I’ve got a question about religion in non-inspirational romance. My heroine is from a small town in the Bible belt – it would be in-character for her to attend church on Sunday mornings. However, I am not writing for an inspirational romance line (I love a good steamy sex scene!), and I don’t plan to deal with Christianity itself. Is this something that is Just Not Done? In-character I feel I would need a pretty good reason for the heroine not to have a church community, but as a writer I realize that specifying my character is Christian has the possibility to turn off some readers and editors. I guess I can just avoid all mention of Sunday mornings, but I’d like to have the heroine be able to invite the hero to a church potluck or something.
While this particular question is specifically about romance, I think you could easily take out romance and slip in any genre. If you are writing about a spiritual character, does that automatically mean you need to be writing for the religious or inspirational market? I don’t think so, but I do think you need to write in the character’s spirituality carefully (especially for genre fiction). My first thought when reading this is why would you even need to mention that she goes to church on Sundays? In most books I read I never notice the day of the week, let alone Sunday. If I’m a churchgoer I probably assume the heroine heads to church just like I do, and if I spend my Sundays reading the Sunday Times at Starbucks it’s likely I assume the heroine is doing that very same thing.
I think that if you’re concerned about how readers, editors, and agents might perceive the religious aspects of your book, then maybe you’re writing them with too heavy a hand. I guess I’m a believer that if you have to ask it’s likely you already know it’s a problem. I see no problem inviting the hero to a church potluck or watching the heroine interact with the goofy members of her church community in much the same way she would interact with the goofy members of her work community, but be careful that it’s not all that she’s about.
What I would ask you is do we really need to know that she has a church community at all? I think there is a lot about a character’s life in a book that readers are left to assume. Do we really need to know every detail of a character’s life or daily workings, or should the book focus on those things that move the plot forward? For example, what if your character stops at the library every Wednesday night? That might be a fact you know because it helps build your character, but when you really sit down to write the book it might not be necessary to ever add that fact in.
I would also like to add that interacting with a church community is a lot different than an inspirational, which tends to be more about a relationship with God. A church community can be no different than a book club in many ways, about the people and their interactions and not actually about what they’re doing or their beliefs.