In the last few months, I've thought on this topic often. Someone once said to me, "Why do I have to be a good team player at work? I can still serve customers well without being on good terms with my coworkers." I disagreed strongly: "Every relationship influences every other relationship." That is why people say that a man will only treat his wife as well as he treats his mother (and, similarly, a woman will treat her husband as well as she treats her father now). Siblings, friends, coworkers, bosses, acquaintances, neighbors, strangers--all of them touch on different aspects of Relationship, and if we ignore one aspect, we hurt the whole. When Jesus said "Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength" and then "Love your neighbor as yourself," He knew that He was expressing the two mighty Pillars upon which the entire canopy of Relationship depends.

    Speaking of analogies, God Himself exemplifies the importance of maintaining relationships on many levels. Jesus hung out with priests, scribes, Pharisees, and the educated and religious people of His day--as well as carpenters, prostitutes, tax collectors, liars, adulterers, Roman oppressors, lame people, blind people, deaf people, demon-possessed people. His love shone through each type of relationship. In fact, the only type of relationship He did not have is a romantic one--but that one is yet to come!

    P.S. Have you read C. S. Lewis' The Four Loves?

  7. Rachel - Yes, it's definitely all your fault! I lay the blame entirely at your door. Thanks for the inspiration! ^.^

    Yaasha - Minds have a habit of doing that, don't they? Very good points. It is impossible to compartmentalize one's life; each aspect impinges upon another. As Americans we have a tendency to overemphasize individuality, and we lose sight of the fact that our lives are intertwined with those of the people around us - particularly those in the Body of believers.

    It's funny that you ask about The Four Loves. I was thinking about it off and on as I wrote this post. I have a general idea of Lewis' discussions in it, but I haven't read it yet. One of these days...!

  8. YES! I *loved* this (no pun intended) - love - true, sacrificial love, not 'romance' love, though I like a good romantic story - is something I try and explore deeply in my novels. Way to go you!!!
    Also, I'm in the midst of replying to your letter! =D

  9. Wow, this was a great post all the way through! The point that you made, Abigail, about how so little Christian writers nowadays build on the other aspects of love and relationship really stood out to me, and it has been something I've sadly noticed in most genres of fiction I look at. They end up all being romance novels! ... As you said, "Relationships with parents, siblings, friends, and, oftentimes, God Himself are all trundled into the backseat so that the lovers can sit up front. And I don't know about you, but it seems to me that this is a patently false interpretation of life." That's so true!

    There are so many other kinds of relationships, so beautiful and good in real life that can be portrayed and told in fiction (though having said that, romance in its right and proper place is beautiful as well), but as you pointed it out... we so often forget the others, like a father and son's relationship together, two loyal friends that stick to one another despite their weaknesses (I immediately think of Frodo and Sam's companionship or Watson and Holmes' for instance.)

    I have to say that one of the things that endeared me so much to your story with The Soldier's Cross, (though there were definitely so, so much more other things as well that I loved) was how you handled the characters' romance so well. Both in Leah/Pierre's case and Fiona's that kind of romance I felt was really built on more than just flippant emotions and feelings, but on true respect, friendship and love. Traits of loyalty, faithfulness and sacrifice are so vital in a relationship, that reflects a Biblical and Christlike nature, even if the characters do have their weaknesses. We see the greatest example of that, the example of Jesus who loved us to the uttermost. "Greater love hath no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends."

    In romance, there definitely are emotions and feelings and all that and it isn't bad in the right place! But that shouldn't be the abiding cornerstone for a a life-long relationship. Also, I personally think for the good of readers (and writers included), we should be careful in how we deal with the romance in our writing, but not shun it completely.

    I'm sorry for this comment becoming so long. It really IS opening a can of worms :D.
    P.S. I'll be replying to your e-mail soon by the way :).

  10. I was just discussing something of this today with a friend. I think we need real love in stories. I just told my friend today that the perfect story has to have a slash of romance, not being the full story, but a little thing on the side. But now with your post I see that I good story needs real love in some form.

    I wanted to tell you, I was so excited when I found your book in a book shop we went to this week! I ordered it on the internet, I didnt expect that your book would be in Australian book stores!


  11. Mirriam - Your exuberance is most satisfying! And ooh, a letter! The mailbox will be duly haunted.

    Joy - I'm glad The Soldier's Cross met your expectations in that regard. I've mentioned before that Fiona's romance, at least, was not planned at the start; but I've been very happy to see that it satisfies readers. And I certainly had fun with Pierre and Leah! Pierre is so terribly awkward...

    It's always tricky writing posts like this, because I don't want people to misunderstand me as saying that there should not be romance in novels - or even that it should not be present in the majority of novels. (I'm a huge fan of Jane Austen, so that gives me away right there.) Romantic love is beautiful and a powerful reminder of what God has done for us. But so are many other "forms" of love, and I hate to see them diminished.

    Great comment, Joy! And don't worry: I like them long.

    Meggie - Many stories do profit by a dash of romance, indeed. But, as you said, I think most need, not romance specifically, but evidences of love in some form. For instance in the book I'm reading right now, Captains Courageous, there's the friendship between Harvey and Dan. The same in Stevenson's Kidnapped - no romance (despite what the movie says), but loyalty and blunt friendship. So, though I love a bit of romance in a novel, I do think books can manage without it.

    Yes, indeed, The Soldier's Cross is available in Australian stores! It's distributed through Koorong, and if you go on that site you can see which stores currently have copies. Happy reading, I hope!

  12. It seems to me that loving, and loving well, is the business of mankind.

  13. "And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?"

    Or, on a slightly less profound level (because it's hard to take anyone seriously who has to tie up his jaw): "Mankind was my business!"

  14. I was actually going to say that, but then I didn't...


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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published writings

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.
currently writing

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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