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Friday, October 19, 2007

Golden Heart Inspirational Category

In 2003 I had the thrill of winning the Golden Heart for best inspirational manuscript. The only thing better in my writing life was selling my first book a few months later. I hope I can give some advice that will help others as they enter this category.

Here is the inspirational category definition.

An inspirational romance is a novel in which religious or spiritual beliefs (in the context of any religion or spiritual belief system) are a major part of the romantic relationship.

Here are the judging guidelines.

In this category, religious or spiritual beliefs (in the context of any religion or spiritual belief system) are blended with and from a significant part of the love story, and the end of the book is emotionally satisfying and optimistic.

In the inspirational category the story can be contemporary, historical, or even futuristic. This category finds stories that cover a wide range of types, such as straight romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, or even romantic comedy. But whatever the type of story, the most important element in the inspirational entry is the intertwining of the spiritual journey with the romantic journey of the protagonists.

I have one caveat as I discuss this category. Although the inspirational category is open to any religious or spiritual belief system, my experience is with stories that deal with the Christian faith. However, I believe that these general principles will help any entry.

As I have already mentioned the hero and heroine must have a spiritual journey, and this journey should show some kind of growth in their faith. The hero and heroine may share a common faith, or one of them may be skeptical or unbelieving. However, by the end of the story the skeptical or unbelieving character will come to believe and find comfort or an answer to their problems in their faith. Even if the hero and heroine are both believers, their faith should guide them and be an integral part of their lives. You can't just stick references to prayer or attendance at religious services into the story without having faith as part of who the characters are. Their spirituality must blend naturally into the story.

Although spirituality must be part of the inspirational entry, you must be careful not to come across as "preachy" as you include this element. Of course, "preachy" can be subjective. So my advice is to make sure the spiritual aspect of the story is like salt--a little goes a long way. After all, as romance writers, we want to write a romance. We want to see our characters fall in love. As with all romances, the romance is the main focus of the story. The spiritual thread in the story can work beautifully as part of the internal conflict of the characters.

I have mainly focused on the spiritual part of the inspirational entry, because that is what makes this category unique. Here are a few other pointers to make your manuscript great.

  1. Make sure you have a beginning with a good hook that will have your reader eager to see more, but don't fool your reader by having a hook that doesn't represent the rest of the book.
  2. Make sure your characters are three-dimensional. Readers want to care about your characters. So make them real. Know what makes them tick and little by little let your reader see inside your character's thoughts and motivations. The spiritual struggles may be a big part of the character's back story that will help you flesh out your hero and heroine and make them real people with real problems that the reader can identify with.
  3. Read your dialogue aloud to make sure it sounds natural, because dialogue can help with your characterization. In fact, read your entire entry aloud.
  4. Check your point of view for each scene. Most often the point-of-view character is the character who has the most to lose in that situation. Set the scene by weaving in details that are important to the point-of-view character.
  5. Check the pacing. Make sure you don't have long sections of introspection or description. Make sure something is happening that moves the story forward. Even long passages of scintillating dialogue don't help with pacing unless they have specific purpose.
Hopefully, these pointers will help you make your inspirational entry better. Please feel free to ask questions. I'll be around most of the day to answer them. Other members of the WNP are here to add their advice as well.

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At 10:43 AM, Blogger Myra Johnson said...

Hi,Merrillee! Thanks for the insightful post and helpful reminders. I shared my personal GH experiences over at the Seekers blog (

At 11:13 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

When I write, I usually have a couple of different story arcs that I refer to: the relationship arc, the suspense-plot arc, and the villain's arc. It's clear from your post than in an inspy novel, the spiritual journey has its own arc, ideally with moments that either challenge or aid the relationship or the plot. Good stuff, Merrillee!

At 11:24 AM, Blogger Connie Barbour said...

Thanks Merrillee! I am waffling about entering, but I think I probably will. Your definition helps quite a bit.


At 12:04 PM, Blogger Merrillee said...

Thanks for stopping by. I chuckled at your story of missing the date the first time you entered. It's a good reminder that we have to follow the rules. So keep those important dates in mind. Last year I was positive that I entered the RITA on-line, only to discover, that in the midst of entering my books in a dozen other contests on-line, I had failed to enter the RITA. That won't happen this year.

At 12:06 PM, Blogger Merrillee said...

You are absolutely right that the inspirational thread can add so much to the conflict and relationship between the hero and heroine.

At 12:09 PM, Blogger Merrillee said...

I'm glad my comments have helped you decide to enter. The Golden Heart is a very important contest, and although there is no feedback, it does give the contestant practice with meeting deadlines. And if you are fortunate enough to final, it will be an experience you will never forget.

At 1:24 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Connie: Don't hesitate. I didn't enter last year, thinking I'd be changing to mysteries. Then my 2003 paranormal finalist sold and here I am, not only without any chance of using a final or win to promote my book, but I'll never be able to win the Golden Heart!

At 8:49 PM, Blogger Melanie Dickerson said...

Hi, Merrillee! Thanks for the advice. And you're right about the faith element adding conflict. It adds depth, too, and can keep a story from seeming shallow, if it's done well.

At 9:14 PM, Blogger Merrillee said...

Thanks for your comments. I love adding the faith element to my stories.

At 9:52 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

I'm late to post today, but certainly didn't want to miss this topic. I love inspirationals!

My favorites so far are Rekindled by Tamera Alexander and Leading Lady by Lawana Blackwell. And I brought a few contemporaries home from conference that I've loaned to my mom--they were excellent as well.

It takes such talent to convey the growth of love between two people with closed doors on their physical relationship. I just think they are very satisfying reads.

I'm looking forward to adding yours to my TBR list, Merrillee!

At 10:03 PM, Blogger Merrillee said...

Hi Gillian,
I also liked Rekindled, but I liked Revealed even better. That is the book that won Tamera the RITA. If you haven't read it, you have missed a really great book. I hope you enjoy my book as well.

At 6:05 AM, Anonymous narelle atkins said...

Hi Merrillee!

Thanks for your informative post on weaving the spiritual journey of the characters into the story. Do you have an example from one of your books of how the spiritual thread of the story works beautifully as part of the internal conflict of the characters?

BTW, my friend, Tracey O, sent me a email to remind me that todays blog is on the inspirational category.

At 9:35 AM, Blogger Merrillee said...

I'm glad you remembered to stop by. In several of my books forgiveness is a big theme and part of the inner conflict. In my first book, THE HEART'S HOMECOMING, the hero has to learn to forgive the heroine for leaving him at the altar eight years earlier. His need to forgive plays a big part in the inner conflict. So we see that as he learns to forgive he falls in love with the heroine all over again.

Then in my most recent book, THE HEART'S FORGIVENESS, (yes they are related books) the hero needs to learn to forgive God and himself for the demise of his marriage and the death of his wife. In doing this, he sees that he can find new love. So in that way, the spiritual and romantic journeys are intertwined. I hope that makes sense.

At 6:10 PM, Blogger Terri said...

Hi Merrillee,

Thanks for the wonderful article on the inspirational category of the Golden Heart. I was thrilled to see you mention the various subgenres. Do you feel judges are as open to the subgenres (specifically suspense) as they are to traditional romances?


At 9:49 PM, Blogger Patricia W. said...

I love the diversity within the inspirational subgenre. At the same time, it seems a bit unfair.

I presume an inspirational could be submitted in another category, like romantic suspense or historical and be judged equitably with the other non-inspirational entries?

It's kind of like publishers wanting to lump all African-American or multicultural stories together.

At 10:00 PM, Blogger Belinda Peterson said...

Hi Merrille! Thanks for the post on inspirationals. I hope to enter this year. I didn't last year and wished I had.
I'm wondering if the change in the category description will increase the numbers of enteries...
Regardless, your advice is good and thank you for sharing.
Hi Myra--I read your experience on the Seekers blog...I think we've all done something along those lines before.

At 10:08 PM, Blogger Patricia W. said...

I'm back just minutes later...

Because it's no different for inspirational than for paranormals (today's topic) or other subgenres that can also take on the characteristics of a genre (mystery, suspense, comedy, etc.)

I guess it really gives the author more options.

And Myra, your story was funny.

At 11:08 PM, Anonymous narelle atkins said...

Thanks Merrillee. Your examples make perfect sense. Forgiveness is the spiritual theme of my GH entry, so maybe I'm on the right track :)

At 10:59 AM, Anonymous Betty Arrigotti said...

This is my first time to your website, due to a mention on the FHL loop. Nicely done! Thank you, Merrillee, for information about the inspirational category of GH. I plan to apply all I learn from you. Betty Arrigotti

At 10:05 PM, Blogger Merrillee said...

I've had to be away from the blog for a few days, so I don't know whether people will check back for answers. But since I'm here, I'll answer a few questions.

Yes, I absolutely believe that judges will be open to the different subgenres in the inspirational category. The main thing is to have the inspirational thread along with the suspense.

At 10:10 PM, Blogger Merrillee said...

I believe you have to really look at your story to decide about the category. Yes, inspirationals can be entered in other categories. They have even finaled. Pam Hillman entered her inspirational historical in the historical category one year when the inspirational category didn't have enough entries. She was a finalist in the historical category that year. In recent years the inspirational category has had enough entries, so if you are writing an inspirational, I would first consider the inspirational category even though it may be a suspense, historical or multicultural story.

At 10:11 PM, Blogger Merrillee said...

Thanks so much for your kind comments. I'm glad you are entering this year.

At 10:12 PM, Blogger Merrillee said...

Thanks for stopping by. I hope my comments will help with your entry.

At 11:51 AM, Anonymous Kristin Wallace said...

Hi Merrillee. Congrats on winning the Golden Heart this year. I'm entering for the first time. (2 manuscripts actually) Already registered. It's the first time I've really had anything ready to go.


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