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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Writing a Historical Inspirational

A friend who sold by turning a historical into an inspirational kept suggesting I give that a try. We’re often advised not to write to market trends...to write the books of our hearts. On the other hand, the inspirational market has been growing. For example, Love Inspired Historicals recently went from two to four books a month.


I was used to writing single title romance, where basically the only rules are appropriate word count and a happily ever after ending. Among other things, inspirational romance means no on the page sex, even if the characters are married. While publishers’ guidelines vary, Love Inspired Historicals, for example, doesn’t want any paranormal elements, and says “Christian characters in the stories may not consume alcohol, play cards or gamble.”

Finally I sat down with one of my medievals. I excised scenes involving sex and other topics I’d learned inspirational publishers might not be interested in, ignoring the pain and sense of loss at deleting so many hard won words.

Doing so left room for adding the required faith journeys for the hero and heroine. I was surprised to find I already had a few religious tidbits. For example, King Henry IV was conservative and very devout, to the extent that he didn’t like women to wear bright or revealing clothes in his presence. I’d used that to show how my heroine didn’t fit in at court. Supposedly he’s quoted as saying, “Be good lads, meek and docile, and attend to your religion."

How could I use religion and faith to heighten the plot and conflicts I already had, including that he served the king while she supported the king’s rival? I looked at the hero’s and heroine’s current arcs for places where the dictates of religion and believing or not would pull the characters further apart.

I researched and thought about religious issues in my specific time period, which turned out to be another way to incorporate the setting. Fortunately the Church and changes within it were a huge influence in late medieval England.

At first I worried that I was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. But then I realized the manuscript was a puzzle, and inserting faith was like fitting missing pieces together. It didn’t take long to see who’d be a person of faith and who would have lost belief and why, or to make a variety of religious elements mesh with my story. I’d like to think adding these new elements heightened the emotional intensity. Finally, I changed the title to AT HIS COMMAND, which in this case can either mean the king’s or God’s.

I asked three published inspirational author friends to send me a synopsis, then had two of them review mine. But the first readers were judges in RWA®’s 2011 Golden Heart® contest. You can imagine my joy when I got the call that AT HIS COMMAND is a finalist.

If you’re considering writing a historical inspirational or adding faith elements to an existing manuscript, here are some questions to consider:

--what religious events/beliefs/trends existed in your time period of choice?

--will they make sense in your story, or does adding a faith element feel forced?

--how can you use faith to strengthen plot, conflict and your characters’ arcs?

--how will you resolve faith issues in a believable, satisfying manner?

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