by Gail Gaymer Martin
Aspiring Christian romance writers will want to add this ground-breaking book to their Christmas wish list. It is the first how-to title to explore the challenges of writing for this fast-growing genre.
The Christian romance is centered around three threads: the characters’ personal growth, the growth of the romance, and the characters’ spiritual growth. Through detailed instructions and rich examples, Martin demonstrates how to effectively weave these threads into compelling, entertaining stories without being preachy.
Engaging characters draw readers into the world of the story and this book is packed with suggestions, techniques, worksheets, cautions and lists of additional resources to inspire writers to create three-dimensional characters who have “depth, realistic goals and needs, credible motivation and complex emotions.” Since characters must grow and change, they will have weaknesses, flaws and sinful ways that they must overcome. But they must also be likable—people with whom the reader can identify. Martin shows how to achieve this balance.
While the individual characters draw readers into the story world, it is the emergent romance that keeps them reading. Martin walks writers through the four stages of romance (i.e. awareness, interest, attraction and falling in love) by exploring the emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of each. Sexual desire is “not absent from Christian romance, but is handled more as spiritual intimacy,” explains Martin. Physical descriptions of characters are crafted to strengthen characterization, not to be provocative. For example, a heroine may admire the hero’s good looks but her primary focus would be on his admirable characteristics. One technique that will highlight her growing interest in the hero, is to change how she describes the hero, as the story progresses. The focus on a chaste relationship in Christian romances has attracted a growing number of non-believers to the genre, heightening the stakes of skillfully weaving the spiritual thread into the plot.
The faith message in the Christian romance is what sets it apart from all other romances. Martin shows how to make the spiritual message rise “naturally from the developing conflicts based on the characters’ attempts to deal with their flaws or faith issues.” A list of questions helps writers flesh out their characters’ spirituality, and examples illustrate how to layer in these elements without stopping the story to preach a sermon. The primary purpose of the story is to entertain but when well-written, the spiritual thread will resonate with the reader long after the story is forgotten.
Even the chapters that address other aspects of fiction writing, such as handling point of view and writing effective dialogue, do so from the unique perspective of their application in a Christian romance. As I devoured chapter after chapter, I felt like everything I’d previously learned about the craft of writing and structuring a novel had finally been woven together into a cohesive vision of the novels I wish to write. Highly recommended.