One of the most special things I love to do as a romance author is to attempt to ‘translate’ social or personal issues into words, to create an experience where readers can engage with God’s truth through fiction. I’m always so touched when readers say a particular story or quote has resonated with them, that they felt like God spoke to them in that moment. One of the things I’ve always been intentional about is to create relatable characters, people like me, who struggle at times with things such as expressing myself clearly enough to be understood (ironic, for an author, don’t you think?), issues with finances, family, friends, appearance, and then the bigger questions such as wrestling with identity, God’s purpose, and what happens when faith-filled believers see their world turned upside down.
Most readers I know prefer this kind of real relatability, too. Sure, it can be nice to escape into a Disney or Hallmark-type movie or book, but I think we all agree that those are not grounded in a great deal of reality, and we’re going to struggle if we’re continually looking to these kinds of stories for life lessons and expectations for our world. Which is not to say there aren’t any good messages in these books or films. Beauty and the Beast shows us that reading is good, and we shouldn’t judge by appearances, and while these are good messages, we sometimes need to be careful it’s not fuelling expectations to end up living in a castle with a handsome prince. J
I also like a bit of grit in my books. I want to be able to relate to the characters, so if they’re too perfect or too pretty or too nice then I’m sorry, I can't really relate. In my Regency Wallflowers series my heroines are not the typical Regency ladies. For starters, they’re not ‘ladies’ or part of the aristocracy. Neither are they young, moneyed, or beautiful. They don’t have the social connections to get ahead. I’ve written similar sorts of characters in my contemporary romance books too, such as in the Original Six romance series where many of the female characters could be considered underdogs, due to life experiences that have broken them in some ways.
I like the underdog characters, the ones we cheer for, who must rely on God as well as their inner grit and grace to find the strength to overcome the challenges they face. Choosing storylines that help allow for this to happen is fun also. My recent Regency Dusk’s Darkest Shores saw Mary Bloomfield face down her personal inadequacies as well as social expectations to own her decisions. In Checked Impressions, an upcoming contemporary release, Allison Davis has been pigeon-holed and held back from work opportunities because of her stutter, which has shaped how she sees herself. Weaving plots and situations that allow these women to shine is always an interesting challenge. It needs to be believable (no Fairy Godmother interventions), yet still have enough of the new or different to push us into that ‘daring to believe’ space, too. For my next Regency, Midnight’s Budding Morrow (out next April), this meant incorporating a couple of tropes, such as reforming the rake and arranged marriage, and giving my heroine a particular role that challenged how she saw herself, and how the locals saw her as well. A similar thing happens for Allison in Checked Impressions, as she decides to own her career and relationship choices, rather than be at the mercy of others’ opinions, as she learns to stand up in her identity in God. Choosing a storyline that forces these characters to dig deep to discover who they can be helps push the story into something that can help us as readers to dare to believe God a little more as well.
I love it when our perceptions are transformed by God into how He sees us. And while we’ll never be perfect, remembering that God loves us, and had good plans for us, is a core theme in all my novels, as it’s something that we all (myself included!) need reminding of at times. I think it’s important to remember that we don’t have to know it all or have it all together, that there is that for us already. And He is patient, He is forgiving when we fail, He is loving even when we struggle to love ourselves.
I love that writing fiction allows for God’s truth to be shared in a way that resonates with readers, that helps us dare to believe that God might want to use us for His purposes. We might not have a castle or a handsome prince, but something of far greater worth: walking in the rhythms of God’s grace and being used by God to bring hope to our world. I pray for you (and me!) that our lives will be fragranced with love: understanding more of God’s love for us that it permeates our lives to such an extent so we can love others. That’s what a real romance book should do.
Carolyn Miller lives in the beautiful Southern Highlands of New South Wales, Australia, with her husband and four children. A long-time lover of romance, Carolyn loves drawing readers into fictional worlds that show the truth of God’s grace in our lives. Her Regency and contemporary novels are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, Christianbook, etc
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