Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Welcome Steeple Hill author Missy Tippens!

Formula One Romance—Coloring Inside the Lines
By Missy Tippens

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.

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 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 and (where you can read an excerpt)!


  1. Welcome to Inktropolis, Missy! Thanks for agreeing to post while we go behind the scenes of a romance novel.

    Coloring within the lines does sound a lot nicer than formula, doesn't it? It places the emphasis on the vast differences between how writers would write even the same story! Give ten writers a setting, a h/h and the basis of a conflict and you'll get ten stories that are very different. Much like the artwork along a primary school hallway.

    And because I'm always up early, here's a warm welcome to all our visitors from Seekerville and Life With Missy. Thanks for stopping in!
    Hey. ya'll look really familiar!

  2. This is a great post Missy! Coloring within the lines sounds so much more accurate than formulaic.
    Thanks for the LI tips!

  3. I enjoyed that glimpse into the mind of the category romance reader. I read all different sorts of books, so I never quite understood their fascination with the familiar.

    If I do choose category romance, it's usually because something unique about the heroine stands out to me. For example, I remember one I loved about a former ballerina. I would probably enjoy your "Forever Christmas" because I have directed one too many Christmas plays for my own good :)

    Usually, I like for reading to be an adventure that takes me to a time and place I haven't been before, but I have to admit, there is something comforting about the familiar.

    Thanks for the advice and insight, Missy.


  4. Good morning, Debra! Yeah, I like "coloring within the lines" because that also hints at maybe, just maybe, daring to scribble just a dab outside the lines on occasion. Just for the adventure. :)

    Thanks for having me today, ladies!!

  5. Jessica,

    Well, formula is also accurate because there are some basic guidelines to think about. But the word has kind of gotten a bad rap. And well, since I think of math or physics formulas when I see the word, I started trying to think of another way to state it. :)

  6. Dina,

    LOL on the Christmas plays! :)

    I also love unique settings. I love other time periods. I love to read all kinds of romance novels. And it's kind of interesting to me how readers of different category lines have expectations. But I guess it's a way of guaranteeing a particular reading experience. Like you said, it's comforting to go to the familiar--and then seeing everything turn out happily everafter.

  7. Missy: Wow, you nailed it down pretty tightly. I love the idea of Coloring in the Lines. Makes me want to break out the magenta and burnt sienna and sit on the floor with my Pebbles and Bam-Bam coloring book. Only I don't arise as smoothly as I used to...

    A factor I enjoy in romance novels is learning something new or surprising. Whether it involves a cultural difference or a little-known historical fact, I always feel enriched if I can come away with at least one new morsel of knowledge.

    Please enter me in the contest; I'd love to win A Forever Chrstmas!


  8. Jeanette,

    That's a great point about a reader learning some little nugget! Since I write contemporary, I don't think of that as much as if I wrote historical. But I'll keep that in mind as I write, now!

    Thanks for stopping by!
    P.S. I also loved Magenta! :)

  9. Hi, Missy! A most excellent post. Thank goodness for "category romance", which fills the gap between "blockbusters" and "sweeping romantic sagas"! Sometimes those smaller books are extremely well-written, making the most of the space at hand. The focus is on the characters and the resolution of their conflicts without a lot of added filler. You covered just about everything in your post. I would just add how much fun it is to see the characters handle the surprise of their seemingly unwanted attraction. Also, watching their spiritual growth unfold is quite touching.

    gcwhiskas at aol dot com

  10. Virginia,

    Those are two great things to add! I love the attraction part, too. In fact, I had to tone that down some in my first book. LOL But I think it's so fun to see characters fight it. :

    You know, the spiritual journey is sometimes difficult for me. I want to make it very realistic. Sometimes it needs to be more gradual. In fact, usually it's more gradual in my stories. But in A Forever Christmas, it hits my hero right between the eyes during the kids' Christmas play! :) It was fun to write, but I worried it wouldn't come across as believable. A tough thing to write!

    Thanks for stopping by and for your additions!

  11. Hi Missy! I'm so glad you joined us today. Thank you for the very insightful post. Like Jeanette, it made me want to find some crayons and a coloring book. LOL!

    I'm reading A Forever Christmas right now, and I can tell everyone, you'll LOVE it! It's lots of fun.

  12. I cannot wait for this book, Missy. I check in every time I'm in Walmart. It's almost time isn't it?

  13. Suzie, thank you!! I'm so glad you're enjoying it! :)

  14. Mary, it should be on the shelves now. I saw the November books at my grocery store yesterday. But now that they've gone to 6 books, mine will only be there if they carry all 6. My grocery store only carries 4 so mine wasn't there. :(

    I hope you find it. I haven't gotten on the ball enough to send them out to the Seekers yet!

  15. Missy, welcome to the world of Ink Blots! Congratulations on your new books!

    Hmmm...what do I look for in a romance? Strong characters who stifle an unrequited passion for each other and finally place it under God's plan.

    May God bless your writing career!


  16. Missy!

    A Forever Christmas was in my WalMart and now it's on my shelf!!!


    I can't wait to read it and revisit that charming little town and my buddies there. And have I mentioned I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Christmas books?

    It's tempting me, but I'm waiting on my Christmas books for a smidge more. Just a smidge. I need to get beyond Halloween, have the leaves fall (which they're doing today in heavy rain and wind!) and start planning Thanksgiving Feasting...

    Then I can start Christmas reading and viewing, LOL!

    Great post today. I love your depiction of coloring within the lines. Totally works.

    AND... Virginia's comment about the Hero and heroine being surprised.

    I love God surprises, especially when they revolve around unexpected romance.

    Oh, that God!!!



  17. A Forever Christmas sounds wonderful.I enjoy reading Christmas books. I like all of your books.Please enter me in the giveaway.
    augustlily06(at)aim(dot)com.Thank you.

  18. Hi, Missy: Welcome to Inktropolis. It's such a pleasure having you here.

    I love the idea of 'coloring inside the lines' because the lines aren't defined. They could be oblong, heart-shaped or a rambling maze. So you can stretch the borders and use any color as long as you stay with-in. It's a whole new way to see the same old, same old!

    Thanks for taking the time to visit.


  19. Thank you so much for your post today, Missy. Beautifully phrased. I love category romance, and yours are keepers. Sadly, Target didn't have A Forever Christmas today. In fact, I didn't see any SH at all... I hope that doesn't mean what I think it means.

    I will have to print this page out; I love how you've outlined things for us. May God continue to bless your writing.

  20. I'm so excited to see more comments! but I have to run start the afternoon school pickups, etc. And if I'm not there right on the dot, my son calls me. LOL Plus, I also promised him a run to Gamestop today. :)

    So I'll check back in as soon as I can!

  21. Category romance is definitely coloring between the lines. That's a bit of a struggle for me sometimes, as my characters/plots start to veer into open fields.

    But I love categories. Writing them is a particular skill, one I'm trying to develop.

    In addition to what you listed, I like to learn something--about a setting, a profession, etc. These twists on the tried and true keep the categories fresh.

    Last, I love categories with a multicolored cast of characters. Like the world in which we live.

  22. Great post. For me the number one expectation i have reading a category romance is the Happily Ever After. I also don't expect a cliffhanger ending in a category romance. I am also looking for well developed characters. I want to be able to feel their emotions and identify with their struggles. I also love getting a good feel for the setting of the story.


  23. Hi Missy!
    It's so nice to see you here. I know that each book we write is like different children in our homes. Is there anything that you can pinpoint about any of your books that made you stop and think something like I'd really like to explore that subject further, but because of limited word count that will have to wait for another day? I'll have to check the shelves of the bookstores in Cincinnati and see if your latest has arrived.

    Thanks so much for being here.

  24. Thanks for this great post, and please put me in the drawing for the Christmas book! crmcc at setel dot com

  25. Thanks for this great post, and please put me in the drawing for the Christmas book! crmcc at setel dot com

  26. I'm finally home! Gamestop led to Walmart... and you know how that goes! LOL Then of course, all the Wednesday night stuff at church. :)

    I'll go catch up now...

  27. Thank you, Patti! I'm so glad to be here.

    And thanks for your input. You said it nicely. :)

  28. Hey, Ruthy! Thank you for telling me about my book in Walmart!! I checked at my store today and they don't have November books yet. And they only had 1 copy of an Oct. book left, so I have no idea whether or not they had 6 books.

    Oh, and thanks for buying it!! :) I'm with you. I can't think of Christmas until well after Halloween and prefer not to until after Thanksgiving. My only concern is that your dog (or a child) eats my book before you read it! LOL


  29. Thank you, Emma! And thanks for stopping by.

  30. Hey, Connie! I love how you said that the lines aren't rigid. We definitely have a lot of room within those lines. :) And I think that's what keeps readers reading as well--variety.

  31. Hi, Susanne! I hate to hear that about Target. But I've seen other Target stores that don't get Harlequin books any longer. I'm thrilled that my store does carry them as well as the Steeple Hill books. I just hope they get mine! :)


  32. Hi, Patricia! I'm so glad you stopped by.

    Thanks for your input about the cast of multicolored characters! I added a new secondary character today in my proposal. I realized I needed to expand and make more a feeling of community. Next is to go through and add in more setting and description (my weakness).

  33. Cherie,

    I definitely agree about that happy ending! I love reading women's fiction. And I also love some literary fiction. But I need a happy ending. Or at least a very satisfying ending.

    I also totally agree about the emotion. I want to laugh and cry when I read. And I hope to do that for my readers.

    Thanks for your input!

  34. Hey, Jill! I hope you're feeling better and all over the pneumonia.

    As for your question...I haven't really gotten to that point in any of the books I've sold. But I have had that happen in stories that turned out not to work for my publisher. I guess they're ultimately more geared toward a longer book that's women's fiction (more about the character growth than about the romance). So I'm saving those ideas to explore later when I have time (like maybe in the next decade!). :)

    Thanks for checking for me on the book. I'd love to hear what you find around there.

  35. Hi, Rose. thanks so much for stopping by!

  36. Wow, I can't really think of anything else to add to your list. Some books that I've read has some kind of suspenseful part though--as in hints are given in throughout the story that hints towards the internal conflict that the character struggles with. I always can't wait to get to the part where it's revealed in its entirety. Kind of like a secret, I guess or the entire story behind the internal conflict.

    cynthiakchow at earthlink dot net

  37. That's a great one to add, Cynthia! I love keeping secrets from the reader and revealing bit by bit. I also love to reveal a secret from one character, and then have the reader dread the other character finding out! :)

    Thanks for stopping by!

  38. The winner of the copy of A Forever Christmas is Jeanette Levellie! Thanks to everyone for entering!

    Jeanette, I'll email you privately for your address.

  39. Hi Missy,
    You're on the shelves in my local Kroger Grocery store! :)

  40. Yay! Thank you, Jill! I'm thrilled to hear it. :)


Share This Post

How Our Giveaways Work: The Official Rules

We, the ladies of Inkwell Inspirations, would love to give free stuff to everybody. Since we can't, we will often have a giveaway in conjunction with a specific post. Unless otherwise stated, one winner will be drawn from comments left on that post between the date it was published and the end of the giveaway as determined in the post. Entries must be accompanied by a valid email address. This address is used only to contact the commenter in the event that he/she is the winner, and will not be sold, distributed, or used in any other fashion. The odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. NO PURCHASE, PLEDGE, OR DONATION NECESSARY TO ENTER OR TO WIN. ALL FEDERAL, STATE, LOCAL AND MUNICIPAL LAWS AND REGULATIONS APPLY. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED.