Tuesday, February 9, 2016

From Identity to Essence in the Christian Romance

Myra Johnson
On Wednesday evenings my husband and I attend the pastor’s class at our church, and for the past few weeks the topic has been marriage. (Yes, even after nearly 43 years together, we’re still learning!) The basis for the class is a series of recorded sermons by Timothy Keller. I’ve also been reading Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage, which underscores and expands upon the sermon topics.

The thing about being a writer is that I’m not just reading or listening as a wife. Even as I’m thinking about how to apply the concepts to my real-life marriage, my writer’s brain is also filing everything away for use with my fictional characters and their relationships.

Which brings me to today’s topic: how our approach to character growth from identity to essence sets the Christian romance novel apart.

If the “identity to essence” concept is new to you, it’s borrowed from author and screenwriting consultant Michael Hauge. Simply put, the character’s identity is the persona he/she has adopted as a means of dealing with fear and hiding from a wounded past. As the story develops, the character begins to glimpse how much richer his/her life could be without this self-protective mask. The character arc is the gradual stripping away of the mask and overcoming fear so that the character finally accepts and lives in his/her essence or true self. (For a more detailed explanation, see this article on Hauge’s website.)

Wondering how “identity to essence” relates to a class on marriage? Let me tie them together with a quote from Tim Keller’s book:
“What, then, is marriage for? It is for helping each other to become our future glory-selves, the new creations that God will eventually make us.”
Doesn’t that sound a lot like the journey from identity to essence? 

One of the primary differences between Christian romance novels and many secular romances concerns the characters’ initial attraction to each other. In secular romances, those first encounters tend to focus heavily on the characters’ physical attributes—the heroine’s curvy figure, limpid eyes, and lustrous long hair; the hero’s trim waist, muscled biceps, and broad shoulders. The relationship may then jump quickly to the bedroom, short-circuiting the “getting to know you” phase during which a meaningful friendship should be developing. And according to Tim Keller, friendship—our spouse as our very best friend—is crucial to a solid marriage relationship.

In Christian romance, there’s still some interest in physical attributes—we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t take at least passing note of appearances the first time we meet someone—but even more important are those little glimpses into not only who these characters are at the outset, but who they have the potential of becoming once the masks are tossed aside. This is where friendship begins, when someone else sees not only our flaws and faults but our best selves and is not only willing but committed to sticking it out with us even when that “best self” retreats.

To give you an example of how these concepts play out in a story, I’m going back to one of my earliest published novels (and still one dearest to my heart), Autumn Rains. Here’s ex-con Healy Ferguson’s first meeting with Valerie Bishop, the widow of the friend who had encouraged and supported Healy during his prison years.

Healy’s first glimpse of the slender woman took his breath away. Her gray eyes sparkled with a brightness to rival the summer sunshine. She wore her pale blond hair pulled back from her face in a fancy clip. Long strands shimmered across the shoulders of her blue-flowered dress. 

Obviously, the first thing Healy notices about Valerie is her beauty. However, he already knows a little about her inner beauty as described in his late friend’s letters. Then in this next excerpt, he quickly senses Valerie’s apprehension, an outer sign of the PTSD she struggles with as a result of her husband’s tragic death. This is her identity, her mask of self-protection. Healy’s thoughts also reveal his own identity, his self-doubt, insecurity, and hopelessness about his chances for a happy future.

Her kind, honey-soft voice belied the uncertainty Healy read in her posture and expression. Even with a fresh change of clothes, Healy knew he still must look like a down-and-out drifter. He swallowed and met her gaze. “I don’t need much, ma’am, and I know how to work hard. If you give me a chance, I promise I won’t let you down.” 

And Valerie responds this way, revealing aspects of her true self that Healy will fall in love with all too soon:

She swept him with an appraising glance, and her gray eyes softened. “Pastor Henke seems to think you’re just the man for the job, Mr. Ferguson, and he’s never given me reason to question his judgment.” 

So the interest, if not full-on attraction (on Valerie’s part, anyway), is evident, and it isn’t based so much on appearances as on what each sees in the other’s potential.

As their friendship deepens through the course of the story, Valerie’s belief in Healy will restore his confidence and enable him to find success and fulfillment as a free man. In turn, Healy draws Valerie out of her self-protective shell and helps her to live a full and vibrant life again. Their growing love and concern for each other takes them on a shared journey from identity to essence.

There’s so much more about writing the Christian romance that I could tie in to Tim Keller’s teachings on marriage. Instead, I’ll offer you a chance to win your choice of Tim Keller’s book OR an autographed copy of my novel Autumn Rains. Just mention in a comment if you’d like to be included in either or both of the drawings, and I’ll toss your name into the rose petal basket (in honor of Valentine’s Day next Sunday). Winners announced in the Weekend Edition!

Let’s talk! Writers, how do you see the identity-to-essence journey playing out in your work-in-progress? Can you see friendship as part of the equation? Readers, same questions for you, but talk about the characters in a novel you’ve read recently.

Autumn Rains. Healy knows all about prisons, both the physical one he’s been released from and the emotional one he keeps himself trapped in. 

Valerie is caught up in post-traumatic stress disorder. Shadowy moments from a night she can’t fully remember bombard her without warning, keeping her trapped between the painful past and a future that seems hopeless.

But God promises to repay the years that have been lost; for those who trust in Him, He promises refreshing, life-giving rain. Will Val and Healy trust to see God’s perfect plan, or will they choose the chains that hold them back?

Award-winning author Myra Johnson writes emotionally gripping stories about love, life, and faith. Myra is a two-time finalist for the prestigious ACFW Carol Awards, and her Heartsong Presents romance Autumn Rains (November 2009) won RWA’s 2005 Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Romance Manuscript.  Myra and her husband are the proud parents of two beautiful daughters who, along with their godly husbands, have huge hearts for ministry. Seven grandchildren take up another big chunk of Myra’s heart. Originally from Texas, the Johnsons moved to the Carolinas in 2011. They love the climate and scenery, but they may never get used to the pulled pork Carolinians call “barbecue”! The Johnsons share their home with two very pampered doggies who don’t always understand the meaning of “Mom’s trying to write.”

Find Myra online here:

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Cate Nolan said...

Myra, this is BRILLIANT. I don't think I've ever seen Hauge's work distilled so succinctly and clearly in a useful fashion. And I absolutely love the Keller quote and how well it matches.

I shouldn't have read this before bed because now my brain is buzing. But it's all good!

Thank you!

Cate Nolan said...


Trixi said...

This post is absolutely spot on Myra! I USED to read secular romance (think Harlequin & the like) before I was a Christian, once I gave my heart to the Lord I tried to still read them (before I discovered Love Inspired) and I can tell you, the depth wasn't there. The connecting with the characters wasn't there....it felt shallow , the romance rushed, and I felt "dirty" reading them! Thankfully I discovered so many more Christian/Inspirational books to read since then!!

I've read too many books to name just one couple, but the last book I read was so good! Both the hero and heroine had things in their past that they had to overcome to be able to, a) heal and b) move on so they can both and fall in love. The romance pace was just right for me, they got to know one another on a deeper level, each one of them grew in their faith & uplifted one another. Yes, you know they were attracted with each other the first time they met, but that wasn't all there was to it. I love seeing this happen in the books I read, especially when they rely on the Lord, build each others faith, help each other overcome past hurts, and be able to move on to start a romantic relationship. I love seeing the transition & how the friendship is a strong base for the romance! It makes it so much the sweeter :-)

I didn't realize there was a name to this " identity-to-essence", I love learning new things in the writing world! What a great post....please add my name to the rose petal basket for Tim Keller's book as I have "Autumn Rains".

Tina Radcliffe said...

YES!! Totally, Michael Hauge's The Hero's Journey -The Internal Journey is such a foundational part of my writing. (This is what Identity to Essence is). I strongly suggest that if you can hear him speak you should do it. Failing that, get the DVD at his website or you can stream the lectures from his website.


Just Googling Identity to Essence can bring you several useful charts for plotting your internal conflict.

Thanks for posting on this, Myra.

Mary Preston said...

I loved the little snippets to highlight thank you.

Please count me in for AUTUMN RAINS thanks.

Mary Jane Hathaway said...

Oh, I love this! Last year a show that I love had the hero on an "identity arc", where everything he knew and loved was stripped away and he had to find his true essence. Now I see it everywhere.
I just finished a middle grade mystery series (well, the next one comes out in a few months) and the author has brought the heroine into a critical moment in her "identity arc". When the series started she seemed like she was finding her place in the world... but she was really just finding support for the lie she believed about herself, even if it was in a group of great friends. Now, at the end of book four, she's left everything she knows and loves. I can't wait for book five because I know that the conclusion with be bringing this teen girl into her "real self", her essence, her true purpose.

I love this post! Now I have to go tweak my WIP. :)

Jackie said...

You've been married 43 years? You always look so young, I'm not sure how that's possible.

Thanks for sharing this great post. I'm definitely keeping this as I edit my current WIP. (And when I say edit I mean rip apart. One of your comments nailed an elusive issue that had been nagging me.)

Have a great day!

Dee LeRoye said...

From my own experience, I know the value of being friends first. My best friend and I are hoping to make it to the 50th in November of this year. And of the books I've published, the friendship comes first. Great post, and I would appreciate winning either of the books.

Wilani Wahl said...

This is good food for thought. Thank you for bringing it out.

Are you going to get any of the snow we are getting in the mountains today? So far in my town it is a dusting

Please enter me for Autumn Rains

Janet Dean said...

Myra, you nailed writing the character arc in this fantastic post! Love that the information from the marriage class is a pattern for what we writers need to do to help our characters find true love.

I think friendship always comes first, as the character recognizes the other character is worthy. In The Bounty Hunter's Redemption, Carly's past has destroyed her trust in men, especially someone she sees as dangerous, hampering her friendship with bounty hunter Nate. But gradually she sees the man beneath the mask and knows he's a good man long before he accepts that truth and can forge that connection with him. But friendship doesn't mean she can give her heart at that point. But without the friendship, without seeing beneath the masks, love when it comes won't feel real.

You've got me thinking about my hero and heroine in my WIP. Thanks for this great post!

I loved Autumn Rains. The excerpts you shared make me want to read it again!


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Myra, you have a way of diagramming an effect with such accuracy that it's easy to understand!

Well done!

I brought coffee.... and fixings... and pancakes for Pancake Tuesday, the eve of Ash Wednesday and Lent!

Chocolate chip pancakes, blueberry pancakes, buckwheat pancakes, and pecan glazed pancakes!

And real New York maple syrup.

A day to think about the hero's struggle and 40 days of struggle for one true hero!

Myra Johnson said...

Good morning, Seekerville! As usual, I'm still prying my eyes open and getting organized for the day. Glad y'all are already chatting. Back shortly!

Sarah Claucherty said...

Yum, Ruthy! Waking up to chocolate chip pancakes in Seekerville is a great way to start the day :)

Myra, I'd love to be added to the drawing. Like some of the others, how can I pick just one Christian fiction example here? There's so many... But that friendship detail is one I've noticed over and over; thanks for summing it up so clearly! (Dee Henderson's O'Malley books do come to mind as examples though.)

Jill Weatherholt said...

Thanks for this great post, Myra! It's going into my Seekerville notebook.
You've been married almost 43 years? You look so young.
I'd love to be entered for both drawings.

Cindy Regnier said...

This is a great post, Myra. The part I find difficult in writing a Christian "hero-meets-heroine" is not the initial attraction to each other, but the fact that the conflict usually overrides the attraction. Conflict is where we start, right? So the attraction must surface amidst the conflict, kind of like the character feeling the opposite of what's happening. Don't know if I'm explaining this right, but some of you writers might know what I mean. Anyway, a very helpful post. I have not yet read Autumn Rains and would love the opportunity.
P.s. I just finished reading Janet's Bounty Hunter's Redemption last night. Janet gets this so well!!!

Myra Johnson said...

Okay, I'm (mostly) coherent now and dressed for work (read: stretch pants, sweatshirt, and slipper socks).

Thanks, CATE! I was hoping my post would make sense. I was trying very hard to keep it short and focused, but there is so much more to the topic. I hope everyone will want to look further into Michael Hauge's articles and videos as well as Tim Keller's book.

Caryl Kane said...

GOOD MORNING! Myra, thank you for clarifying "identity to essence"! As a reader, I enjoy those relationships based on friendship first which may or may not lead to more.

Please put me in the drawing for your book.

Myra Johnson said...

Oh, TRIXI, I know exactly what you mean about feeling "dirty" after reading some of those secular romances. Christian fiction has spoiled me for that deeper dimension of not just falling in love but living it out in ways that grow the characters' faith and bring out the best in them.

Myra Johnson said...

Yes, TINA, I highly recommend Hauge's DVDs, and his in-person workshops are fantastic if you can find a conference where he's speaking. I'll never forget attending his workshops at RWA several years ago. So insightful!

Myra Johnson said...

Thanks, MARY PRESTON! Glad you found the examples helpful!

Myra Johnson said...

That's cool, MARY JANE, a series of novels that develop the main character's growth into the person she was created to be. It really is a process, a journey of discovery. I'm sure it took real talent and skill to show the changes happening gradually through each book.

Myra Johnson said...

JACKIE, thank you! Photography can be sooooo deceptive--LOL!

Myra Johnson said...

Hello, DEE! Congratulations on your approaching 50th! That's wonderful--even better to know you are married to your very best friend! Since writing this post, I've read even further in Tim Keller's book concerning his thoughts on marital friendship, and I'm convinced he's right on target.

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, WILANI! No, I don't think we're expecting any snow from this next round of winter weather. Just very, very cold--BRRRRRR!!!!! Even with the relatively mild winter we've had, I've been ready for spring since October!

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, JANET! I loved the way you developed the friendship between Carly and Nate. Even with the conflict separating them, they began to see the good in each other. Yes, absolutely, we need to see the friendship blossoming before the romantic love can seem real and unforced.

Myra Johnson said...

Thanks for the pancakes, RUTHY! Although I've never heard this day called "Pancake Tuesday." "Fat Tuesday"--yes, as in Mardi Gras. Maybe we'll have pancakes for supper tonight!

BTW, I made Jana's black bean brownies last weekend from her recipe on Yankee Belle! YUM!!!

Myra Johnson said...

Good morning, SARAH! It's good reinforcement to know you've picked up on the friendship factor in other novels.

Myra Johnson said...

Honored to be included in your Seekerville notebook, JILL!

See above for explanation about youthful appearance. ;-D PhotoShop is my friend!

Vince said...

Hi Myra:

I must admit that I find the term 'identity to essence' to be counter-intuitive, confusing and a little too highfalutin.

After all, identity ordinarily means who we are which is why we have ID cards. To say 'identity' is who we are not but rather who we are pretending to be is rather obtuse.

Also "essence" tends to refer to something that is ephemeral and unchanging and sometimes eternal like a Platonic form.

A human being, at any stage along the character arc, is not static and is always open to greater advancement.

I prefer using the simple analogy of going from 'inauthentic to authentic'. This complies with the ancient dictum of 'to thy own self be true'.

An authentic person, who is true to himself, can still grow and continue to self-actualize. A 'coming of age' story usually ends at the beginning of the adult character arc.

As for:

“What, then, is marriage for? It is for helping each other to become our future glory-selves, the new creations that God will eventually make us.”

I think this definition is amazingly inspirational. It brings forth an image of both husband and wife, together again, resplendent in their now glorified bodies, enjoying the presence of the Lord.

If an author can convey the above in a Christian romance, that would surely be doing God's work.

Thanks for bringing Keller's book to our attention. I've already put "The Meaning of Marriage" on order at the library. I'm very tempted to order one of Keller's recorded sermons to hear him talk. Is he a good speaker?

It is very refreshing to see marriage defined in spiritual terms with a heavenly objective. I look forward to reading your next book which takes these lessons fully into account. Please let us know which book that is when it comes out.

Of course I have "Autumn Rains" but if there is a Kindle version of "The Meaning of Marriage" please include me in the drawing.


Myra Johnson said...

CINDY, I think I know what you're getting at. Sometimes the external conflict between H/H is so strong that any attraction between them just seems "off" somehow. We don't want it to be so divisive that they can't see beyond the problem and into each other's true hearts. As you said, JANET handled this very well.

On the other hand, the conflict might not be between the H/H but something within their individual lives--their personal obstacles to allowing themselves to love and be loved. This is reflective of my characters in Autumn Rains. Nothing really stood between them except their own fears and self-perceptions.

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, CARYL! Glad the post resonated with you today! Yes, romances that begin with friendship have so much more going for them.

Myra Johnson said...

VINCE, I didn't invent the designations of "Identity" and "Essence." Thank Michael Hauge!

Yes, I can see how the terms could be confusing, but I will argue their appropriateness for this discussion. Think of identity as your driver's license. You present it to prove who you are, but it only touches the surface: your photo (and not usually a flattering one), eye color, weight, age, etc.

But it doesn't reveal anything about your core self--your essence. Here's how my computer dictionary defines "essence": the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something, especially something abstract, that determines its character.

But if the terms "inauthentic" and "authentic" help you more, by all means go with those! I think we're still going for the same meanings.

Sharee Stover said...

I think one of the things I appreciate about Christian romance is that it isn't all about the physical parts of romance. The example in your book is a great illustration Myra. My current WIP is about a married couple learning to find truth behind years of secrets in their "perfect" marriage. So your post is especially helpful. Please toss me in the drawing for both books :)

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, SHAREE! Exactly. I've had to read a few secular romances lately as a contest judge, and I just don't perceive the same depth and true commitment in these characters.

Your wip sounds interesting! I love stories about married couples healing wounds from the past and rediscovering their love for each other.

Jeanne T said...

Myra, such a great post. You're so right. Friendship in marriage is crucial, and how important is it that we make this an intrinsic part of our characters' relationship journey?

With identity and essence, I'm still figuring out how to really "pop" this in my writing. Susie May Warren does something similar, which she calls the character's lie journey. AT the beginning of the story, our characters believe a lie, usually about themselves, or about life. They live according to this lie; it forms many of their decisions and perceptions. As they walk through the story, they learn the truth that defeats the lie. Long story short, the truth helps them to walk in the truth of who they are, of their essence. I'm not sure I explained this well, but I hope I did.

I'm pondering your words today. :)

Missy Tippens said...

What a beautiful post, Myra. The proposal I'm working on needs more of this arc. I've worked on the moral premise but need to spend more time thinking about how they'll grow to their essence. Thanks for this great reminder and example!

Missy Tippens said...

Cindy R, I know exactly what you mean by the attraction and conflict together. I have the hardest time with the conflict!

Myra Johnson said...

JEANNE, you said it very well--thank you! I've heard Susie May teach on this subject before, and it makes a lot of sense. I believe we all have lies we've believed about ourselves at some point, and debunking them isn't easy. At least in fiction we can bring about change in our characters' lives as other characters help them open their eyes and hearts to truth.

And I think this is the deeper value of story, to serve as a mirror for our own lives so that perhaps through the characters we can start to recognize what's really true about ourselves.

Myra Johnson said...

Thanks, MISSY! Sometimes it's hard for me to see the "before and after" in my characters until I'm immersed in writing the story. No matter how much I think I know about them ahead of time, they have a way of surprising me!

Missy Tippens said...

Vince, that's an interesting thought on the terms Hauge uses. I actually like the term identity, because it's the person I choose to show to the world. It's my identity as far as the world knows. But my essence is who I am inside, the part of me that wants to be loved and accepted. It's the vulnerable part I don't show people often, and only show when I love and trust them.

That's how I try to think of using Hauge's system with characters. The identity the world sees vs the true inner essence. Plus, it can be fun with characters to have the protagonist even believe that identity himself, denying the essence and any neediness.

Myra Johnson said...

Well said, MISSY!

CatMom said...

GREAT post, Myra! Really made me stop and think about my characters in my current WIP, AND you've inspired me to go back and look even deeper into their pasts.
This post is going into my Keeper File. :)
Please enjoy the Georgia peach muffins I've just baked, and I've got a peach cobbler in the oven for later today. ;)
Hugs, Patti Jo

p.s. Had to giggle at your comment about Carolina barbecue, LOL. :)

DebH said...

I agree with Missy. Most of the time I think people like my identity, but if they really saw my essence, they'd be whoa... I don't know about this chick...

Great post today Myra. I really like how you integrated Sunday School material into the writing craft. Not that I haven't thought of doing similar things in the past, but it's cool to see it in action, so to speak. I would love to be in the draw for both books - although I could probably benefit more from Keller's book.

p.s. JANET - I got your Bounty Hunter's Redemption in the mail the other day. I'm looking forward to reading it!!! Thanks!!!!

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, PATTI JO! Delighted to be included in your keeper file!

Thanks for the Georgia peach muffins--YUM! You won't find me lining up for Carolina pulled pork barbecue, however. Just really, really glad we have found a barbecue place nearby that knows how to prepare deliciously tender beef brisket Texas-style!

Laura Conner Kestner said...

Thank you, MYRA, for clarifying identity to essence - such perfect timing for me.

Please enter me in the drawing, I would love to read Autumn Rains.

I finished RUTH LOGAN HERNE'S book, Healing the Lawman's Heart, last night and I LOVED Julia and Tanner's story! Moving on to the next book in the "to be read" stack.

Myra Johnson said...

DEB H, I really had no idea what I was going to blog about for today until last week when I read that one particular line I quoted from Tim Keller's book. It immediately brought Michael Hauge's ideas to mind and brought everything into focus.

The amazing thing about true love, just like God's love for us, is that the other person sees right past our surface identity and loves us anyway while encouraging us to grow into our very best self.

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, LAURA! Glad you found the post helpful! I really hope all my stories are a good reflection of the identity-to-essence journey, but Autumn Rains, even though it's one of my earlier releases, just seemed like the perfect example for today.

Sandy Smith said...

Thanks for the post, Myra. Interesting concept. In my WIP I have among my characters a married couple going through serious strains in their marriage. Good points to consider.

Please enter me in the drawing for Autumn Rains.

Olivia said...

Glad to join all of you again! A technical difficulty that has plagued me for months has been solved and I will no longer be a silent partner when blogging!

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, SANDY! What I love about Tim Keller's teaching is that marriage is a commitment, and working together through the difficult times is just part of the process of helping each other discover and grow into the best of themselves. The foundational scripture for his lectures and book is Ephesians 5:21-33.

Myra Johnson said...

Welcome, OLIVIA!

Olivia said...

What a timely blog! You made the character's journey so clear when writing Christian fiction as compared to secular fiction. We rarely see behind the masks that secular fictional characters and are often left with the nagging question, "is that all there is". Please enter my name in the bowl for your signed book.

Olivia said...

Correction: secular characters wear and a? Following quote is that all there is

Sherida Stewart said...

Myra.......AMAZING! This will help deepening my characters......and help me to understand others and myself more. I "get it" and hope I can infuse this into my characters! Yes, yes, YES, to this revelation for character motivation!

I have Autumn Rains on my Kindle app....and must move it to the top! Please put me in the rose petal basket for the marriage book. I'm approaching 45 years with my best friend and hero, but we're still open to improving our marriage. Thank you!

Debby Giusti said...

Myra, I loved AUTUMN RAINS! Fun to read the excerpts today that placed me back in the story.

I also love writing identity to essence. If I don't have it firmly nailed at the onset, my story is lacking...and I have to dig a little deeper to find that wounded past needing to be healed.

In Christian fiction, our characters look beneath the surface to find value in their significant other. So it's not the width of his shoulders, although that's important, but it's the understanding she reads in his gaze and the kindness he shows to her elderly grandmother. The characters find the inner strength of the other person, which sets our stories apart from some of the secular fiction on sale these days. At least, that's my opinion.

Great blog post! Always enjoy your stories!!!

Julie Lessman said...

MYRA -- EXCELLENT POST, MY FRIEND!! And the excerpts from Autumn Rains are wonderful, too, something the GH judges agreed with as well! :)

YOU SAID: "One of the primary differences between Christian romance novels and many secular romances concerns the characters’ initial attraction to each other. In secular romances, those first encounters tend to focus heavily on the characters’ physical attributes—the heroine’s curvy figure, limpid eyes, and lustrous long hair; the hero’s trim waist, muscled biceps, and broad shoulders. The relationship may then jump quickly to the bedroom, short-circuiting the “getting to know you” phase during which a meaningful friendship should be developing."

Oh, man, you nailed it!! I can't tell you HOW many times I roll my eyes when reading a secular book (which I only read once a year when I judge the Ritas, by the way) when they paint this perfect "true-love" scenario the second they roll around in the sack. Really???? We're supposed to believe that???

I always love what Jame's Dobson of Focus on the Family says about the ten stages of intimacy, which you can find by copying/pasting this link in your browser:

I will admit that like the secular novels, I do put a lot of emphasis on attraction, but the spiritual growth throughout more than makes up for it, I hope!


Marianne Barkman said...

The comments from other Seekervillagers, Seekers and friends is what I miss on Fridays and Sunday's!
I'm reading the BABY BARTER and Thea comes from a disjunctional family, and has lost both her sister (through death) and her niece. She has promises to keep.
Mack has Thea's rejection (from when they were friends) to overcome. Lots of stripping away identity to find the essence here.
I rarely read a book anymore txt does not have a Christian outlook. And I'm glad that there are so many out there. A big shout out to all you fantastic authors! YOU ROCK!!!!

Myra Johnson said...

Got it, OLIVIA! Sometimes I really wish Blogger would let us edit comments and correct our typos! :)

Myra Johnson said...

SHERIDA, so glad you found some help here, and congrats on nearly 45 years! There is always more to learn about marriage and about our spouses!

Myra Johnson said...

DEBBY said: "it's the understanding she reads in his gaze and the kindness he shows to her elderly grandmother."

Exactly! Those little things the characters say and do that show their goodness, even while they're struggling beneath those masks. Makes it so exciting and rewarding to be an author of Christian fiction!

Myra Johnson said...

JULIE, I remember reading about those 10 stages of intimacy. Also, that if you move too quickly from one to the next--or worse, skip some of the steps--it can be very unhealthy for the individuals involved as well as the development of the relationship.

Again, so thankful we get to portray a more godly kind of romance in Christian fiction!

Myra Johnson said...

Thank you, MARIANNE! Sorry you're missing the interaction in comments on Archive Fridays, but many of us do try to stop in at least once or twice over the weekend. Personally, I try to completely stay away from my computer on Sundays. After church, "Project Guy" and I usually get out and about for some non-work-non-chore time together. I guess you could say that's our "old fogeys" way of keeping the romance alive--LOL!

Jeanne T said...

Agreed, Myra. We all have lies we've believed. And what a beautiful opportunity we have to share with readers there is hope, right? :)

Myra Johnson said...

So true, JEANNE! I love being able to tell "the rest of the story" as a writer of Christian fiction.

Just Commonly said...

Great post Myra! That's what we love about Christian fiction. The journey is crucial, not only journey to each other, but as a character and as someone of faith. How have God and their faith play into their experience throughout the book. Spiritual growth is a more important aspect I look in a novel than physical attraction. Thanks!

Myra Johnson said...

I so agree, JC! The secular novels I've had to read lately to judge a contest just don't reach my heart in the same way a well-developed inspirational romance does.

Janet Dean said...

Cindy R, thank you for your kind words! Authors walk a fine line to reveal attraction amid the conflict. Often there's an ebb and flow. At one point conflict is stronger than the attraction, then they flip and attraction is stronger than the conflict. Nothing stagnant about romance. :-)


Janet Dean said...

DebH, glad the book you won arrived. Hope you'll enjoy the story.


Tina Radcliffe said...

The journey is crucial, not only journey to each other, but as a character and as someone of faith.

Well said, Annie JC. or are you JC Annie?? :)

Tina Radcliffe said...

Often there's an ebb and flow. At one point conflict is stronger than the attraction, then they flip and attraction is stronger than the conflict.


Thanks, Janet.

Myra Johnson said...

Right, TINA. All the major characters in a story should grow and change in some way. Some characters will naturally have more room for growth than others, but if the story isn't moving them toward change, there isn't much of a plot and no real reason to care.

Missy Tippens said...

LOL, DebH! That's my thought about myself too. :)

Missy Tippens said...

Olivia, we're so glad you have your tech problem solved!

Chill N said...

What a wonderful post, Myra! Absolutely wonderful. Such a clear, comprehensive explanation. Thank you.

Congrats on 40+ years of friendship :-)

Nancy C

Chill N said...

P.S. Myra, this also helps me understand why I don't care for books in which the characters are the same at the end as they were at the beginning. Identity-to-essence is a character-driven story rather than a plot-driven story. Light bulb moment! lol

Nancy C

Natalie Monk said...

Myra! I so enjoyed your post, especially since I'm recently studying character arcs and identity vs. essence, trying to refresh my memory about all the necessary components.

My current characters, given their personality types, are going to be hard for me to write. Events in their past have stolen a lot of their joy and pitted them against one another in their grief. But since I as the writer know the true characters languishing underneath all that grime, I'm very excited to write their story and bring to light their deeply buried character-gold.

In my WIP, the heroine thinks the hero a monster and blames him for her father's death, while the hero has faced rejection from his loved ones for so long, he's afraid to show her affection, though he's secretly in love with her--and with the "essence" he sees in her, of course! :) The road to their friendship is going to be a long, bumpy one. I don't even see them getting along politely until after the midpoint, then their friendship develops, tentatively, from there.

My question is, do you have any tips on keeping the reader engaged and on board for this romantic journey when the real sweet stuff doesn't happen until after the 75% mark? Do I need another romance subplot for this 75K word novel? Or is the secret, begrudging attraction and the hero's unrequited affection and "anonymous" kindnesses toward her along the way enough to make them say "aww" until the confession of love is brought out? P.S. There's a bit of a mystery thread they're working together on throughout.

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, NANCY! Great insights! Yes, I relate much more strongly to character-driven stories, too. Even in action/adventure movies and the like, I need a real reason to care personally about the characters.

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, NATALIE! Wow, it sounds like you have your work cut out for you with this story, but it sounds fascinating! I love deep and emotionally engaging stories like this!

Not sure that bringing in another romance thread is the right thing to do. If there are ways to keep the characters together while resisting their feelings, that could be really powerful. Especially if you're showing their inner struggles and giving the reader hope for a happy ending.

Lyndee H said...

Great post, Myra. Thanks! I'd write more but my computer is fritzing.

Preslaysa Williams said...

Wow, this is an amazing post, Myra. It really resonates with me. My writer's brain is clicking with all the possibilities. Thanks for sparking the fire. I'd like to be entered into both drawings :-)

Dana McNeely said...

I agree with others-- I've not read Hauge's article, but your post explains the transition from identity to essence so clearly. Please enter me in the drawing for both books. Thanks and best wishes with your writing.

Myra Johnson said...

That's okay, LYNDEE! Hope you solve your computer woes!

Myra Johnson said...

Thank you, PRESLAYSA! Hope those ideas keep sparking!

Myra Johnson said...

Glad to be of help, DANA! I've often found that hearing or reading about the same concept from different perspectives can strengthen my understanding.

Barbara Fox said...

Myra I'm sorry to have come late to your good post. I just finished reading A Season to Love by Nicole Deese. It was the 4th in a row book of hers that I've read and they were addicting for me, but I wasn't sure why until I read your post. Her characters begin as fairly traumatized individuals but there is always something that develops into a protagonist/hero friendship. It seems to be the thing that kicks the relationship over the edge. The special friendship factor really gives depth to the story. Thanks for your post. If there is still time I'd love to be entered for either book

Myra Johnson said...

Thanks for stopping by, BARBARA! Yes, you're in plenty of time for the drawings.

Isn't it interesting to figure out why we love the books we love? For me, it's all about the character growth, and I really relate to Hauge's ideas about identity and essence.

Julie Arduini said...

Such a good post. I love that you are still learning after 43 years. I can't tell you how many ministry leaders turned us away as young marrieds wanting to bring marriage resources to our church family because they felt they had learned it all and would pass it on themselves.

I know I'm biased, but I love the Christian romance approach so much better. I guess because when you build on a friendship, the margin for future regret isn't as wide as opposed to the physical foundation secular romances bring.

I'd love to be considered for both.

Blessings to you!

ohiohomeschool said...

I love friendship in novels. My husband and I were friends first, so I am always drawn to stories that address that.
I would like to be entered for both books.

Myra Johnson said...

JULIE A & BECKY, thanks for stopping by!

So true about friendship first. If romance is based solely on the physical, what are these couples going to do in 40 or 50 years when their bodies fail? If you don't have a solid friendship, you're left with nothing but regrets.