Friday, August 07, 2009
Characterization in the Inspirational Romance
By Lyn Cote
Characterization is the basic building block of all fiction and especially for romance, which concentrates so heavily on emotion. So in preparing for this article, I polled other Christian authors for their insight. Gail Martin who writes for Love Inspired and also her 2008 release Writing the Inspirational Romance offered this:
"Characterization begins with backstory, digging deep into the past and pulling out the hurts, sorrows, guilts, shames, successes, failures, experiences, education, family morals and values. The backstory triggers the elements of personality, actions/reactions, present values and morals of the character. All of these elements create character…."
As useful and basic as that information is, I realized that any writing teacher would say that about characterization in any type of fiction. So how does characterization in inspirational novels differ from in secular ones?
Cheryl Wolverton, a past RWA Rita finalist, who has written over twenty books replied: "Characterization in Inspirational Romance is no different than in any other book or genre. It has to be strong [and] well developed, [but] the author must develop the characters' spiritual elements as well as everything else."
Ah, the spiritual element—yes, that's the difference. The Christian novel must have a strong spiritual aspect reflected in the characters.
Lenora Worth made this clear: "Characters need depth in order to make the faith journey that is required in our books. That added journey allows for compelling, multi-layered characters, who really do go through emotional struggles as they fall in love and resolve their life issues."
The faith journey is an integral part of the inspirational romance. The hero and heroine can't merely fall in love in spite of themselves (internal conflict) and cope with their circumstances (external conflict). Each also has a spiritual journey. They are not only in conflict with each other, but also with themselves about their relationship to others and to God. Over the course of the novel, the hero and heroine must come to a point of decision about this.
It is common misconception that in every novel of faith, someone must search for and find God. Most publishers don’t want a "conversion" scene in every romance. Tyndale House, for example, tells aspiring authors that they don't want either the hero or heroine to be in the process of finding faith. They don't want a romance to hinge on a person finding God—as if that would solve all the character's problems and they would become perfect. So what is a faith journey if it's not that?
Every person of faith must work out what she believes and why. She also must integrate that belief into her real life, her everyday life. Thus, there are an endless variety of spiritual quests.
In my own romances, the hero and heroine often are at the opposite ends of the same spiritual struggle. This adds another layer of conflict to the novel. In my romantic suspense, Autumn’s Shadow, (Tyndale), the spiritual theme is "Am I my brother's keeper?" My heroine's spiritual conflict centers on her continual efforts to help her teen-aged brother who has been over-indulged by their parents. This comes to a head when her parents transfer the boy to the school where she is the principal. The parents reason that with their daughter as principal, the son will be sure to graduate. Then they can send him off to college and get on with their lives. But the boy is a danger to himself and finally, to others. My heroine is at her wit’s end and about to give up trying to help her brother.
At the same time, the hero is also struggling with family ties. After years of distancing himself from his family, he becomes guardian to his troubled nephew who attends the same school. As the heroine is ready to cut family ties, the hero is trying to reconnect with his nephew. In the end, both the hero and heroine, as people of faith, must accept that they can only do so much for those they love. God can change hearts; they can't. And they finally realize they have a right to a life and love of their own.
That is a sample of a faith plot, which is a requirement in each inspirational romance. Because plot derives from character, inspirational characters must have unfinished business in their lives with God. That faith journey sets the inspirational romance apart from the secular.
Deborah Raney, RITA winner 2002 for Beneath a Southern Sky, summed it up this way: "In the inspirational novel, the main characters generally come from one of two places. Either they are already people of faith and the story is a showcase for how their faith enables them to overcome the conflict and dilemma of the plot, or they have not yet come to faith and the novel is the story of their journey from unbelief to faith, darkness into light.”
This discussion is for the romance writer, so the faith journey will end with victory: the hero and heroine will overcome the conflict, just as the hero and heroine will find committed love at the end of the romance. Seeking and finding spiritual wholeness is part of the necessary satisfying ending to the inspirational romance.
The trick to including the spiritual dimension in characterization is to ensure that the romance doesn't turn into a "sermon in dialogue." Show the conflict; don't tell it. Again, all plot derives from character. The inspirational romance succeeds when it focuses on first creating realistic and compelling characters, and then on letting the spiritual dimension flow from the depth and substance of these multi-faceted characters. Not vice versa.
Lyn Cote's first novel, Never Alone, was published in 1998. Her seventeenth, Blessed Bouquets, and her eighteenth Chloe, the first in her "Women of Ivy Manor" series were released in June 2005. The second in her newest series which is “Texas Star of Destiny” is Her Inheritance Forever. She's written articles on the inspirational market and does an annual update. The 2009 market update, including an agent list link is on her site now. She has also had numerous articles on the craft of writing published. An award winning author and speaker, Lyn writes both historical and contemporary fiction.
Visit her at www.LynCote.net and her contributors:
Deborah Raney- www.deborahraney.com
Cheryl Wolverton- www.cherylwolverton.com
Lenora Worth- www.lenoraworth.com
Copyright 2005 Lyn Cote
More Lyn Cote books:
2009 Releases—Lyn Cote
The Desires of Her Heart
1st Texas Star of Destiny series
In 1821, Dorritt Mott is a woman ahead of her time. When her family is forced to leave New Orleans, she meets Quinn. The New Orleans lady and the half-breed scout, become unlikely allies on the trek to the Austin settlement in Texas. Two armies, marauding Comanche and a traitor in their midst stand between them and their destination. All Dorritt thinks she wants is her own independence, but is it possible that she will gain the unrecognized desires of her heart? And teach Quinn to enlarge his vision also?
Her Inheritance Forever
2nd in Texas Star of Destiny series
ISBN # 9780061373435
Blurb: In 1836 Texas, Alandra Sandoval is the lady of Rancho Sandoval, determined to prove to a doubting world that a woman alone can run a ranch as well as any man. But when Comanches attack her ranch and kidnap her, Alandra must admit she needs protection. A top hand at a nearby ranch, Scully Falconer, is chosen for the task and though Alandra tries to pretend she doesn't need his help, he quietly stays by her side.
Though they believe their paths to be worlds apart, the rugged American cowboy with a troubled past and the proud lady of Mexican descent are united when Alandra's greedy relatives burst into their lives. And when General Santa Anna's army crosses the Rio Grande—marching toward a rendezvous with destiny at the Alamo—Alandra and Scully are swept up together in the tide of history...and their world will never be the same.
One sentence blurb: Forced from her vast ranch into the heart of the Texas Revolution, will this proud senorita find the faith to withstand these troubling times?
Finally Home/Finally Found
Love Inspired Classic (reissue)
Blurb: After their mother develops leukemia, three sisters decide that they must discover their mother's birth parents so that they will have another pool for bone marrow transplants if it reoccurs. In the meantime, one falls in love with a carpenter in WI while the other falls in love with a Latino MD in FL. Both stories are filled with tears and laughter.
Her Patchwork Family
2nd in Gabriel Sisters series
Love Inspired Historical
Blurb: In spite of opposition from the rich and influential, can Felicity Gabriel establish a home for children orphaned by the Civil War and heal two wounded hearts?
Thanks for joining us today, Lyn!