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Writers, please understand before you try to write an inspirational romance: Placing characters inside a church building on Sunday mornings, or having them say grace before a meal does not make a novel inspirational.
If I had to sum up the essence of inspirational romance in one word, I’d use “relationship.” The major difference in a secular romance and an inspirational one really is that simple: the emotional connection (relationship) between the hero and heroine, and between the characters and God.
Aside from the stringent expectation of quality writing, certain additional standards exist in the world of Christian fiction. A writer hoping to place a manuscript in this market would do well to become familiar with those finely drawn lines and stay well within their borders.
I can point out the right direction. You’ll have to choose the roads.
1. The sensuality meter
I was once challenged by someone who felt the words “Christian” and “romance” conflicted.
“You cannot write about romance and call it a Christian book,” he stated. “Christians don’t partake in romance, at least not until after they’re married. And no one wants to read about that stuff between a husband and wife. What’s the point?”
How sad, this inability to distinguish between sex and romance!
Let me try to make it easy.
- · Romance is the wooing of another’s heart and the emotions involved in that courtship.
- · Sex is the physical consummation of a physical attraction (no relationship necessary).
In a Christian romance, sex is off limits for the unmarried hero/heroine, and takes place behind closed doors for married ones. What’s left? Relationship.
That said, eliminating blatant sexual activity is not the be-all and end-all of an inspirational novel. What is important is the interweaving of the characters’ spiritual journeys into their lives—and that includes their romantic overtures.
Physical attraction should be a part of the story, but it will be communicated through emotions instead of hormones. He may notice the way the heroine’s dress accentuates her curves, but he won’t focus on those curves. He’ll be drawn to her sense of humor, her generosity, her sweetness of spirit. Neither is she blind to how he looks in those hip-hugging jeans, or the way his muscles bulge when he ropes that heifer. But her emotional reactions will supersede any physical ones. She’ll be moved by his gentleness with an injured animal…touched by the respectful way he handles an annoying elderly neighbor…moved to tears by his love for children.
2. Christian protagonists
A Christian romance will focus on two relationships:
- the one developing between the hero and heroine, and
- the one between those characters and Christ. (This one must be clearly defined, either from the start of the story, or by the end of it.)
It is acceptable to start a book with a protagonist who doesn’t know or is estranged from God, but that spiritual rapport will grow and evolve throughout the storyline and must be reconciled by the last page.
3. Dealing with sin
In real life, Christian people live with and among non-Christians. So it is within the pages of a book. Contributing characters may smoke or drink, get pregnant before marriage, have abortions, cheat, steal, lie…even murder. That’s life. These characters’ non-conformity to a godly lifestyle adds color to the storyline.
It is crucial, however, that the main characters either stay on the straight path or find it.
Ultimate challenge: Do all of the above without turning the story into a sermon. Readers read for entertainment and escape – not a class on Christianity. Any message the author wishes to deliver must be woven seamlessly into the storyline. The reader should not be aware of any spiritual lesson…until it’s already learned.
What makes Christian fiction Christian? The differences aren’t many, but mighty. I like to think of it as giving my readers a touch of Heaven in an earthly tale. Why wouldn’t I write on this side of the line?
(NOTE: I appreciate your visit. This blog has moved to a new location. If you’d like to leave a comment on this post, please do at the new blog address. I apologize for the inconvenience. This will be the last post to appear at THIS address. All future posts for Write Right! will be at the new location. I hope, if you’re following me here, you’ll transfer your follow to my new location. Thanks so much!)
Delia Latham is a born-and-bred California gal, currently living in the small mountain town of Tehachapi with her husband Johnny. She’s a Christian wife, mother, grandmother, sister, and friend—but above all, she treasures her role as princess daughter to the King of Kings.
A former newspaper Staff Writer and frequent contributor to her hometown’s regional publication, Bakersfield Magazine, she has also freelanced projects to a public relations firm and various magazines; has compiled, edited, and designed cover art for various Kindness Incorporated projects; and sold greeting card verse. Find out more about this author on her website, blog, Facebook Author Page, or Twitter. She also shares a blog with the Heart’s Haven writing team. She loves hearing from her readers, so drop in and say hello—you’ll make her day!
Writing the Line (c) 2009
by Patti Shene
A few emails have come through my inbox lately announcing the opening of writers’ contests. I’ve entered some over the years and served as a judge for several.
I want to share some “in it to win it” tips from the perspective of a contest judge. What do we look for? Why do scores vary so widely between judges? What lessons are there to be learned from entering a contest? Which contest should I enter?
What do judges look for?
I can’t speak for other judges and their methods, but I will share what I expect to find when I evaluate a contest entry.
First, I give the entry a rapid read. This is where I make comments within the body of the work on blatant errors, such as obvious incorrect grammar, spelling, or word usage.
Example: King Hawthorne rained over the land of Lavindale with an iron fist.
Unless you intend for King Hawthorne to possess the power of a god who can produce rain, the word you want is reigned.
Example: “I don’t suppose you would go with me.” She said.
There should be a comma after me, not a period.
While revealing the writer’s knowledge of basic writing skills, his first read also gives me an idea of what the story is about, the writer’s voice, and her grasp of basic story elements, such as point of view and characterization.
The second read is when I evaluate content: the initial hook, the flow of the story, motivation of characters, balance of dialogue versus narrative, and use of descriptive detail. These factors weigh heavily when scoring.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when editng your work before entering it in a contest:
What have I revealed in my first line that compels the reader to want to know more about the character or situation I have introduced?
Suggestion: Create a situation that conveys a sense of urgency or a character forced to make a major decision.
Have I defined my characters in such a manner that readers can identify with them on some level?
Suggestion: This does not necessarily refer to physical description. Give the reader insight into your character’s goals, motivation, and response to his situation.
Does the story move forward without multiple references to the character’s past?
Suggestion: Stay in the moment. Do not jerk the reader out of the story with paragraphs of backstory.
Suggestion: Avoid “talking heads.” Show your characters’ body language to reveal emotional responses to verbal interactions. Use beats verses tags to identify the speaker.
Do I make use of all five senses to enhance my scenes?
Suggestion: Don’t tell the reader your character walked out of an air conditioned building into sweltering heat. Show him squinting against the brilliance of the sun because he misplaced his sunglasses. Describe the feel of the trickle of sweat down his back in the 100+ degree temperature.
Have I used descriptive action verbs?
Suggestion: Specify your action verbs. A character who walks into a meeting late draws less attention than a character who stomps, marches, bursts, flounces, or saunters through the door.
These are just a few of the basic elements that will make or break your story when you place it in competition with the work of other writers.
Why do scores vary so widely between judges?
One of the most enjoyable social activities I engage in is our local monthly book club. Even though we all read the same book, we come away with a different perspective on the story, the characters, and the author’s motivation for writing it.
Just like readers, every judge brings to the table their own thoughts and biases about what is good writing and what isn’t. Keep in mind that most judges do have some level of experience to back up th
eir observations about your writing. If the same issue is brought to your attention by more than one judge, recognize it as a weakness that needs to be improved upon and take steps to do so.
On the other hand, you know your story. If you disagree with one judge’s suggestion of recommended changes, seek input from other writers.
What do I gain from entering a contest?
Self-esteem is #1. You did it! You consider yourself a writer and you have the confidence to put your “baby” out there in front of sometimes very critical eyes.
You will receive valuable input from people in the industry who have seen hundreds, maybe even thousands, of stories.
You must exercise the discipline required to meet a deadline.
You learn to follow directions. This may sound silly, but it prepares you for meeting submission guidelines set forth by a publishing house. Often, failure to use proper format will result in rejection, both in a contest and from an editor.
Which contests should I enter?
Almost all writing contests charge an entry fee. You can find as small or as large of a competition as you want. Writing groups in your area may offer contests. Various chapters of organizations such as RWA (Romance Writers of America) sponsor contests. ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) offers an annual contest as well as individual chapter contests. National pu
blications such as Guideposts advertise an annual writing contest.
Prizes vary from a few dollars to large amounts of cash. Sometimes, publication in the respective magazine or on a website is realized, free admission to a workshop or conference, or paid membership in a writers’ organization.
Consider the level of competition you wish to engage in. If you’ve never submitted work, you may be entering solely for the feedback you will receive. A smaller, less expensive contest would be more appropriate to meet that need.
Whatever contest you choose to enter, do so with an “In It to Win It” attitude, incorporating the above tips to polish your work until it is the best it can possibly be. Even if you don’t clinch that coveted first place spot, you come out a winner for the experience you will have gained.
Patti Shene has enjoyed writing since childhood. She is published in two anthologies, Love is a Verb Devotional and Angels, Miracles, and Heavenly Encounters, as well as in local publication
She served as Executive Editor for Starsongs, a publication of Written World Communications (WWC), written for kids by kids from 2010 – 2013. She also held the position of Division Manager for YA and Children’s Imprints with WWC for several months.
She has three novels in progress. Patti enjoys encouraging other writers by judging contests and featuring writers as guests on her three blogs, located at www.pattishene.com.
Patti is a retired RN, formerly from Long Island, who resides in a small Colorado town with her husband of thirty-six years. They have two wonderful adult children and one amazing 12- yr old granddaughter.
This post is part of a mini-blog hop, in which a few writers have committed to writing their own 10 Commandments of Writing, and sharing them with each other and the public via posting to their blogs. Following is my own, personal Ten Commandments of Writing. The other authors are listed at the bottom of this post, with links to their Commandments. We hope you’ll visit them all! 🙂
1. Thou shalt not make writing thy god.
II Peter 2:19b—People are slaves to whatever has mastered them.
Whatever has top priority in our lives becomes our god. In my life, only God is God. I will control my career; it will not control me. Writing is high on my priority list, but God is #1 on that same list. Family is #2. Then comes Career…#3.
2. Thou shalt never forget Who gave thee the talent to write. Allow this Giver of Gifts to dictate the words thou writest, and never forget that thou art nothing more than a scribe for Christ.
God is the author. I am only His transcriptionist. ALL the glory…ALL the honor…ALL the recognition belong to Him. Should I ever be blessed with success in the publishing industry, I will never fail to recognize the true Author of the books whose covers bear my name.
1 Corinthians 10:31—Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
3. Thou shalt write something every day.
A journal entry, a blog, a short story or article. A chapter in your current WIP. Something. Every. Day.
That said, life sometimes hands out a slice of “Surprise Pie” that puts a kink in the works of my best-laid plans. Things will happen that I cannot control. As often as possible, I will push aside, climb over or dig under the road blocks and write anyway. But on days when it “just ain’t happenin’,” I will not let that little kink clog my writing arteries. I will make up for the day’s loss by writing more the next day or two.
Proverbs 24:16— For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again.
4. Thou shalt write a certain number of words per week on a current WIP.
Even when certain days do not include working on my WIP, by the end of the week, a specified word count goal should be met. Consistently. Every week. Otherwise I’ll end up being buried someday with a stack of journals no one wants to nose into tucked into the folds of my satin-lined casket…and very few completed, published and well-received novels.
Proverbs 16:3— Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.
5. Thou shalt not be kind to thy hero/heroine.
Effective conflict does not happen with spoiled characters. As a writer, my job is not to mollycoddle my hero and/or heroine. I must toss them into a rink with the three H’s: Hardship, Heartbreak and Hopelessness. Take away the things they love most. Put them in situations that seem impossible to overcome…and then help them overcome them. (Or, in the words of James Scott Bell, “Get your lead up a tree, throw things at him, get him down.”) Just like in real life (and the Army, of course), sometimes a little tough love is necessary to make a person “be all they can be.”
Ps. 66:10-12 (NIV)— 10 For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver. 11 You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. 12 You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.
6. Thou shalt be a ruthless killer of thy “darlings.”
My words are not sacred. I will cut them. Edit them. Scratch them. Toss them. Learn to tell the difference in gold and “fool’s gold.” I’ll keep the best, toss the rest…then put the “best” to the test and start the process all over again. Eventually, I will hold in my hand a shining nugget of pure literary gold. A true darling.
Pro. 25:4—Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the finer.
7. Thou shalt accept constructive criticism with grace, and willingly learn from the wisdom already gained by more experienced authors.
The Bible has a lot to say about the ability to receive instruction…and the woes that befall those who refuse to do so. Success comes from applying oneself to learning from others who have already “been there.” No one is born knowing everything he or she needs to know to be successful — in life or in any chosen field.
It’s crucial that I develop a thick skin and absorb instruction and constructive criticism like the water of life…because, as far as my career is concerned, it is. I will ask for it. Accept it. Take it with a smile. Apply it. And I will become a better writer.
Proverbs 23:12—Apply thine heart unto instruction, and thine ears to the words of knowledge.
8. Thou shalt not forget that someone helped you, nor fail to return the blessing by helping other writers traverse the path you’ve already walked.
The circle of writing life. One learns, and then passes on that acquired knowledge to less experienced writers…even as one continues to learn more. I will never stop learning and never stop passing on the blessing of knowledge. The circle never ends.
Genesis 12:2— And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing.
9. Thou shalt not covet thy fellow author’s gift, nor compare thy gift with another’s.
Learning writing techniques and mechanics from more experienced authors is a good thing. Trying to duplicate their writing styles is not a good thing. I will learn from others, but I will apply my own skills and talents and experiences and uniqueness to develop a voice and writing style of my own. I will write like me. Mimicry and uncomplimentary comparison of myself to another writer is not beneficial.
2 Corinthians 10:12—…but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.
10. Thou shalt write with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and will all thy strength, and with all thy might.
I will write with joy. Nothing offered half-heartedly is ever good enough.
I will love what I’m doing for as long as I do it. If I stop loving it, I will stop doing it. I cannot write with passion if I don’t love to write. And if I can’t write with passion, I’m wasting my time and my readers’ time. I will love it or leave it.
However, I must remember that “the gift and calling of God are without repentance.” God has called me to write, and He’s not going to change His mind. But He wants me to be joyful in my journey. Based on Ps. 16:11 (see below), it would stand to reason that, if I lose joy in doing what God called me to do, then I must have somehow taken myself out of the presence of the Lord. If that happens, I must find Him again… absorb myself in His presence…and find my way back to a joyful writing journey.
Col. 3:23— Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.
Ps. 16:11— Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.
Well, those are MY commandments. The links below contain commandments written by author friends. Please…won’t you visit them, as well?
Paula Mowery on Creative Christian Writers Crank Up
Clare Revell on The World Can Wait
Jayna Morrow on JaynaMorrow.com
Julia M. Toto on JuliaMToto.com
Brooksie on Groovie Brooksie
Lilly Maytree at Lilly Maytree Blog
Linda Yezak at 777 Peppermint Place
Therese M. Travis at Paperfaces
by Delia Latham
Critiques are a literary “bread of life” to some writers. Others shudder at the thought of allowing another author to rip/tear/shred at their carefully chosen words.
To each his own.
Here’s my take on the subject. A solid critique can mean the difference in having a manuscript (which may never be seen by anyone other than the writer and the editors who reject it) or a novel (which makes the journey from writer to critique partner to writer to editor…then into print and available to readers).
I’m not here to laud the value of a critique. If your mind is made up to hate them, I doubt I could change it anyway. So this article is for those of you who, like me, wouldn’t dare send a manuscript out without your critique partner—or better yet, partners—having seen it first.
I’ll talk about giving constructive criticism. Since I’m certainly not the reigning guru, you can take or toss anything I say—just as I hope you would do if I critiqued your manuscript. Because that’s the whole idea, isn’t it? Get someone else’s take on your work. She’ll watch for typos and misspellings, sentences that don’t flow well, and inconsistencies (like your hero having blue eyes in one chapter and brown in another). She’ll also make suggestions she thinks will improve your words. The thing to remember with a critique is that, just because your crit partner makes a suggestion does not mean you must use it. It’s a suggestion. Something to consider. That’s all.
(That’s the extent of what I’ll say about receiving a critique.)
All that said, critiques can hurt. I’ve been there. So, while it’s important to be honest (otherwise, what’s the point?), it’s also important to be nice. Making the writer feel unspeakably stupid should not be your goal.
And please, please…when you read something you do like, say so! It’s like salve on an open wound to get that little nugget of praise in the middle of a chapter that’s bleeding red crit marks. It can mean the difference in leaving your critique recipient sobbing in defeat or rejuvenated and raring to do another rewrite.
Seriously…isn’t that what it’s all about?
Let’s look at some examples. For the record, I’ve been given permission to share these tidbits of critiques with you. (I won’t be sharing the writers’ names or the titles of their work.) Blue text indicates my comments and/or changes.
Nate the men to see her amusement, Rose busied herself with Jenny Ann, handing her the baby a piece of meat to chew on. Her hero acted like a she bear protecting her cubs when it came to her and the baby. (This sentence gets a little confusing, with three “hers” referring to two different “hers.”J See what I mean? With the suggested changes in that first sentence, maybe this will work:
When it came to her and Jenny, Nate behaved like a protective Mama bear with cubs.
Love the analogy, especially when referring to a supposedly big, bad he-man! lol)
Not every criticism can be followed by a compliment, but when possible…by all means, do it! (Ever had your eyebrows or upper lip waxed? The sweet girl who does mine follows each painful rip of skin and hair with the firm pressure of her fingertips. It doesn’t replace the missing skin, but it sure helps relieve the sting. I try to always remember that a critique is much like the removal of unsightly facial hair. Each time I deliver a criticism to some author’s literary darling, I’ve ripped away ‘skin and hair’ and left her hurting. If I can find something to compliment, it eases the pain. Why wouldn’t I want to do that?)
Also, note the yellow highlights above. I use them to indicate repetition of any word (or form of the same word) in close proximity. Without my having to voice a single criticism, my critique partners know what they mean: You should probably rephrase, and avoid overuse of this word.
One more example. This one is taken from a synopsis, thus the “telling, not showing” style of writing.
(When? I’d insert that here. “Two years ago, Scott…”) Scott Lunsford experienced every firefighter’s nightmare when he answered a routine accident call involving a loved one. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get the images of his girlfriend Julie’s shattered body out of his mind. Counselors recommended time off and he decided to go someplace with happier memories. His grandmother’s turn-of-the century-house has
set been vacant since she passed away almost two years earlier. (Your call. Nothing wrong with “set,” it just sounds weird to my ears today. lol) Scott thinks it’s the perfect time to start renovations on the old place. But he’s not prepared for the amount of work the house needs and even less prepared for the ghostly images of Julie that show up nightly every night!
Offering an opinion is fine, even if it isn’t necessarily a “rule” of writing. In this case, my suggestion to replace “set” with “been” is nothing more than personal taste. But that’s all right…it’s like a mini-brainstorm session. The author can take it or leave it, but it gives her something to think about.
As the one on the giving end of the critique, it’s important to remember that you’re not there to rewrite the book. Let that author keep her voice and style. Your task is to watch for several things in particular, including (but certainly not limited to):
- Incorrect grammar
- Kinks in the flow of the storyline
- Repetitive words
- Weasel words
- Timeline issues
- Anything else that seems “iffy” or makes you backtrack/re-read.
What is most helpful to you in a critique? Or do you simply shy away from them? If so…why?
Let’s talk about it…