Finding the courage to follow your heart can involve a lot of soul searching. Holly March and Anna J Stewart discuss the importance of this inner strength in romantic storylines.
Holly March ~ Courage Is An Acknowledgement of Fear
Bravado is being totally unaware of your own mortality. Bravery is being aware of the risks, but still acting. Courage? Courage is being afraid and aware of your own mortality, and still not giving up.
No weapons, no friends, no hope. Take all that away, and what's left?
This quote encapsulates Buffy and courage for me. That season was dire. I cannot rewatch it, I tried, I got two episodes in before the sobbing started and just noped out of there. It’s what the show decided to do, what most Season 2's do now, take away the friends and powers and see how the character reacts. Show them fully humbled and that they do not give up. But courage is not just for people who are fighting against demons and gods and hoardes of Nosferatu vampires. That is why I snapped up the chance to write this.
Get ready, people, we’re diving into diversity again.
It does not take bravery for someone to come out to their family. It takes courage. Bravery discounts the depth of fear and understanding of what might happen. It takes courage to face that level of rejection and still say the words. It is not "brave" for a person in a wheelchair to go to prom. They know they will be mocked and pitied by some, and they have the courage to want the experience with their friends anyway.
Both physically and mentally disabled people loathe the buzzfeed stories about how brave we are being to live our daily life. It suggests that we are show pieces. Oh look, how brave, this person is doing something anyone else might do and I’m going to feel good about myself because phew, I’m not disabled. Awwww… how brave.
I’m being good. No expletives.
It takes courage for a black American to leave their house at the moment, since any time might be the time they become a statistic. In early June a lesbian and her bisexual girlfriend were brutally beaten after refusing to make out for the edification of teenage boys. Courage is required every day, and even if you are not marginalized by our broken society, even if you are privileged enough to not fear the police or have to use public transport, you still have to have courage. That or total insouciant obliviousness.
So to get relevant, what I am trying to suggest is that as writers we need to be sure we are not sensationalizing courage. Brave is already nearing a dirty word because of the way it is used. Courage is the last beating heart that says ‘do not give up’. Courage is what keeps you querying after hundreds of rejections. You understand that.
So put it in your characters. Acknowledge not only the fear of rejection your heroes feel, but also the courage they take in their daily life. If you are writing someone with PTSD then leaving the house, leaving their bed, takes courage. It is more than reacting badly when fireworks go off, you know? Layer that through your book. Courage is always there and always needed. Bravery got them the PTSD in the first place, but it is courage that keeps them alive.
It is very rare to have a character wholly without courage. Even the survivor who abandons their friends usually comes back to save them later [Insert Any Movie Ever]. Even a character who believes themselves a coward usually has the courage to keep living. And believe me, that takes courage, in any day and age. Suicide comes when our courage finally fails, and while there is nothing to despise in that, there is certainly something to grieve.
As I have said before, one of the things that has kept my courage aflame on bad nights is reading romances. Never let anyone tell you writing romances is silly or unimportant. You are a life-saver.
So I know I am repeating myself, but there is no better example of courage than in Alyssa Cole’s spy series Loyal League. Set against the backdrop of the American Civil War, the Underground Railroad, and constant danger from frighteningly relevant killers, her heroines and heroes are in dire peril at all times and nothing is more evidence of their courage than their ability to learn to trust. Bravery would get them killed, but courage keeps them in character in the face of pain, punishment, and danger. They are required reading, to be honest, and until everyone has read them I will keep bringing them up!
Kira Solomon in Seressia Glass’ Shadow Chaser series is brave and even shows prideful bravado here and there (she’s arcing, it’s all good) but it is dogged courage that keeps her going after the worst happens. It is courage that lets her learn to allow hero Khefar touch her body and heart. Amid all the chaos of her urban fantasy life, it is the quiet moments in between battles that show the most courage.
Anyone taking a shot every time I say ‘Courage’ had better go have a large glass of water and some toast.
Courage can be confiding a shameful secret (Shira Glassmen’s First Mango) or taking a huge step despite what your social mien might think (Maisey Yates’ Unexpected), or believing that the hot guy really does like you and taking that chance (Ana Hannah’s The Bigger They Are), or just going out of your comfort zone (Sorcha Rowan’s Scorchers: Four Erotic Tales).
Books by authors like Bernard Cornwall are about acts of bravery. Romance has always been about courage. And we can have both, as so many authors are now proving. My sister swears by Giles Kristian, especially his Lancelot. I highly recommend Manda/MC Scott’s Boudicca series, even if the ending (#HistorySpoilersDontCount) is rather harrowing, especially if you are an indigenous Briton.
Showing courage is the same as showing weakness. It allows you to delve into your character’s heart and show them vulnerable but determined. It is uplifting to a reader and inspiring too. So write your own issues. Make use of that “write what you know” adage and include your insecurities, your disabilities. So long as you are not taking advantage of another’s marginalisation, showing courage can only be a good thing. Somewhere there is a reader who will pick it up, misty eyed, and say ‘this is so me’. They will feel heard, and they will not feel alone, and their own courage will flare with hope.
The girl who hates her natural hair. The enby who was worried about coming out. The kid who knows they’ll always be in a wheelchair. The asexual who loves but worries they are frigid because society is so focused on sex. These people need characters with that quiet courage. Everyone needs them.
And they need you to have courage too. You do not have to write the charge of the Light Brigade for your characters to be heroes. They do not have to be spies (but seriously, read those books). They just have to show their human ability to brace themselves against rock bottom and push up with all their strength. And they need you to have the sheer guts to bare yourself and pour your reality into your words. It’ll hurt in the writing, and hurt in the editing, but it could make someone smile who hasn’t smiled in a long time.
I would never write myself, a modern woman with various conditions who does nothing but write and sleep and play games. Who wants to read that? But I am writing my struggles with autism into a shapeshifter. I have written my fear of not being needed into a housekeeper in medieval Marrakech.
Not everyone has had to slay their vampire boyfriend, is what I’m saying, but a lot of people know what crying over a relationship feels like.
Writing a character who takes a breath and carries on takes courage and will help inspire it in others.
And remember, in the words of Kiru Taye: "...if I worried about other people's opinions I would never write or publish anything."
Holly March writes medieval and fantasy romance. You can find out more about Holly on Twitter and at MarcherWitch.com
Anna J. Stewart ~ Defining Courage In A Romance Novel
Courage: the ability to do something that frightens one; strength in the face of pain or grief; mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.
When I first volunteered to write this article, I had a pretty clear idea in my head as to what constitutes courage. Images that came to mind included a solitary figure standing in front of a line of tanks. An individual leaping across an expanse between mountains. A firefighter walking into the fire. A soldier fighting for his or her country. The physical placement of oneself in an uncomfortable, dangerous, or precarious situation and, even more important, being willing to accept whatever consequences that come with it. The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized just how limiting those thoughts were. Especially when it comes to the heroes and heroines in our stories.
One of the questions posed for me to answer is what is the definition of courage in a romance novel. The easy answer, again, was to talk about how a hero or heroine serves in an honorable, noble, and dedication position such as a soldier, police officer, or a D.A. seeking justice for victims. You display courage by creating people/characters who put themselves on the line for the greater good. But as I dug deeper into my own thoughts, I came back to a lesson I learned a few years ago at a writing workshop given by Mary Buckham; it’s a lesson I put to use in every book I write and one I apply to every main character. What decision does my hero and/or heroine make at the end of the story that they never would have made at the beginning? The making of that decision, whether the outcome is good or bad, is, at its essence, courage.
How often have you, not as a writer or reader, but as a human being, wished you could go back and made a different choice? A choice that, at the time, you made because it was the easy way out. The least invasive path forward. The least conflicted. I know I have. Dozens if not hundreds of times. I’m not a big risk-taker. I never have been. Probably the biggest risk I’ve ever taken is when I decided I was meant to be a writer. A nice, safe, solitary profession that until I make the choice to put myself and my work out there, would serve as a lovely little cubby hole of protection. In hindsight, courageous? Maybe. Depending on your definition. But for me, courage in my characters comes down to them taking actual action in making a change in their life; a change they might not want to make or one they’re cornered into making. A stepping out of their current life and into a new one.
Putting our characters directly in the path of a challenge that is literally their worst nightmare is part of our job. I’m not just talking about a towering inferno or a plummeting elevator. Situations like this, of course, demand a bit of courage if the character is going to survive. I’m also talking about the emotional fortitude it takes to rise above the fear, above the potential consequences, and take that step toward change. A step that, once it’s taken, the character, hero or heroine, can never go back. Falling in love, splaying themselves open, exposing themselves in a way they might never have before, takes a courage I don’t think a lot of people recognize. But we as writers do. Scratch that. We as romance writers do. Surrendering to that which can cause you such pain? That’s terrifying even as it can be exhilarating. It’s also a call some people cannot bring themselves to answer.
Can one have a satisfying reading experience if a character lacks courage? An interesting question, no? I’m not sure if I have a correct answer to that. I’m not sure there is one. The snarky, super-girl power believer in me wants to chime in and say absolutely not, but that’s not making allowances for, in the words of Jane Austen, “for differences in situations and temper” (apologies for the paraphrasing, Ms. Austen). One person’s courage does not always match another’s. What some of us would automatically do someone else might not be capable of—either physically or emotionally. And we, as writers, have the responsibility to make those circumstances clear. Rising to the challenge of the story—whether it’s chasing down a killer, going up against the town council to win water rights, or whether it’s taking the chance on falling in love, is the real courage found within the pages. And one I hope readers enjoy reading.
Anna J Stewart's novel Holiday Kisses is available through Harlequin. You can find out more about Anna on Facebook and Twitter and at AuthorAnnaStewart.com.
Who do you think conveys courage the best? What are your favourite courageous scenes or examples of moments in a favorite book or movie when a character has demonstrated courage? Tell us in the Comments or on social media using #Courage and #AmWriting