Because the romantic relationship is the core of the romance novel, careful consideration must be given as to how an author should reveal sexuality within the Christian romance novel.
To me, if you are writing a Christian romance, then you should be a Christian yourself and you probably have a pretty good idea of how far one can go in showing this aspect of a romantic relationship—especially when appropriate consideration is given to your own moral and ethical standards, as well as your experience with reading published works of Christian romance. It would be helpful here, I think, to quote a couple lines that Gail Gaymer Martin offers in her book, Writing the Christian Romance: “While secular fiction is a two-strand story of the hero and heroine, the Christian romance is strengthened by the three-strand cord—the hero, the heroine, and the Lord. The spiritual connection is ultimate in Christian romance.” as stated on Pg.75 of Writing the Christian Romance.
With that in mind, you as the author will know how far you want to go with revealing sexuality in your novel, but you should also be sure that your comfort level is in tune with the publishing house(s) expectations in which you are gearing your novel toward.
If you want to write for a specific line, you should be well versed in what is printed in that line, but you will also want to study the individual publisher’s guidelines carefully. Within those guidelines, you will find specific limitations noted with respect to what they deem acceptable sexual referencing in published works.
As a general rule, Christian romances fall under the “Sweet”, not “Spicy”, umbrella of romance writing. Meaning, they deal more with the heart and inner feelings involved in building a romantic relationship. Human needs of lasting love, companionship, support, thoughtfulness, kindness and concern are all important elements of the Christian romance that should be incorporated into your story to create a touching, moving, and fulfilling Christian romance.
Modesty and self-control are expected in Christian romances by both Christian readers and publishers alike. As such, most often physical descriptions of the hero stay above the waist, while heroines are described mostly from the shoulders up. And because Christians are counselled to not dwell on physical beauty, but rather to look inside a person for true beauty, most often these descriptions are incorporated with some reference to a talent or an attribute that the character possesses. By combining both the physical and inner characteristics within the description, either through admiration or concern for the other character, the author is able to reveal much about the characters in question and also show the hero and heroine’s relationship growth in an acceptable Christian viewpoint that is unlikely to offend.
That said, let’s get into how we can reveal the progression of the romantic relationship in a Christian romance novel. According to Gail Gaymer Martin there are four basic stages in building a romantic relationship in a Christian romance.
Stage 1, Awareness: Curiosity is the keyword to remember while working through this first phase of a romantic relationship. Early in the novel, preferably on the first page, your job as the author is to provide something in the personality or manner of either the hero or heroine that arouses curiosity in the other. This doesn’t mean that it has to be an instantaneous positive attraction, it could just as well be a negative response, but by revealing some kind of curiosity you set the stage for a romance to develop. Admiration, distrust, disgust, or even sharing an embarrassing moment together, etc. are all ways to instigate a curiosity about the other character. Be creative and create a scene that shows curiosity blossoming!
In this early stage of the hero and heroine’s relationship, the outward expressions grow in proportion to the emotional commitment they have invested in each other. Consider what physical responses you felt the day you met someone who you eventually became romantically involved with. Were you tongue-tied, flustered, giddy, hyperventilating with anger, miffed? Try and use those realistic feelings to show a connection between the hero and heroine early on in your work.
If either or both, hero and heroine are practicing Christians and there’s an immediate positive attraction on the Christian’s side, then they will definitely question whether their feelings are God ordained or if the awareness they feel is of their own will. This can provide one of your first elements of conflict in your novel and conflict is an integral part of any novel, including Christian romances.
As the two characters get to know one another, the Christian hero or heroine will be searching for clues as to whether the other is a Christian as well. In the early stages of a relationship, before they get too deeply emotionally attached, the Christian may not be as concerned about being equally yoked, but they will be wanting to see signs of belief in their Heavenly Father from the other party before they allow the relationship to really start developing.
Stage 2, Interest: Having the interest between hero and heroine rise over the next couple of chapters after the meeting moves the story forward while hooking the reader to want to see the romance develop. Interest in one another can be expressed via introspection from the POV character (remember, the one who owns the scene). During this stage the hero and/or heroine will look forward to seeing one another on some level or another. Denial, or a struggle to stay uninvolved, can still be a part of this phase for at least one of the characters and it is usually driven by the characters’ personal needs and motivations.
Distrust and fear of rejection are issues common in the early interest stage, as well. You can reveal them overcoming issues like these by having them give way to their hearts and become more and more accepting of one another and what each has to offer. Introspection is a good tool for revealing this progression in the relationship. To be believable, though, you should make this shift gradually by showing their new feelings in an accumulative, responsive fashion.
During the interest stage, where at least the reader is aware that one of the characters is drawn to the other, there can be more outward signs of a growing relationship. In this stage a simple touch of the other’s hand can trigger nervousness, unease, or breathlessness in one or both parties. As Christians, the amount of intimacy they share will grow in direct proportion to how certain each is that God approves of their relationship. In this stage, the characters’ emotional struggles can add to growing conflict and cause a desire for distancing themselves from forming a relationship. It’s in this stage that a lot of questioning and uncertainty might be revealed.
As the characters grow through their experiences so will the romantic and faith elements of the story, allowing the relationship to move from awareness and interest into the third stage of romantic progression, namely attraction.
Stage 3, Attraction: This is the stage when the hero and heroine dream of being together, are reminded of each other in everything they see or do, and start to assess the pros and cons of their relationship. You must keep the hero and heroine’s love and faith growing through this stage while providing realistic conflict in the form of hidden secrets, issues or problems that they struggle to reveal to one another for fear of rejection or perhaps embarrassment, clashing goals, ambitions that threaten to separate them, etc. Think back to your’s or a friend’s courting years and recall all the things that happened that threatened their relationship, incompatibilities that they needed to learn to accept or overcome. Life is full of trials and tribulations, let your characters dive in and explore some of them.
It is in this stage that we see the characters’ logical thinking clash with what his/her heart is saying. Both internal and external conflict is upped by elements of distrust, fear, doubt, overanalysis, etc. Incomplete feelings or conflicting feelings battle with each other during this phase causing confusion and possibly indecisiveness. The tension that builds in these scenes draws the reader in and attracts a great desire for a HEA (Happily Ever After) ending.
As the relationship grows between the hero and heroine outward demonstrations of their feelings become more prevalent. In the attraction phase an intimate face-to-face embrace, long-lasting hugs and a more intimate kiss can show their furthering commitment to one another. This deepening relationship often occurs near the middle of the book, and the descriptions used in Christian romance for the physical interactions between hero and heroine at this stage of their relationship deal mainly with the inner responses the character’s experience—ie. their feelings and emotions at the time of the exchange—rather than explicitly describing the physical interaction.
The closer the characters become to admitting that they are falling in love, the faith issue will become more evident. Now is the stage where they will want to confirm that they are equally yoked. This could be cause for major conflict if one party questions the others level of belief. For the Christian romance novel, it is paramount that you have your characters come to their own acceptance of Christ and God’s word, and on their own accord, through personal learning, searching, and prayer. You cannot have them just accept the responsibility of being Christian simply by having it thrust upon them by the other character. You must show the growth of their spiritual journey throughout the scenes and chapters of your novel while you’re building their relationship and commitment to each other.
Stage 4, Falling in Love: Secular romances do not require this stage of a romantic relationship, but Christian romance does. This stage usually happens at the end of the book and it is what constitutes the HEA in Christian romance. This is the final acknowledgement of a commitment to love each other with the understanding that they’ve received God’s blessing. In other words, they are committed to make their relationship work despite any obstacles that may still exist. By the end of this section (perhaps even the last page of your book) your hero and heroine will have figured out how to deal with or at least accept any issues that remain between them and declare their intention to marry. You can strengthen this section by incorporating emotion, faith, and the commitment of love in your ending scene(s).
In the Falling in Love stage there will be a definite struggle for the hero and heroine to remain chaste in their relationship. For a Christian romance this struggle must be presented in a tasteful and mindful manner so as not to offend any of the wide variety of Christian readers that your book may attract. To do this, you might find it easiest to write such scenes playfully. Alluding to what the hero or heroine might be thinking or feeling will allow the reader to use their own imaginations and thus avoid inadvertently offending anyone. It’s also fun to write playful scenes, so go ahead and experiment and see what you can come up with to make the ending of your novel one to be remembered.
That completes my study notes on the chapter on Sexuality in a Christian romance. Gail Gaymer Martin gives many more details than what I've highlighted here of course in Writing the Christian Romance. For a more thorough look, I suggest you get your hands on a copy of her book and dive in. Each chapter is full of wonderful nuggets for any writer of any genre really. The main focus is definitely on Christian Romance but much of her guidance can be applied to all fiction writing.
Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the topic of Spirituality and Romance, an important thread of the Christian romance novel, in fact it is the thread that sets Christian romance apart from secular romance. We’ve touched on this element throughout our study so far, so it should be interesting to see what detail Gail Gaymer Martin offers in her chapter devoted to Spirituality found in Writing the Christian Romance.
I challenge you all to post a short snippet of how you have shown the sexuality element within your work-in-progress of a Christian romance novel. Copy and paste them into the comment section of this posting so that we can all see some wonderful examples of how to reveal the physical side of a romantic relationship. Let’s see how creative we can be without offending!
I promise to be the first to offer one in the comment section.