I’ve been a reader just about forever. When I started writing, I think I instinctively knew what to put in the story. But on each book I’ve written, I feel as if I’ve learned a bit more about writing category romance. I thought I’d share with you some of what I’ve learned about reader (and editor) expectations. And of course you readers are welcome to chime in!
But first…some terminology.
But first…some terminology.
When I talk about category romance, I’m talking about shorter books that come out monthly from a publisher like Steeple Hill. (Other examples that aren’t inspirational would be Harlequin Super Romance or Silhouette Special Edition.) The talk on Inkwell Inspirations this week has been about the formula for romance. But saying they’re formulaic isn’t quite how I see it. Rather than A+B+C=D, I think of it more as writing within certain boundaries (or coloring inside the lines!). And those boundaries are the reader expectations.
If I were to pick up a romance novel where the heroine is a crook and cusses a blue streak and is on drugs (I judged something similar in a contest years ago!), and if the "hero" beat up on her, and if they hated each other until they suddenly decided to marry at the end, only to discover that it was a mistake…then I would be one very disappointed reader!
In fact, I probably wouldn’t make it past page 1. This most certainly would not fit the romance genre.
So what do readers expect from a category inspirational romance? What are the fair boundaries? I’ll share what I consider as I write my stories. And though some will be particular to category, a lot will be the same for most romance novels.
1. Flawed characters who have some type of spiritual journey or spiritual growth through the story. You don’t necessarily need a conversion scene, but there should be growth on both characters’ parts.
2. An internal struggle (aka internal conflict) that keeps the hero and heroine from falling in love on page one.
3. Some type of external conflict that forces these two to interact while they’re trying NOT to fall in love. :)
4. A sweet romance—not too steamy with the physical attraction. No love scenes. Kissing is okay, but they can’t be thinking so much about the physical as they think about the emotional.
5. A setting that’s relatable. Most seem to like small towns. They don’t really go for exotic settings.
6. The romance is central. There are usually secondary characters and family relationships, and also the faith journeys, but they can’t overshadow the romance.
7. The story and characters can’t be preachy. They can’t be used to deliver a message about an issue. Refer back to number 6.
Personally, I think of category stories (as well as most books I read) as escapism. They transport me away from everyday life into the world of someone else, someone I can relate to, someone I can root for and worry about until…
The happy ending!
So what do you think? I’m sure there are romance expectations I didn’t think of! Readers (and writers), do you have anything you’d like to add regarding your expectations of inspirational romance? If you’ll leave me your input (and include contact info), I’ll be giving away a copy of my November 1st release, A Forever Christmas, in a drawing from among commenters! So help me out and let me know what you look for in a romance novel.
If you haven’t read a category romance lately, Missy’s third, A Forever Christmas, is available online now! Visit http://www.missytippens.com/ for more information or see the links below.
Back cover blurb for A Forever Christmas:
Sarah Radcliffe’s quiet Christmas back in her hometown will be lost if she agrees to direct the church’s Christmas pageant. But when she meets two little boys determined to gain their father’s attention, Sarah agrees to help. Then she discovers that the dad in question is Gregory Jones, the man she loved and lost.
The single dad is working himself to the bone to give his boys the Christmas of their dreams, when all they want is some family time. Time that includes a new mommy. If Sarah can learn to open her heart, she may receive the most wonderful present of all—a family of her own.
Bio: Missy Tippens is an award-winning writer and was a finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart Contest. She has a story included in Blessings of Mossy Creek, published by BelleBooks. After ten years of pursuing her dream, she made her first sale of a full-length novel to Steeple Hill Love Inspired. Her debut novel, Her Unlikely Family, was a 2009 ACFW Book of the Year finalist. Her next, His Forever Love, was a June release. And A Forever Christmas is available now at Amazon.com and e-harlequin.com (where you can read an excerpt)!