Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Study of Writing the Christian Romance by Gail Gaymer Martin: The Spirituality Element

Today we’ll take a look at what resonated with me in my readings of chapter 6 of Gail Gaymer Martin’s book, Writing the Christian Romance. In this section of the book the subject matter is geared to the third strand that is needed in a Christian romance novel—the spiritual element.

Though the main purpose of any novel, including Christian romance, is to entertain the reader, in a Christian romance the second most prominent objective is to “present life and romance through a Christian worldview”, as stated by Gail Gaymer Martin on page 95 of Writing the Christian Romance.

By incorporating realistic struggles of believers and non-believers within your novel, you open up the opportunity to reveal a spiritual message through your story, and that is what the publishers of Christian romance are looking for. It is the interweaving of that faith element within your stories goals, conflicts, motivations and reactions that sets Christian romance apart from the secular romance novels.

Internal conflict naturally occurs in a Christian romance when a Christian character’s flaws become evident. Remember, your characters should not be perfect, but rather, “real” and that means they have faults to contend with. It is not unusual for a Christian character to chastise themselves or feel guilt when their behavior falls short of what they believe God expects of them. This type of internal conflict can reveal your character’s faith journey within the main story or tale you are presenting to entertain your reader.

If you introduce a non-believing hero or heroine or even a weak believer in your Christian novel, then it is your duty to show them discovering their faith throughout the scenes and chapters of your story, thus providing the spiritual element needed in a Christian romance. By creating “real” imperfect characters you provide opportunities for mistakes and stumbles to occur during the natural course of your novel and in those scenes you should reveal your character’s growth in all aspects of his life, including his spiritual growth.

In previous postings we talked about how a character’s past can provide conflict in your story, can you also see how that same past can be the catalyst for spiritual growth? It’s your job as the author of a Christian romance to reveal that spiritual growth in the midst of all the other elements of your story so that it comes across naturally, perhaps even subliminally, but in an entertaining way, not in such a way that it will be perceived as preaching. You want to touch the hearts and souls of your readers, not pound them with a string of lessons and judgments.

Some authors develop their whole plot around a spiritual theme they want to address, while others let their character sketches reveal the spiritual thread they wish to depict in their story. Either way, it is the job of the Christian romance writer to incorporate some faith element within the story to fulfill the requirement of that third strand. Gail Gaymer Martin addresses a number of ways to flesh out spirituality in chapter six of Writing the Christian Romance, one of which is to interview your character with respect to his or her level of faith and how they utilize, show or handle their individual faith in their everyday life situations.

Faith issues can be disclosed not only through introspection and the POV character’s narrative but also through dialogue in your novel quite naturally. Think of how you and your friends incorporate faith messages in your everyday conversations. Do you quote verses from the bible? If so, how long do those quoted verses tend to be? Or, do you more often than not paraphrase or just discuss faith issues in everyday language? Do you pray aloud with a friend or family member or just to God? What circumstances would lead to such prayers and are they generally short, quick prayers, long drawn-out ones, or do they seem more like you’re having a one-sided conversation with the Lord? By taking some time to recall how you and others around you bring faith messages into their dialogue you will be more likely to write believable faith-driven dialogue in your story that hopefully won’t come across as preaching, but rather as support for the other person or for yourself even, perhaps.

Gail Gaymer Martin spends some time discussing publisher’s guidelines within the realms of spiritual context as well in this chapter of Writing the Christian Romance. Some publishers would prefer that specific denominations not be mentioned in the novel or anything that would specifically reveal a given denomination. So take care to check with the publisher’s guidelines you’re gearing your book toward for any direction in this area. Certain ceremonies or sacraments, or the way they are carried out will define a denomination and if the publisher specifically asks for no denominational referencing you will need to take care when incorporating such ceremonies within your scenes so as not to divulge the forbidden. Also the names of certain chapels/churches will give away the denomination, so you may need to use a more generic name for the purpose of your story.

They may also have clear direction on what is and isn’t acceptable within your novel, such as referencing dancing or alcoholic beverages or playing cards, etc. The realization of what is and isn’t allowed for a specific line may dictate how you present certain scenes or the need for removal of some even to obey the guidelines given. So be sure to study those guidelines and work your scenes so that they are acceptable to the line you are writing for.

That concludes my notes taken from my readings of chapter six of Gail Gaymer Martin’s writing resource, Writing the Christian Romance. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the chapter that addresses dialogue. I found it interesting that while reading Gail Gaymer Martin’s chapter on dialogue I discovered why, when necessary, that I speed read a certain way. It all makes perfect sense to me now.

For a challenge today, I suggest you go through the guidelines of the publishing house you are hoping to pitch your story to one day and check that you are adhering to their requirements. If you find something of particular interest that you weren’t familiar with before, it would be great if you shared it with us in the comment section.

Blessings Prayed for you All,


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