How Much Is Too Much?

Recently I read a new book by one of my favorite authors. Though the story held my interest and I liked the ending, I couldn't help the feeling that kept arising in my mind: this is just too much.

It was all a little too tailor-fit for me. The hero and heroine's compatible flaws and strengths, the somewhat sterile doubts about God, the cliche resistance to the romance.

But what really bothered me was the over-the-top description of the sparks flying between them.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love a good romance. I've been reading Christian fiction for years, and really, Christian romance was my guilty pleasure many a day when I was supposed to be reading various postmodern theory and long-gone British poets (not that I don't enjoy the words of a long-gone British poet as much as the next gal).

I know alpha males sell well.

I know women like to imagine themselves as the heroine.

I know we like to feel a spark, and that readers want an escape from their lives.

But don't we also have a responsibility to the integrity of storytelling? Don't we as Christians, who hope to show the nonfictional, redemptive story behind the fictional one, have an important task of keeping that larger purpose in mind? Have we in CBA strayed too far in the pursuit of writing a spicy but clean romance?

What happens when women begin to grow discontent in their own relationships because of these stories? What happens if our books give unmarried readers unrealistic expectations of their future spouse? What happens if we dilute the greatest kind of love--the commitment kind--into something so one-dimensional as physical sparks?

But how do we make that commitment kind of love look just as sexy as the initial sparks-flying kind?

I don't have the answer to this question. I genuinely want to hear what you all think. What are your thoughts on the role of Christian romance? Are romances becoming a stumbling block to readers, or do they open up the possibility of a different kind of love for people who are used to grittier fiction? How do we walk this line as authors?

*Photo from


  1. Ashley,
    I'm intrigued by your post--both as a reader and writer of inspirational contemporary fiction. But I'm curious: It seems like the books you read disappointed you in two ways:
    1. They were predictable.
    2. The sexual tension in them was too explicit.


    Predictable ... that's always a challenge -- how to write something fresh, something that isn't the same old, same old rehashed "boy met girl" plot.

    And how to write a romance that shows realistic attraction -- physical, emotional, spiritual -- without being graphic -- that's challenging too. Because one thing I don't like is a romance that strips out any romantic tension at all, especially the physical, just because it is a "christian" romance.

    Looking forward to this conversation.

    1. Such a great point Beth! If we go too far the other direction, out writing can come across as too sanitized and safe and thus be hard for readers to relate to! I think the key is to incorporate deeper elements into the physical sparks so that we see the sparks, are pulled in by them, but are anchored by something greater,,, I thought your book achieved this very nicely! :)

    2. Thank you for the compliment about Wish You Were Here. That's one of my goals -- to write realistic romance -- but not graphic. I know I won't be everyone's choice -- and I know some people won't find it believable because I don't take my characters all the way to the bedroom, but I don't write for the secular market -- and that's by choice. I'm not foolish enough to think that doesn't happen in both real life and fiction. But I don't write a la "Friends."

  2. Ooh, I was intrigued by your post, too, and I certainly don't have answers. But I have thoughts...

    I really like what Beth said--that she doesn't care for romance that strips out the romantic tension simply for the sake of being "Christian." Christians have all the same trappings of physical, spiritual and mental pulls in romance--only in our case, many times, they're even more "tense" because we also have moral boundaries. In many ways, I think that makes Christian romance all the more prepped for physical tension. :) That said, again, we need to be cognizant of our role as writers and, yes, that call we have of not being a stumbling block...

    So like I said, I don't have many answers...but there are enough awesome Christian romances out there to make me a firm believer in the possibility of writing realistic romance with all its nuances in a God-honoring way.

    And maybe that's the key as writers...paying attention to little niggles in our spirit when we might be pushing things too far just for the sake of spice OR when we might be backing away from what could be powerful tension for the sake of appeasing everyone. :)

    1. You make a great point, Melissa! I think the Holy Spirit is really the only definitive guidance we have on this grey area, and He may even call different writers to different things! It's such a tricky balance! Thanks for sharing your thoughts! :)

  3. Great post, Ashley. One thing I would like to see is fewer romances that END with a proposal. Meaning more romances such as Laura Frantz's Courting Morrow Little where the marriage is in the middle OR where the romance is within marriage. Because that's where the best romance occurs. Most of us are married, so should 90+% of marriages be about single people. Does romance end when we pass the altar? No way! But I realize the danger in this type of romance, too, is that it could cause discontent for single people who may never be called to marry. I think we need to look to the Holy Spirit's discernment and I'm thankful for romance writers like you who are looking to glorify God in all ways.

    1. Julia, what a beautifully-written post! I completely agree and think you bring out a very interesting point... what about romance WITHIN marriage? Why does the interest end at the proposal? I think this tendency may play into what's selling well in popular movies, but would a married audience be interested in a romance a little closer to home? Thanks for sharing!

  4. Though you posed your question to authors, I respond as a reader, as a survivor of thirty years of marriage to the same man, and as one who has seen way too many "romances" (especially among believers) tragically cast aside when the going got tough. I would love to see more novels about couples doing life. The real and the gritty. Anger, sorrow, laughter. Reconciliation. Glimpses of redemption. Clinging to the Lord for healing...and His true power and true word wielding the power that saves marriages. I have lived it and it is so hard...and so amazing!

    Those who are unmarried, newly married, or in the middle of a messy, difficult marriage need some pictures of what it looks like to battle through real life...mistakes and all...yet somehow, one day choosing to see if God is who He says He is. To test His word and His promises. To lay down any imagined "right" to be happy for the sake of God's full redemption (healing) of their spouse and for the sake of their children. How do we ever look our children in the eye and tell them that God is big, God is good, God is trustworthy when we so often just cut and run when it seems unbearable. (I'm not talking abusive situations, of course!) "Unbearable" can be where we may finally surrender so He can be glorified in our impossible situation. (This is the rough outline of my life story.)

    Romance is so much more about "I choose this day Whom I will serve" than about momentary happiness or tingly body parts. I did give up (for a long while) reading romance because it made me very discontent with my marriage and my man. It would be wonderful to read stories that inspired digging in deep and trusting the Lord through the incredible opportunity we have to be more "conformed to the image of Christ" called marriage. The Divine Romance was all about sacrifice, the laying down of a life. This is what living a romance will look like. There is a place and a deep purpose for these kinds of stories...Perhaps I should write mine one day.