The musings of a young novelist

Writing Romance: Where to Draw the Line?

(UPDATED 4/15/17)

 

Letter to My Book(1)

For some people, merely hearing the word “romance” has eyes rolling. For others, it sets hearts pounding. For others—namely the writers—it brings memories of much face-palming and head-desking.

Let’s face it: plenty of things go on between couples that other people shouldn’t see, whether it be a private conversation, a passionate kiss, etc. Therefore, they shouldn’t go in books. Readers are smart, and a little imagination can go a long way. There is no need to be explicit about subjects that should be reserved for husbands and wives.

For years, writing romance has caused me countless headaches and ruined stories. The very idea of writing a book with romance had me gagging. Hence, I decided that the best route to take was to write romance-free books.

* cue sarcastic laughter *

Yes, well, to my thirteen-year-old brain, that sounded like the ideal solution. It was a great idea in theory, but my characters revolted. I found myself needing a way to handle their romance rather than ignore it.

But that led me back to my biggest fear—gag-worthy romances. I never read many of those in the first place, but just about everyone in this world, including myself, will admit that they have read an encounter between a couple that made them uncomfortable. Even if the couple is married, the way they show affection to one another—affection that is not “wrong”—can feel very wrong to be reading it.

On the flip side, there are those books where the couples rarely show affection to one another to the point where their lack of affection pulls you out of the story because you are too busy trying to figure out if they “go together” or not.

 

 

As a reader, either one of these scenarios can be maddening. As a writer, it can be hard (or IMPOSSIBLE!!!) to know how much romance is appropriate to show.

So how can you know?

Each writer must examine himself or herself individually to find their ideal balance. For me personally, it has taken years of careful thought, prayerful decisions, and a lot of self-examination. Whether I be writing a romantic scene or reading a romantic scene, I ask myself this question:

Would that couple be doing/saying/behaving that way if someone was standing in the room watching them?

 

Think about it: do you feel uncomfortable when a couple in a book hugs? Or when a husband and wife kiss each other in greeting? Neither of those things bother me in books. Neither of them bother me in the real world.

 

 

Let’s look at some examples of well-done romance in books. This first one comes from A Penny Parcel by Avery E. Hitch. The main characters, Luke and his wife, Grace, are lying in bed. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? Wrong. Look how Avery Hitch handles this bedroom conversation:

 

“Luke rolled over….

Grace slid her hand across the sheets and reached for his. “I still love you,” she said in a painful whisper.

He gripped her hand, but said nothing. Even with her hand held tightly in his, Luke felt like everything was slipping through his fingers.”

 

Did that make you nervous? Uncomfortable? It didn’t bother me. Yet look at what we have—an intimate conversation in an off-limits location (for bystanders), yet nothing about that scene was uncomfortable. Would Luke and Grace have behaved differently had someone been in the room with them?

Now let’s look at a different kind of scene—one that involves kissing. (Stop rolling your eyes it does have to happen sometimes.). This is taken from a story of mine.

“She turned her head slightly to press her lips against his. Eight years of marriage still hadn’t taken away the flutter in her heart.”

Could I have described the kiss in more detail? Sure. Do I want to? Not really. Could I have described it in more detail while still keeping it appropriate (according to my personal guideline)? Probably.

What about integrating physical contact? Same rules apply. This example is taken from my first novel, The Old River Road.

“ “ Don’t worry about that,” he chided, grasping her about the waist and pulling her toward him….

Clara felt soft kisses placed on her head….

William ran his finger down her nose with a tender smile.”

 

How about that? I cut most of the dialogue to save time, but there you have an example of some playful banter and physical touch without making the reader feel awkward.

 

 

Here’s one massive pointer I would give anyone who wants to write romance:

Focus on the relationship, not the passion.

What does that mean? To me, it means that I strive for ways to show my readers how much my characters love each other. That can be done in so many different ways…acts of service, kind words (not necessarily flirtatious, but if you like that kind of thing, it can work), and internal thoughts admiring character qualities. And those are just a few examples. Love can be shown in so many ways. You are a writer—utilize the more subtle ways of showing love between couples, and leave what happens behind closed doors where it belongs. It is entirely possible to write a sweet romance without giving too much information.

In my own writing, I have made the decision to not write any romantic relationship that goes beyond what I would be comfortable seeing/hearing were I in the room with my characters. I have been told that the romance I write is “immature” and should be “more graphic.”

I must admit that I actually laughed when I heard that.

But you know what? I’d rather write “immature” and “un-graphic” romance that I believe is appropriate than worry about overstepping my bounds and making some readers, not to mention myself, uncomfortable.

 

DISCLAIMER: I do not claim to be right, nor do I claim to be an expert on the subject. I know that not everyone is going to agree with me–and that’s OKAY! These are merely some of my personal convictions when it comes to writing romance. No offense intended whatsoever.

~~~~

How do you feel about writing romance? Are there any specific guidelines you’ve set up for yourself? I’d love to hear–new ideas are always welcome! :)

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23 comments so far.

23 responses to “Writing Romance: Where to Draw the Line?”

  1. Hannah says:

    Wow, this is definitely encouraging to me to find someone else who shares my opinions! You put everything so well! I definitely would rather read and write a book that is un-graphic than too graphic. =) It is sad to see how many books are absolutely terribly graphic and the covers are awful. I’m excited to read your book knowing it doesn’t have any thing in it that would make me uncomfortable!!

    • Ivy says:

      I’m glad you are encouraged! I was a little scared to let this post go live.

      I’d rather read a took that is too un-graphic rather than too graphic, as well. Yeah–some covers. Sheesh. It’s so terrible, and so sad all at the same time.

      I hope you enjoy my book! :)

  2. Your mom had a great way of putting it. If you, as the author, are uncomfortable writing it, it will probably make the reader uncomfortable. (Or at least there’s a good chance!) If a reader wants a “more graphic” romance book, there are plenty out there. I’m very glad to hear you are keeping things “un-graphic.” :)

    And I agree with Hannah about the books. There might be some that are great stories and maybe there really is no graphic “love” scene, but the cover is awful! I won’t even consider a book if the cover hints of too much description.

    Stick to your principles, let your characters fall in love if they insist :) , but remind them that we are watching. :)

    • Ivy says:

      Good point about there being plenty of “more graphic” books out there. Yup, if folks are looking for “more graphic” books from me, they’ve come to the WRONG place!!!

      Thanks for the encouragement. :) “Let you characters fall in love if they insist, but remind them that we are watching.” Hehe…I laughed so hard at that! Its perfect!

  3. IVY! Thank you SO MUCH for posting this!! I have had a hard time in the past because I would start a book and then get rid of it, wishing they had made the romance clean for young adult readers. It’s really hard to find good books sometimes!! I love how you explained your method of writing romance. I REALLY appreciate that you are striving to write clean, God-honoring romance. Even if professionals say that your pieces are “immature”, know that it’s not them that you are striving to please. =)

    And this post makes me all the more excited to start reading your novel today! Hurrah!! =D (And I did get the format correctly downloaded! Thank you so much!)

    • Ivy says:

      HOSANNA! :) Its my pleasure!! I was a little scared to be honest–I’m not very good at putting my beliefs “out there” for others to judge and beat down, but this one was really super important and I needed to take a stand. It’s hard when people I look up to say that my writing is immature, but you’re exactly right–it isn’t them I’m trying to please. Thank you for that reminder. :)

      Awww, good! Kindles can be cranky things sometimes–and internet is even worse! I hope you enjoy the book!!! :)

      • I’m so proud of you for sharing your “radical” beliefs, Ivy!!! =) Keep shining for Jesus!!! That is why I love your blog so much!

        (and I’ve started your book!! It’s awesome!!!)

  4. Jesseca Dawn says:

    Yes!!! I so love the way your mom put it! Like, seriously, it explains everything I always try to say when I explain why I write romance the way I do!
    Keep writing like you are! I’d much prefer to have many more books with “immature and less graphic” romance on my shelf then ones that I have to mark pages to skip over when I read. ;) (Oh, and I loved the little bit of romance that was in TORR. It was PERFECT!)
    Seriously, though. I hate it when I have to skip over a place in a book. And it’s been happening far to often lately. To the point where I won’t even finish the book.
    So thank you so much for writing and using the guidelines you do! It’s been such a blessing and refreshment to me as I read through your book. :)

    For my own writing, I pretty much have the same guidelines. Although I’ve never really thought about it the way your mom said it. ;) Our family has pretty strict guidelines for courting/dating, so I usually apply those to my writing. (Family involvement, no kissing before marriage, etc.) And then if I’m writing a couple after marriage, what your mom said is pretty much the guideline I stick to!
    Thanks so much for writing this post!!! Some may disagree, but it’s worth it to create a clean, wonderful book!

    • Ivy says:

      You’re so sweet–I’m so glad you liked the romance in TORR. I did too, (okay, maybe I’m biased :) ) and it really hurt to hear it be called immature. I’m so glad got over myself and posted this–I almost didn’t! Your encouragement has made me want to stand tall again, and not slump under my book being called “immature.” Thank you so much! If my book was a refreshment to you, then I have achieved my main goal in writing.

      I’m going to have to read your books one of these days. :) Since your romance standards are similar to mine, I’m sure I will love the books! :)

  5. Kellyn Roth says:

    I agree with you about this. Nobody needs to know! :D

  6. Emily says:

    Thank you for writing this! It is SO hard to start reading a book, then have to put it down or skip major parts because of unnecessary or too-graphic romance. Your mom’s advice is great! I just started on your book, and it is perfect. :) We definitely need more books like yours out there, so keep up the good work! Your book is definitely not “immature”!

  7. Hope Ann says:

    Great article! This is pretty much what I do, though I’ve not thought of it in those words before. But that’s a great way to say it…write only what people would do in public.

    • Ivy says:

      Thanks, Hope! My mom is a genius. :) Wish I could take credit for that statement, but nope–it’s all her. :)

      BTW, you do an amazing job with the romance in your stories. :) I think Cyth and Annalissa are among my top ten favorite fictional couples. :)

  8. Faith Potts says:

    Wow. Thank you SOOOO much for writing this!!

    I’ve noticed a lot of controversy on this subject. Some say no romance, some say no kissing, some say it just doesn’t matter. Personally, I enjoy a clean, sweet romance strand in a story. But I’ve read books labeled ‘Christian’ and the romance was much to detailed and…just…no thanks.

    Ivy, you worded all my thoughts very well — romance and love can be written in a God-honoring way that’s enjoyable and not embarrassing to the reader or the writer. :) Thanks for writing this!

    • Ivy says:

      Oh yeah, some so-called “clean Christian romance”–eeegh. Nasty. But yes, it’s not an easy subject, and one I’ve thought circles around!

      Thank you so much for your kind words! :) It’s encouraging to know that there are so many others who think along the same lines regarding romance in writing!

  9. Kenzi says:

    Thank you for writing this, Ivy! This is something I’ve wrestled with for awhile…both as a reader and a writer. Your post was a breath of fresh air on this controversial topic. I just appreciated how you worded this and the spirit you used in expressing your conviction on weaving romance in your books! :)

  10. baroquemk says:

    Wow. I don’t remember seeing this explained so clearly anywhere else! Thank you for writing this and believing it personally. I hate reading a wonderful book that I can’t recommend in the end because it was too explicit. Christian writers need to get a grip. —Libby

    • Ivy says:

      Aww, thank you for reading, Libby! It is so frustrating to read a great book that was too graphic. In my mind, that (sadly) takes all the greatness out of the book. And yes–very maddening if the book was advertised as Christian.

  11. This is so great Ivy! Seriously! I cannot say enough good things about it! I totally agree. And thank you for being an author who won’t write graphic romance. Even what most people think is okay can tend to be to much for me so I really appreciate your stance. I was in the same place you were about romance. “I just won’t write it” But I know exactly how you feel and strive to use the same guidelines in my fiction as well. Not only do I not want to write that sort of thing, but I don’t want to read it, so I am so thankful there are people like you out there who are choosing to do this, in spite of what others may say. Thanks again! This post was so helpful.
    Blessings,
    Victoria
    RufflesandGrace.com

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