This is a genre I do like to read if it is done well but also one that makes me completely cringe when I see it done poorly. This is also a very competitive market right now so if you want to write in this genre, you have to be dang good at it. Writers can be extremely successful with inspirational stories if they know what they are doing. Too often, when I see inspirationals come across my desk (which up until recently were accidents) I see stories that are really forced and lack that "umph" necessary to really be competitive in this market. Let me explain.
Writing inspirationals involves much more than simply having the characters pray about everything, remind themselves what they are doing by throwing scripture out every now and then, and eliminating the sex. Writing inspirationals really goes back to the same things I keep screaming about time and time again - what is the theme and thesis of your story? Out of all of the genres out there, the theme is beyond important with inspirational writing. In many ways you have to think of these stories as being fables with a single message you want the reader to walk away with.
Let's first talk about what an inspirational romance is. When we look at the basic elements of this genre, we are looking at how one or more of the characters are transformed over time through inspiration and religion. Because it is also a romance, along the way, we are watching the growing attraction and emotion occurring between the characters. All of the plot and character development through the story is guided by a single theme or idea that you want the reader to walk away with.
If, for example, you wanted to build a story around John 4:48 "Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe," you might set up the story where the heroine, involved in say an underprivileged education program has to bring the corporate hero down to her level just to see where the money is going to. Basic, straightforward but a theme that can guide the entire story. Because it is a theme, the author is not going to come right out and say this is what the person is teaching. Instead, the actions, tone and certainly the plot elements will always circle back around and give us one more piece of information to understand the theme.
Think of it this way. In the Bible, Jesus speaks of 6 parables that are really designed for the general public. Each of the parables adds an element to the over-all message/theme he is sending to the people. These would include:
- The Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13: 3-9)
- The Wheat and the Tares (Matt. 13: 24-30)
- The Lamp Under the Bushel (Mark 4: 21-25)
- The Mustard Seed (Matt. 13: 31-32)
- The Kingdom Like Leaven (Matt. 13: 33)
- The Seed Cast Into The Ground (Mark 4: 26-29)
In this case, each of the parables, although telling a different story and a different aspect of the Kingdom of God through the eyes of Jesus, is set up to provide one small piece of the bigger story. With inspirational romance, we see the characters doing the same thing as they encounter new conflicts and complications throughout the story.
We come to the next element of inspirational romances - Bible quoting. Because these are themes that just melt into the story, does this mean that the characters can't quote scripture or pray? Quoting scripture is fine, if this is something the character would do naturally. I do think, however, that far too many authors force the scripture quoting into the story and then things sound a bit forced. What we should be seeing in the story is very similar to the ideas that the Apostle Paul talks about with his idea of "justification by faith." The thing that comes first is the faith and then the actions follow, not the reverse.
One of the inspirational romances that I remember really doing a great job of getting a message across to the readers was Carla Capshaw's The Protector and I believe this does a great job with showing how the
inspirational message is really guiding the characters. Why does it works so well here? It is set in ancient Rome so the characters are really lacking the ability to run around and quote Bible passages. It is strictly the faith issues that are guiding the characters.
Now there are certainly restrictions of things that can or cannot be included in inspirational romances, but most of this is because of the book sellers and who their market is. Sex, language, alcohol usage and so forth are issues that need to be addressed when writing in these genres. Please note however, that just eliminating the characters having sex or cursing does not make a story an inspirational romance.
The key to all of this is to be subtle. Use the Scripture and use the message as the theme to build the story around. It takes talent but you have to trust yourself to do it. Don't force the story.
This is an exciting genre to write in but one that does require A LOT of research on the part of an author to be successful. This is also a genre that you need to have the right agent for to help you. Some of the agents out there really understand this genre well. As for me at Greyhaus, the only area of inspirational romances that I will work with are the Love Inspired Lines of Harlequin - Love Inspired, Love Inspired Historical, and Love Inspired Suspense. I am going to leave the navigation of the larger single title inspirational presses to my esteemed colleagues.