What makes an Inspirational Romance?

Extreme Measures  My first published novel was a western romance set in 1879 Denver, Colorado. EXTREME MEASURES came out in July 2002 and was a secular novel with Dorchester Publishing.  The sale of that first novel was very high-profile.  I entered the inaugural Romantic Times New Historical Voice Contest.  And won.  The prize was a publishing contract and a nice feature in the magazine. 

Alas, my journey could have ended there.  I couldn’t buy interest in my secular romances.  II went many years without another sale, and only found success again when I switched from writing secular romances to inspirational romances.

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.  Here are some of the misconceptions I had about the Inspirational romance market.

1. Level of Sensuality: This is the big difference between the two sub-genres and what I consider the pink elephant in the room. 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.

2. Attending church: Yet another misconception.  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.CountryChurch_Large1[1]

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 present this journey smoothly.

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 still needs to be strong. Again, it’s up to the author to make sure this journey is both realistic and (wait for it…) inspiring.

So, there you go. A quick summary of what I think makes an inspirational romance different from a secular romance.  What say you?  What differences have you noticed?FINALLY A BRIDE cover art

Leave a comment and you’ll be eligible to win a copy of my November release, FINALLY A BRIDE, the seventh novel in my Charity House series.  Here’s a quick blurb:

Reclaiming the Runaway Bride 

Seven years and two broken engagements haven’t erased Garrett Mitchell from Molly Scott’s mind. Her employer insists Molly and Garrett belong together. To appease the well-meaning matchmaker, the pair agrees to a pretend courtship. But too late, Molly finds herself falling for a man who might never trust her. 

Garrett is a prominent Denver attorney now, not the naive seventeen-year-old who always felt second-best. Surely the string of suitors Molly’s left behind only proves her fickleness. Does Garrett dare believe that she has only ever been waiting for him? The third engagement could be the charm, for his first—and only—love. 

Charity House: Offering an oasis of hope, faith and love on the rugged Colorado frontier

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Award-winning, multi-published author Renee Ryan sold her first book by winning the 2001 inaugural Dorchester/Romantic Times New Historical Voice Contest. She sold her second book to Harlequin Love Inspired Historical and has since sold nine more manuscripts to Love Inspired and Love Inspired Historical.

30 thoughts on “What makes an Inspirational Romance?”

  1. Hi Renee, so wonderful you found the right journey to take, even if there were some bumps in the road. Your books, starting with Extreme Measures, are always a delight.

    I agree with your points today, but I have read some inspirational romances that are so judgmental I would have thrown them across the room if it wouldn’t have wrecked my Kindle. Most I read, though, as you say, aren’t like that. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, or whatever the old saying is. Anyway, I love your books and hope you write a zillion more of them. Reclaiming the Runaway Bride is sure to be another winner.

  2. I love the quote you shared from the minister! I will definitely be sharing that with my friends 🙂 Thanks for the giveaway!

  3. Love the summary of differences you gave. I have always wondered what exactly distinguished between the two genres. There are so many readers out there and we are all going to like something a little different that I wonder how a list of “this is correct” can even be made. (by publishers) If only it was as easy as writing how you want to and knowing those readers who like that style will find it. I pray you have continued success in your writing! (no need to enter me, I have won recently and would love for someone else to have a chance)

  4. What a great summary of the differences between secular and inspirational romances. I always love the character’s journey to a stronger faith!

    I look forward to reading Garrett and Molly’s story in FINALLY A BRIDE. Thank you for the opportunity to win a copy!

  5. This was a great post! I definitely agree that there are some major differences between secular and inspirational romance novels. Your number one and number four are the biggies to me.

    I read a particular novel (which shall remain nameless for obvious reasons :P) that was labeled as “Christian” and I ended up returning it because of graphic sexual content. I felt…betrayed, somehow. Not to mention the characters lacked any sort of emotional connection.

    I can’t even count the number of reviews I’ve read that accused inspirational romances of reading like a tract. I feel the level of preachiness (is that a word?) is subjective and usually comes down to an individual’s exposure to this content. Though, like Tanya has already said, we all have our druthers.

  6. Great post! I didn’t realize what the differents is between the two. I love the post here and learn so much from them.

  7. Renee, what in interesting and enlightening post. I’ve often wondered exactly what makes a story an inspirational. I knew there were certain differences but wasn’t sure what they were. I love your stories. I vividly remember Dorchester doing the New Historical Voice Contest because I entered that also and that’s how I got the contract for my first book Knight on the Texas Plains.

    Congratulations on your new release!! It looks and sounds wonderful.

  8. What a great post! The differences between secular and inspirational romances are vast and yet both bring so much enjoyment to so many people. I look forward to learning more about Garrett and Molly. Thank you for the opportunity to win a copy of Finally A Bride.

  9. Good morning, Tanya. We’ve both had quite the journey, haven’t we? I love that you’ve been with me every step of the way. Who knew we’d end up blog mates all those years ago? God bless Dorchester. 😉

  10. Susan P, you make such a great point. So many readers, with so many varying likes and dislikes. It is very hard to meet everyone’s needs. So…we write the best books we can and send them out, praying we find an audience. That’s about all we can do.

  11. I never stopped to think about the misconceptions in this type of book..so thanks for your information…it got me to thinking so when I read another inspirational romance book I will be more aware.

  12. I think for me when reading a story I don’t look for the same old story lines and predicable plots, I like to find things turned around or unexpected! I think one of my favorite things to find in story is when the heroine saves what would might be considered the hero of the story. it shows that they both need each other not just one or the other.

  13. The level of sensuality in inspirational romances is the biggest difference that I have noticed. That can certainly be a welcome change, but I don’t want it to be non-existent.

    Renee, I have enjoyed your books in the past, and this new one sounds like another winner!

  14. Thanks for such a wonderful description of the differences between inspirational and secular romance, Renee. Your new book sounds like both your heroine and hero go through quite a journey towards their HEA. I look forward to reading it.

    –Kirsten

  15. Good is…bad. LOL
    Well put, Renee.
    I’m fond of saying, “Some Christian fiction authors write powerful works of life changing fiction and that’s wonderful. Me, I think of my work as good clean fun.”

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