Some people seem to be born with a writerly itch in their bones. Not me. I can be classified into that class of author who was a reader first and always—a reader moreover who, being disappointed with a shortage of the exact kind of reading she likes, decides to write something of her own for a change.
For me, one of the ways this manifests is as the temptation to write as a fixer. Something bugged me in that book I recently read? Well, I’ll put in my book just for the pleasure of doing it right!
And nowhere in my work on Pendragon’s Heir—my debut novel and so far only completed full-length work—was this impulse stronger than in the romance.
You see, I have read so many, so very many novels, most of them featuring romances, and most of those romances failing to satisfy either my common-sense or my artistic standards. From wish-fulfilment heroes who push social and physical boundaries (Mr Rochester, I’m looking at you), to the sheer twitterpation (a word neatly coined by my amiable hostess) infesting most of today’s romances, which focus more on the colour of the hero’s eyes than on actual interesting things like saving the world or building a city or questing for freedom and truth, the world seemed so full of unsatisfactory romances that I relished the chance to construct a really good one.
So today, I’d like to list a few of the goals I had in writing the Pendragon’s Heir romance—hoping they will provoke some thought and encouragement!
A Romance That’s About Something
The first important ingredient was the purpose of love and marriage. Marriage is meant to be about something bigger than just the two of you and your feelings. Ultimately it’s about building the Kingdom. It’s about the cultural/dominion mandate. It’s about the Great Commission.
Because marriage is about signing up together for a splendid adventure, I knew that the romance in Pendragon’s Heir had to be about a mission. This is actually the compelling force that draws my two protagonists together: although Blanche dislikes Perceval at first, she eventually comes to realise that they are on the same mission. This is the common ground on which they begin to build their friendship. For them, love and adventure become inextricable—and I think it’s the same in real life.
Mutual Help and Comfort
I recall being tremendously inspired by Leland Ryken’s wonderful book Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were. There, in the chapter on marriage, you can find many excerpts from Puritan love letters and teachings on marriage. One of the major themes coming out of this chapter is the powerful sanctification these men and women found in each other’s company. Their love for each other manifested in building each other up spiritually.
I saw something similar in many of the romances I appreciated most, from Jane Austen’s novels to Charles Williams’s, and I knew I needed to include the same thing in my own novel. Not only are both my protagonists on the same mission, they eventually realise that they are stronger together than they are apart. Sometimes, it’s Perceval helping Blanche to understand the rules of honour and duty in an alien world. Sometimes, it’s Blanche encouraging Perceval through disappointment and grief. Either way, each of them supplies something lacking in the other. And for me, these moments of help and comfort are the most romantic parts of the book.
Principles and Applications
I have to admit, I’m a fairly standard good homeschool girl. I hope that if the Lord brings someone into my life, we’ll court rather than date. It’s not a topic I’d stay up at night arguing about, but I think it’s reasonable to save your first kiss for on or close to your wedding date. I think it’s helpful to be intentional about marriage, to keep physical boundaries, and to seek the counsel of one’s parents and mentors. These are relatively minor issues for me, but I know why I hold them.
I also know that not everyone in history has held them. And certainly I know that concrete applications of general principles have varied widely across history.
As I wrote the romance in Pendragon’s Heir, I knew my protagonists needed to share my general principles. At the same time, though, I knew that their temporal and social position—nobility in anachronistic Arthurian Britain—would result in quite different applications. In the end, I ended up using two strategies to make sure I could stand boldly on my convictions while allowing my characters to be themselves.
First, I let them make mistakes. I allowed them to learn from experience, rather than coming to their romance with a preconceived set of notions. Fiction, being a dramatic medium, is well suited to dramatise the reasoning behind a certain application—so, in allowing my characters to do things I didn’t personally see as wise, I also had them learn from their experiences.
Second, I attempted to use the actual applications that historically existed in my characters’ general time period. Parental involvement, for example, was far more formal and expected then than now. In fact, if you were a noble, male or female, your marriage was often arranged as a matter of state, and this is more or less the situation in which both my protagonists find themselves. In fact, at one point in the plot, I knew I couldn’t delay resolving the romantic conflict any longer because beyond a certain point, their liege lord would step in and resolve it for them!
Again, these are relatively minor issues for me. But it was important to me that my book be consistent with my principles while retaining artistic integrity. If this is something you struggle with, I’m here to tell you to take heart: you can retain the integrity of both your principles and your art!
Finally, there was one particular aspect of my romance that I just had to put in, more for giggles than anything else. Romance from Jane Eyre to Twilight (yes, I did read it—for laughs) has given us an endless parade of subversive, saturnine romantic heroes. You know the kind. They range from the rude (yes, Mr Darcy, this means you) and criminal (MR ROCHESTER) to the vampiric (Sparkles Cullen) and the downright abusive (supply your own candidates). Romance readers seem to get a real kick out of snobs, rakes, bloodsuckers, and worse. Me, I was a bit over it.
My hero, I decided, was going to be a nice, normal, well-adjusted boy with no dark secrets, no interest in pushing physical boundaries, and no rebellious streak. He would neither brood nor succumb to jealous furies. He would not even be strong and silent; he would be voluble and ebullient. He would be everything that St Bernard of Clairveaux first recommended for knights and which, later, Baden-Powell recommended for Boy Scouts: Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
He would be huge fun.
But he would not be a doormat, either. Good doesn’t have to be boring, weak, or a pushover. Perceval was going to be all these things—and he was also going to be fierce in battle and uncompromising in his beliefs, no matter what the pressure to conform.
Yikes, I Hope You Like It, Folks
As you can no doubt tell, I really enjoyed writing the romance in Pendragon’s Heir! It was huge fun, not just to explore some of the basics of love and marriage, but also to get some pet peeves out of my sytem. The only thing left is to hope that you enjoy it half as much as I did. You’ll have to let me know!
When Suzannah Rowntree isn’t travelling the world to help out friends in need, she lives in a big house in rural Australia with her awesome parents and siblings, trying to beat her previous number-of-books-read-in-a-year record. She blogs the results at www.vintagenovels.com and is the author of both fiction and non-fiction. Pendragon’s Heir, her debut novel, released March 26.
Blanche Pendragon enjoys her undemanding life as the ward of an eccentric nobleman in 1900 England. It's been years since she wondered what happened to her long lost parents, but then a gift on the night of her eighteenth birthday reveals a heritage more dangerous and awe-inspiring than she ever dreamed of—or wanted. Soon Blanche is flung into a world of wayfaring immortals, daring knights, and deadly combats, with a murderous witch-queen on her trail and the future of a kingdom at stake. As the legendary King Arthur Pendragon and his warriors face enemies without and treachery within, Blanche discovers a secret that could destroy the whole realm of Logres. Even if the kingdom could be saved, is she the one to do it? Or is someone else the Pendragon's Heir?