The Nuts & Bolts of Inspirational vs. Secular–Renee Ryan!

I am honored to be a guest this weekend. Thank you to all the Fillies for providing me this opportunity to blog. I’ve been a big fan of Petticoats & Pistols ever since it started, due in large part to the fact that I’m also a big fan sixgun2of westerns, and I mean all westerns, not just romances. My two favorite movies are Tombstone and 3:10 to Yuma. I’m also partial to High Noon with Gary Cooper, but who isn’t?

I’ve been fascinated with the Old West ever since I was a kid growing up in northeast Florida in the sixties, a heyday for all things western. I loved watching Gunsmoke on Sunday nights. Even better, there was this really cool theme park near my hometown called Six Gun Territory. My father took my twin sister and me there at least once a month. The park was set up like an old western town straight out of a 1960s television program. Yeehaw!

sixgun1Aside from all the usual rides and yummy food, Six Gun Territory staged a mock “shoot-out” every two hours in the deserted streets. Looking back with my adult eyes, I realize those shoot-outs had to be the cheesiest shows ever staged. But to a five-year-old little girl they were pure magic. The good guy always won! Hmmm, I think I’ve suddenly discovered the origin of my February release, THE MARSHAL TAKES A BRIDE. The hero is a dedicated lawman and the heroine has a five-year-old little sister who utterly charms the poor sucker, er…I mean hero…from page one. Maybe I should write a song, Ode to Six Gun Territory.

Or, maybe not.

For what it’s worth, the Old West has always been good to me. My first published novel was a western romance set in 1879 Denver, Colorado. EXTREME MEASURES came out in July 2002. That was seven years ago. SEVEN years ago! I could write an entire blog about that looooong dry spell. However, I won’t.

Suffice it to say, lots of things have happened in my life since that first novel hit the shelves. Most importantly, I’ve switched from writing secular romances to inspirational romances.

Although, I have found a lot of success thanks to the switch (I’m working on my fifth contracted manuscript for Steeple Hill) I can’t say the move was an easy one. It took me a long time and a lot of false starts to learn the difference between the two sub-genres.
Such as:

1. Level of Sensuality: This is the big difference between the two sub-genres and what I consider the pink elephant in the room. There is often a misconception about this topic so let me clear something up right now. Inspirational romances are not merely “sweet romances”. Oh, they can certainly be “sweet”, but this is not a prerequisite.

In fact, a writer cannot simply take sex out of the story, or even shut the door to the bedroom, and magically have an inspirational romance.

Yes, the story should have two people falling in love without the use of sex, or blatant sexual tension on the page. However, the focus should always be on the emotional connection between the hero and heroine rather than the physical connection. Put another way, whether it’s a kiss, a look or even a touch, the event needs to trigger an emotional reaction in the character(s) not a physical one.

marshaltakesbride2. Attending church: Yet another misconception out there and one that needs addressing. Simply sending characters to church on Sunday does not make a romance an inspirational.

Both the hero and heroine must go on a personal faith journey that is tied directly to their internal conflict. The inspirational thread is actually an additional element to the GMC of your character. Think of it this way: the internal growth of the hero and/or heroine must happen by way of the character’s faith journey.

3. The characters must all be good: No, no, no. Good is boring. Good is unrealistic. Good is…bad. In fact, the best inspirational romances are when the characters are deeply flawed from the inside out. The story will be much stronger if the hero and heroine make a few wrong decisions before they make the right ones.

I had a minister once say, “We’re all emotionally hurting on some level. Christians simply turn to Christ to help them get healthy.” That resonated with me as a writer and is something I keep in mind throughout the writing process.  The more human the characters, the more they’ve fallen away from their belief system, the bigger the journey required to return to a stronger faith than before. Getting them there is half the fun and the key to a good inspirational romance. ?

4. Inspirational romances are preachy: Again, not true. Every inspirational romance is different, of course. The level of “preaching” will depend on the type of story, but nowhere should the story be a place for the author to bang the reader over the head with his or her personal theology.

Salvation stories (where a character ultimately comes to Christ who wasn’t a believer at the beginning of the book) can sometimes seem preachy to someone not used to reading inspirational romances. It’s up to the author to thread Scripture into the story seamlessly.

Now, stories where both the hero and heroine are already Christians but have fallen away from their faith tend to be less preachy. However, the faith journey must still be strong and memorable. Again, it’s up to the author to make sure this journey is both realistic and inspiring.

So, there you go. A quick summary of what I think makes an inspirational romance different from a secular romance.

You might be interested to know that February 2009 marks the one year anniversary of Steeple Hill’s new line, Love Inspired Historical. To celebrate this anniversary, I will be giving away three autographed copies of my February release, THE MARSHAL TAKES A BRIDE, as well as one very special GRAND PRIZE. The grand prize winner will receive a copy of every Love Inspired Historical published during the past year. That’s twenty-four free books to one winner!

In order to sign up to win the grand prize, please send me an email at with your contact information of name, address, and email. I will draw the name of the GRAND PRIZE winner Sunday night, February 1, at 9:00 PM EST.

Thanks to everyone for stopping by this weekend. God bless you all!

reneeryanRenee Ryan writes for the Steeple Hill line Love Inspired Historical. Her fabulous editor is Melissa Endlich of Steeple Hill. Her first book in the Charity House series, The Marshall Takes a Bride is a February 2009 release. Her next book in the series, Hannah’s Beau, hits the shelves July 2009.

For further information check out

Click to order from Amazon!

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52 thoughts on “The Nuts & Bolts of Inspirational vs. Secular–Renee Ryan!”

  1. I enjoyed hearing about your transition from writing western historicals to inspirational westerns. I visited an old western city, about 25 years ago near, Tucson, Arizona. There they also staged the gun shoot-outs Apparently, several movies and TV shows had been filmed there. We loved walking around the set/town taking pictures etc.

    I’ve read several inspirationals: Jillian Hart, Leona Worth to name a couple. I like the bible quote in the beginning and like to see how it ties into the story line. I do not read the Bible,so I find it interesting.

    “The Marshal Takes A Bride” sounds like a book I’d love to read. Best of luck with your writing!

  2. Hi Renee,
    Congratulations on your success with inspriational romances. There are some wonderful writers out there who write inspirationals which I don’t find to be preachy and I do enjoy their romance and faith journey.

  3. Renee,
    What a great article. I so appreciate you mentioning some of my personal pet peeve misconceptions. Truly, the always good, never bad thing gets to me.
    Loved your article here and I’m looking forward to your upcoming Inspir. Historicals. So glad they finally decided to let this line have a chance.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I enjoyed it.

  4. “We’re all emotionally hurting on some level. Christians simply turn to Christ to help them get healthy.” I love this. People tend to think just because you are human and do human things make you less than a christian.

    Your new story sounds wonderful. Can’t wait to read it.

  5. Good morning, everyone. I sort of overslept — but, hey, it’s Saturday so I’m not feeling too bad about it. 😉

    Glad to be here this weekend. I’ll be popping in both days to say “howdy” and other stuff.

    Laurie, you mentioned some of my favorite authors. I think Steeple Hill has done a great job with all three of the Love Inspired lines.

    Maureen, I’m with you! I’m not a big fan of the “preachy” inspirationals, either. I love to see stories where the characters struggle with their faith and have genuine, real-life questions. I certainly hope my stories do that. 😉

    Robyn, I think Steeple Hill has done a brilliant job of launching the Love Inspired Historical line. I’m seeing a lot of risk-taking. The best part is that at least one title per month is a Western. Yeehaw!!!!!

    Sherry, you are so right. I think a lot of Christians try to hard to be perfect. That’s not victory. You know???


  6. Howdy, Renee! I love your explanation of inspirationals, especially where you said “Good is boring.” That’s so true! I read somewhere that only conflict is interesting. If we wrote only perfect characters, we wouldn’t have stories to tell. Not to mention the fact that *no one* is perfect . . . we’d be writing fantasy.

    As for levels of sensuality, I’ve found the inspirationals can be surprisingly evocative. Subtle, yes. But the attraction is still front and center. Enjoy your day!

  7. Hi Vicki,

    Waving at my fellow LIH author and February release buddy. Yes, I think you’re right about the level of sensuality. I think you do a marvelous job of weaving in the faith element and subtle attraction in your books. I CAN’T wait to read THE MAVERICK PREACHER — as soon as I hit my current deadline. 😉

    Oh, and I’m glad you enjoyed the article, anon1001!

  8. I loved the opening of THE MARSHAL TAKES A BRIDE. You built such tension that I sat on the edge of my seat. Who wouldn’t cheer for and fall in love with 5-year-old Molly Taylor and all the Charity House characters? You really brought 1880’s Denver alive in your exciting story. Congratulations, Renee!

  9. What a great post! I love reading and writing westerns (a western serial of mine ran for nearly two years a few years back). Your points are very helpful. And I’m thrilled to find this blog!

  10. Hi, Renee, so fun to have you on P & P and have met you.
    I advise you to not go back to Six gun Territory. All your illusions might be crushed. Unless you’ve got young children, then maybe you can see it through their eyes.

    Good post. Good job of explaining inspirational romance. The truth is, often, characters in inspy are very deeply flawed…very. And the inspirational aspect of the book is another tool — another bow in our quiver if you will 😀 — we use to help them work through their conflict on their way to finding True Love.

  11. Hi Terry,

    Great to see you here. And THANK YOU for your kind words about TMTB. I really loved writing those characters. Molly still gets to me. 😉

    Welcome Devon! I’m so glad to meet another fan of Westerns. Do you have any favorite movies or books?

    Mae! Hey, girl! Is it true? I hear you have a mean high kick. Woohooooo!!!!!

  12. Mary,

    Great point about the faith element working as another bow in the quiver. I often find Inspirational romances tackle some of the toughest issues around. Francine Rivers comes to mind.

    And, er, yeah. I think I’ll keep my illusions about Six Gun Territory firmly in place. My kids are far too old (youngest is a junior in high school) to take. They’d tear the show to shreds.

  13. Hi,

    I wanted to add my comments and congrats on THTAB. I just finished reading this book last week. I’ve ordered quite a few Steeple Hill books recently, as ebooks, as we don’t get SH here in England.

    I’ve loved Little House on the Prairie as a young girl (TV show and the books) and am a real fan of western books, particularly historicals.

    I cried three times during your book, Renee, the characters were so well written I really felt for them. I’m looking forward to the next 2 in the series!


  14. Thanks so much for sharing with us today… what a great post… Love Inspired Historical… such a great and character uplifting series! 😀

  15. Hi Renee,Congratulations.

    Love how youw book sounds.

    Like Lauire, I loved when I visited AZ and saw those spots, would have enjoyed livng during that time, but then if I did, I might not have wanted too then, lol.


  16. I’ve recently read several LIH novels and enjoyed them. They made a great change from a couple which were really a bit “over the top!” Looking forward to reading your upcoming release!

    Pat Cochran

  17. Hi Renee,

    Welcome to P&P! We’re thrilled to have you blog with us. And what an interesting subject. You cleared up a lot of misconceptions I had about writing inspirationals. I love reading them even though I write secular stories. At a time when it seems writers are really going overboard with the sex and language it’s nice to read a book that doesn’t bombard me with that. I skip over love scenes anyway and bad language takes me right out of the story.

    Congratulations on THE MARSHAL TAKES A BRIDE! It looks wonderful. I’ll be on the lookout for it. Good luck with your sales!

  18. Joanne, WOW, I’m so glad you enjoyed The Marshal Takes a Bride. I’m especially glad the characters resonated with you. But, bummer you can’t get the books in England. Thank goodness for modern technology!

    Hi Colleen, I agree about Inspirational Historicals. I think the historical time periods really work for the inpirational message, mainly because faith was such a part of their lives. You know?

    Dina, you and Laurie make me want to take a trip to AZ now. I love “real life” history farms/ranches/towns.

  19. Renee, Really enjoyed reading about your transistion. I love inspirational books and have read and own lots of them. I work at a school and share these books with some of the students who now bring some of them to me. I never have to be uncomfortable having one of them see me reading them.

    I will be looking for THE MARSHALL TAKES A BRIDE.

    By the way, my bow will not fit in my quiver, only the arrows fit. Of course the bows used today are much larger than although shorter than the bows used a long time ago.

  20. Pat and Linda, you both make an interesting point about “over the top” sensuality in some of the recent historicals. It’s almost as if the market is polarizing, which could alienate a lot of readers. I don’t think it has to be all or nothing, but maybe that’s just me.

  21. Connie,

    LOLOLOL Thanks for the catch. Yeah, I don’t think my bows will fit in my quiver, either. Just call me speedy-gun-fingers or maybe slow-poke-brain or maybe both.

    My daughter is in high school and I can finally give her my books without any fear of embarrassing her. Well, okay, I embarrass her hourly, but you know what I mean. 😉

  22. Hi Renee,
    It’s great to meet you via this blog. The Six Gun Theme park reminds me of our own Knott’s Berry Farm park, where they’d have shoot-outs (yes, cheesy too) on the streets and a stagecoach robbery on every ride. I loved it. We panned for gold in those early days, now the park is much more commericalized. But oh, it was fun for child who loved the wild west!

    You really brought to light a lot myths regarding writing inspys and brought forth the info in a very clear way.
    Wonderful blog today and a great grand prize!

  23. Renee, oh my! You’ve had a busy morning already. Thanks for giving us your weekend here in Wildflower Junction!

    Your blog is top-notch. There’s a reason why inspirationals are surging in popularity right now. They certainly fill a need in just about all of us to rely on faith–it’s a lot of fun to read about how a man and woman rely on each other, too, at the same time.

  24. Great article and it explains everything so clearly. I too switched from secular to inspirational, but not before I received my first contract. The differences did take me some time to learn. Congrats on your success and I’m really enjoying the LI historical line.

  25. Thanks for the article. I love the title of your book. I’d love to win a copy of it also.

    ABreading4fun [at] gmail [dot] com

  26. Pam, it’s been a FUN day. I love talking about anything western and anything writing. Can’t think of a better place to do either.

    Jennifer, oh, another person who “took the leap of faith”. 😉 So, what did you find to be the toughest part of the switch?

    Abi, glad to hear you like the title. My editor and I went through thirty hits and misses before settling on that one. You’re on the list, by the way.

  27. Hello, my friend! I am so late getting to the Junction today…busy morning getting ready for a houseful tomorrow. I am so excited to read Marshall Takes a Bride (I loved Extreme Measures) because I have taken to heart your recent suggestion that I too might find my path in inspirational Westerns…I met an agent in San Francisco who said the same thing. So…we’ll have to see LOL.

    This blog is definitely one I will read and re-read again and again. Thanks for the great information.

    Re: Westerns. We took the train trip trip to the Grand Canyon not long ago and there too they have a Western re-enactment (very cute) and outlaws who hold up the train! They were soooooooo realistic I gave him five bucks 🙂

    We’ll I’ll talk to you soon Hugs and best wishes for continued success!

  28. Congratulations on your Anniversary! I enjoy finding out about new books on this website and “The Marshall Takes a Bride” looks like a great one!

  29. Hi Estella, thanks. I hope you get a chance to enjoy it! 🙂

    Tanya!!! My fellow New Historical Voice Contest finalist. I enjoyed your book, THE OUTLAW’S WOMAN, dearly. You have a real knack for Westerns and a lovely voice. I would love to see you “take a leap of faith”. GO, TANYA!!!

    Kathleen, thanks for visiting my website. I really think the web designer captured the flavor of the Old West. Yeehaw!

  30. I confess to looking ahead and peeking at your blog previously, so I knew how good it was! I enjoyed it a lot, and hopefully you debunked some common misconceptions about inspirationals.

    Your drawing giveaway is a HUMMDINGER of a prize, girlfriend! What a great way to introduce the line – and a lot of good authors – to a really blessed reader!

    Thanks for being our guest at the Junction this weekend. We’re so glad you came by for a spell.

  31. Hey Renee, so nice to see you here. Great post! I loved every minute of the western re-enactment scene when we were in Orlando although I can’t remember if it was on the Disney or Universal studio lot.

    Thank you so much for the Inspy VS Secular. I’ve already did the copy and paste thing of your post.

    I simply can’t wait to read your book! And, I’ve already sent you an email because it’s a prize too good to pass us.

  32. Hi Renee, its so nice of you to join us at P&P. Thanks for sharing your information with us about your change to the Love Inspired historical. I love reading them. I am running a little late today because I have been playing catch up here because we have been without power and heat this past week due to a winter storm and its so nice to have it back. I have been lost without my computer and books.

  33. Hi Renee! Wonderful blog! Thank you for explaining the differences between inspirational vs. secular romances. I’ve just begun reading the LIH line and I’m loving them! The Marshal Takes A Bride sounds like a book I would really enjoy! I can’t wait to read it! Thanks for blogging here at P&P!

  34. Hi Renee. Great blog. Thank you for explaining the difference between inspirational and secular romance. Your books sounds great. Beautiful cover.

  35. Cheryl, I hope I debunked some misconceptions as well. I’m so glad I get to give this great prize away here. 😉

    Anita Mae, I’m glad my short explanation helped. Thanks for entering the contest…one more day and I’ll draw the winner!!

    Quilt Lady, no power and heat? UGH! Now that’s taking realism a bit too far. Okay, I know it wasn’t your choice, but don’t wonder how they actually lived in the Old West? Winters must have been ghastly.

    Margie, glad to hear you’re a fan of the new LIH line. I haven’t been disappointed by a single title. Not one!

    Crystal, thanks for the compliments on the cover. Yeah, I really got a good one. I’m trying to figure out how to frame a copy. 😉

  36. Renee, Thanks for the explanation of Secular versus Inspirational. This is a good read. You always have something interesting to say. You have such a good spirit.

    Noda Marie Ross

  37. Hi Renee! Thank you for the great blog! Your cover for The Marshal Takes A Bride is just gorgeous! It sounds like such a good book! Westerns are my favorite genre. I love the LIH line! Keep them coming!

  38. hi there! sorry I am late chiming in-it’s been a long weekend for me (I have 2 sick daughters)

    I admit that Ive never read an inspirational romance! I just never think to look for one, to be honest! I really enjoyed reading your blog!

    Have a wonderful week!

  39. Okay, don’t forget to register for the prizes by sending an email to There are still a few hours left. If you sent an email already I will be confirming that I got your entry in the next hour or so. Then we’ll do the drawing at 9:00 PM EST.

    For those of you watching the Super Bowl tonight — have FUN!

  40. Good descriptions and distinctions regarding inspirational romance! Thanks. And thanks for writing wonderful inspirational romance! I love to include them in my reading (between Historical romance and romantic suspense) as they are usually light, easy and inspiring/uplifting reads!

  41. Great blog, Renee! As an Inspy writer myself, I hear about people’s misconceptions about Inspirationals all the time. Thanks for doing such a fab job of explaining what really sets them apart. I’m looking forward to reading The Marshall Takes A Bride!

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