Recently, my husband and I watched an old movie focusing on a romance. The couple devoted their time to fighting with each other over issues, both major and minor. The heroine complained to her friends about the love affair.
My husband and I agreed that this couple was not compatible. They had no business marrying. But! Sigh! He was veddy, veddy rich. She married up! So surely all will be well! Yay????
A heroine marrying into royalty and/or money is not prominent in Christian fiction, at least as a goal. For that reason, I won’t devote this post to the folly of showing a character ecstatic about marrying into status and money, even if only implied.
However, a Christian author still wants the couple to be compatible. In a Christian romance novel, either both parties enter the relationship as Christians, or, if one is not, he or she returns to the faith before they proclaim to love each other. Sharing our faith is enough, right?
Wrong, in my view. I know many wonderful Christian men who would not make an ideal partner for me. No doubt they’d counter that I would not be suited to them.
A couple can agree on significant life points, such as kids, politics, sex, and religion and still not get along day to day. And day to day is what sees marriage over the decades.
No relationship I’m in is perfect because I’m in it, but I’ll highlight my marriage since it’s the long-term romance I know best.
I like to hold a debrief of every function on the way home in the car. My husband prefers to concentrate on driving and thinking about work the next day.
I love the great indoors. He enjoys yard work and fills the bird feeders so I can appreciate viewing the birds from inside the house.
We agree on the division of chores. Guess what! He is responsible for the outdoors and a few thankless tasks (hello, air filters and light bulbs); and I cook, do laundry, and take care of the indoors.
That’s not to say we’ve never been hiking or on a picnic. We both enjoy family, church, travel, TV, dining, the gym, journeys along Skyline Drive, even running errands together, along with many other common interests. Over the years, I have developed a fondness for some SYFY-channel programming and movies with multiple, gigantic, explosions, thanks to his taste in entertainment.
All this to say, we are different, yet still compatible. My husband loves me enough to put up with my eccentricities and lets me be myself. I appreciate everything about him. We have fun.
Back to books:
Of course, no one wants to read about a couple discussing who will replace the refrigerator water filter once they move into their tiny apartment after the wedding day. However, I believe the compatibility of a romantic couple should be both obvious and implied. When a couple experiences substantial interaction, day-to-day styles become apparent. Harmony will be organic to your story. Does your couple love being around each other? How do they resolve conflicts? How do they have fun?
Christian romance readers want a solid foundation for a long-term romance. When they close the book, they want to feel assured that this couple will last forever.
Who is your favorite couple in Christian romance? Why?
How do you show compatibility between a hero and heroine when you write your novels?
One of the greatest Christian romance novels out there is Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Michael Hosea and Angel are two totally different people, and yet you see how God uses what they each need to grow in order to draw them together. Of course, their romance is also a reflection of God’s love for us, how when we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
I think it’s good to show a couple struggling with their differences but also appreciating them. My pastor once told me, “If two people in marriage are exactly the same, one of them is irrelevant.” Marriage is meant to grow us and make us more like Jesus. How does that happen? With iron sharpening iron. Two people rubbing each other and scraping the junk that we’ve brought into the marriage off of us. The author of Christian romance sees the jewel behind the junk and can find that piece they each have that grows them.
Tamela Hancock Murray
Great observations, Elisabeth! Thank you for sharing.
Love this article, Tamela! My favorite couple on TV is the one portrayed on Madam Secretary. Even though she’s not walking in her faith like her husband, they work as a loving team who puts love and respect for each other first. I know this is secular, but it’s so refreshing to see a partnership in marriage portrayed like this. And it speaks to my heart, because I can relate to it. God is everywhere and He’s so GOOD!
Tamela Hancock Murray
He is good indeed!
Couplehood requires balance,
one fits what the other does not have,
like atomic bonds needing valence
or how doorway wants an architrave.
Shyness needs a smiling greeter,
patience an impulsive imp,
inconsistency a measured meter,
and a staid gorilla, a lively chimp.
It’s not that opposites attract,
more gentle restraint, a barrier mild
that keeps quirk from being artifact,
and headstrong soul from running wild.
And if you think that looks count least,
just remember Beauty and the Beast.
Tamela Hancock Murray
You made me smile once again, Andrew!
I love books where the author presents the two eventual love-birds going through misunderstandings, differences of opinions, hardships, or just about anything that keeps them apart. It’s such a wonderful way to get the reader emotionally involved to urge the couple to get together.
“Redeeming Love” was such a great example of that. In a subtler way, “Christy” by Catherine Marshall was one of my favorites. Dr. MacNeill’s love for Christy isn’t stated explicitly until the very end of the book, but the reader senses their attraction for each other throughout the story. Very satisfying.
Tamela Hancock Murray
Great examples, Kay!
Great article! I so agree. I don’t see enough of this in books, which is unfortunate, because a movie where the hero and heroine are incompatible doesn’t work for me. It leaves an uncertainty I can taste. There are some skilled relationship writers. Lynnette Bonner, Karen Barnett, Carla Laureano, Dori Harrell, Joanna Politano, and Kristi Cambron do a good job with compatibility, along with some others. It’s my effort in writing. Personally, I also like to achieve depth.
Tamela Hancock Murray
Thanks for the excellent author list, too! I hope readers will explore their stories!
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
I like the Jan Karon series about Father Tim. I think he and his bride are delightful, even though I haven’t read those stories in years.
In my own writing, I have a female character who is very fond of her construction foreman (she flips houses when she isn’t teaching college) but she realizes that house flipping is all they have in common. He realizes it, as well, and he …. when…..(suspense!)
Tamela Hancock Murray
Sounds like fun, Sheri!
Good mornin’ Tamela,
Love this post. I have a great deal of angst reading Christian romance. Women follow the love interest through a hail of bullets distracted by abs. He’s distracted by her full lips despite and explosions. They… get along without a misunderstanding, being perfect Christians.
My favorite couple is a non-fiction movie with two actors I don’t care for in real life but in Knight and Day, they are hysterical. She distrusts him. He’s clueless. They do run through bullets (as she panics like crazy and fires an automatic weapon everywhere). Screaming.
Bird on a Wire, Overboard.
So I do have a few favorite Christian couples, unfortunately, I can’t recall the names of the characters–even with popular Christian authors.
In real life, opposites generally don’t attract, while in fiction, it’s a riot. Comedic. Dramatic. These are the books I can read/watch over and again those that I recall character names, their struggles. One or both are non- believers. It can be a slow process. I like books that say, ‘why should I believe?’ The slow build-up of the Great Romance between a non-believer and the romance.
Tamela Hancock Murray
Bullets, eh? Sounds like you’re reading romantic suspense, one of my favorite genres! I’m sorry you find Christian romance gives you angst. We really do try to balance the physical attraction with the couple’s connection. Without any mention of physical attraction at all, some readers feel the couple comes off as too platonic.
Stick with us! I’m sure you’ll find a favorite or two whose names you can remember!
hahaha, how did you know?
My brain has been warped by some great suspense and intrigue, to my total and complete ruination.
Sarcasm, avoiding the concept of attraction by one character or both leads to fun and the slow build of romance and the HEA.
You’re right! I did just remember a favorite Christian/suspense (romance), author, Chrisy Barritt, who has only written 60 novels and am currently in her squeaky clean mysteries. Between other authors such as Henry Wegley.
Sharon K Connell
I may be prejudice, but I love the couples from my own books. Especially, Paths of Righteousness. And like Kay DiBianca mentioned, I love for there to be a disharmony in the beginning of the relationship so the reader can enjoy reprimanding the couple because the reader knows they’re perfect for each other. But the misunderstandings keep getting in the way.
Yes, my characters have a time of it, but the love is so deep that the reader pulls for each of them, scolds each of them when they’re being stubborn, and then falls in love with them. At least that’s what my critiquers and my reviewers tell me. And those are the kind of books I love to read.
When I’m writing the story, I set up a profile for each of the characters. With the hero and heroine, I make sure they have some things in their backgrounds that are definitely compatible. Also some things that they think they cannot stand about each other, at least until they realize they’ve misunderstood the entire situation. But the most important thing is that they are Christians and love God.
Agreed! I like impulsive MC’s that interrupt clearing up a conversation, jump to conclusions, and steam. Which tends to show up in my characters…
Tamela Hancock Murray
My reading list grows!
Praying that one day, my first will be on your list!
Tamela Hancock Murray
I’m not sure what we’re talking about here. Adam and Eve, the first couple–compatible? Hmmm. Jezebel and Ahab, yes, in a deliciously evil way. Rachael and Jacob, there’s some real snob vs lover tension there. Now Sarah and Abraham–there’s a compatible couple. But so boring.. . . Look at the movie “Fireproof”. Tough stuff. “Taming of the Shrew”, anyone? Romance is NO different than anything else . . . you put your main character up a tree and throw rocks at them. You think up the very worst thing that can happen to him or her and then you do it to them. Why do people have to be, deep down, compatible? My wife and I fight daily (hourly). Some would say we’re not compatible. It is the fire and mistrust between Delilah and Samson that make the story crackle with intrigue, pathos, and tragedy. Please stop talking about compatibility. Give me something teetering on divorce, violence, espionage! Oh, give me heartbreak or give me death!
Len, heartbreak or death? How about both?
Here’s a sonnet that I wrote for a blog post that will, coincidentally, go live tonight. There are some fairly hard truths. Hard to write, and hard to share.
I wish you did not have to see
the toll that cancer’s taking;
it’s much harder, than for me;
and I see your heart is breaking.
My goal is to remain alive,
and I have a privileged focus,
but how, my dear, can you thrive
in your helpless weeping locus?
You want to help, but can’t repair
what God has for us ordained;
all left to you is bleak despair;
will this ever be explained?
God’s my rock, to see me through,
but can He, will He, comfort you?
Thanks for the poem, Andrew. You know, there’s a lot of room for creative wandering in scripture. What about the case of law where a woman whose husband dies is passed on to his brother. Or the surviving men of the tribe of Benjamin who run out to grab a wife among the dancing damsels to revitalize their tribe, choosing a wife on the spur of the moment and perhaps based on looks only (who has time for an interview?)?. Or the woman foreigner who must shave her head and clip her nails (I forget the rest) before being allowed into Israel as a bride? The more incompatible they are, the more delicious the tension and the plot. Even if they work things out in the end, there’s still the rest of the movie we don’t see once the credits roll. We, as writers, are looking to write real tension, real angst, not at the bottom, but looking up at the bottom. Think of historical women, the surprising Herodias, whose daughter danced for John the Baptist’s head, spurning the favors of Caligula in Rome to go into exile with her husband, Herod Antipas, in Gaul (France). Somebody write about this stuff, not the cozy kitchens of suburbia!
Len, these would make for some GREAT stories.
The spur-of-the-moment bride-choice has some resonance for me, because I proposed to Barb within five hours of meeting her (though we had corresponded by email for a few week,s, and occasionally spoke on the phone.
The marriage, a year to the day after the proposal, was initially not a success, and we were divorced…
…only to remarry within a year, but this time we did it right, in a Huey over the night-time Las Vegas strip (by a Catholic priest whose bishop was so taken by the story that he gave dispensation).
It has been a challenge; I was used to living in a hootch with a couple of war dogs, with weapons everywhere to hand, while B came from a very straitlaced church family.
The first time I met them I slipped into Boonie Rap, which they did not find endearing, and when we divorced they wanted my head on a plate.
And when we remarried, I think they seriously thought of taking out a contract…
Now, with cancer killing me, we’re a real Odd Couple; she’s mad at God (and I bet God finds that uncomfortable, because Life Rule One is Do Not Make Barb Mad), and to me the whole thing is a big joke, and I’ve even written a bit of doggerel about incontinence.
Still, I wouldn’t leave her, and if she left ME she knows that I still have the Dark Side connexions to find her and bring her back.
Hallmark it ain’t. Real it is.
And if Hallmark DOES make a movie about this, Barb would be played by Sandra Bullock (for whom she’s been mistaken), I would be played by Jackie Chan, and the illustrious Steve Laube (you there, Steve?) would be portrayed by Sylvester Stallone. (Not that Steve’s my agent or anything…wish he were! He’s just a dude who, by keeping this blog going, has given me a reason to live.)
I am truly sorry for not understanding the substance of your poem. What is your prognosis? I am in Wheaton Il. Can I help in some way? Forgive my insensitivity, brother.
Aw, Len, no worries. I enjoyed the repartee.
Prognosis is death, but I am beginning to worry the doctor who thus prophesyed, as I have outlived his forecast sell-by date by four years now, and he’s starting to doubt himself.
Seriously…well, I’m never serious…but the thing is, there’s humour in the situation (I’ve got a visible six-back of tumours in the abdomen, got a beach-bod, yeah!), and a blessing beyond price, for I’ve truly learned that the value of life is in living it every day.
And survival is in making the decision, in each moment, to nurture the hope that there is yet hope, and to raise mine eyes unto the hills, whence cometh His help.
Prayers would sure be appreciated, my friend. For me, but mostly for Barb, because her lot, like that of Mary at the foot of the Cross, is by far the harder.
Not that I’m comparing myself to Jesus…well, except that the beating heart of my ministry is in the dying, and in the trust that it will all have been for something.
And I believe that, to the depths of my soul. Facing the end, I’m fully alive, and what man can ask for a greater joy and privilege?
And, Len, there’s more…I have two things in common with Patrick Swayze…rugged good looks and pancreatic cancer.
You have to admit, looking at it through that lens, it’s kinda cool.
So many different opinions! I agree about Francine Rivers’ characters, though she’s not one of my favorite authors. Thanks for the post, Tamela.
To name a favorite Christian couple in fiction would be difficult; however, I’m reading a Harlequin Love Inspired novel now. The couple have bickered and made negative judgments about each other. I totally agree…the Christian couple should be compatible. Opposites (as trite as it sounds) do attract, but they have the one common thread: love. When a person loves another, joy is found in even the simple things of life. That was true of my relationship with my husband of 43 years. Two more opposite people could not have existed, but we were like you, Tamela; we found pleasure in the things we did enjoy together. I rode on his Gold Wing motorcycle, and he attended the opera with me. My characters early on discover “a moment when heaven touches earth,” to borrow a phrase from Phil Wickem’s song, “The Ascension.” Thanks for the post! God bless you, Tamela.
Thank you for a subject that appeals to us all: Romance. It is best when in Christian fiction. For “my favorite romance” I pick Jane Eyre. The couple’s attraction to each other was based on similar minds, mutual respect, and character.
Andrew, you are always inspiring. With poetry, prose, humor.
Claire, thank you so much!
I figure that if I can help one person, just one, put her foot on the first rung of hope’s ladder, and look up to see the stars of faith shining bravely in a dark sky, then everything – all the pain, the dread, the sheer exhaustion of this – will have been worth it.
I’ve learned that it was never about platform. It’s about an individual I will never meet, that my words may help.