I had the most interesting discussion with someone on the subject of romance novels.

“Come on and kiss de Girl”

Based on that discussion, I thought I’d see what others had to say about what is or is not a ‘Romance Novel’. Some of the language seems to rule out LesFic or Gay Romance; I don’t necessarily agree with that. A romance is a romance.

I write across genres, depending on the story. However, I have two romances: The Orphan’s Tale and The Safeguard, both set in the 19th century, one in Paris, the other in 1864 Georgia. They are love stories; one ends with a kiss, the other with the heroine rising to stand, beaming, as her returning lover rides across the lawn toward her.

That said, here are some definitions:

This blog post from a while back has a definition I endorse:

A story about the growing love relationship between a couple that has an HEA ending. There may be other elements, but the love relationship and its progression should be the focus. Because of this, there should not be lengthy separations between the lead characters. There should be, however, an emotional bond with the reader that develops out of their story, and it doesn’t matter whether the bond is laughter or tears or a strong sense of lust.

Another, quoted there, says:

A romance is just like any other type of fiction out there; it can be mystery, suspense, science fiction, historical, western, comedy, even horror. The only differences are that the story concentrates on the relationship between the lead male and female, and the book is guaranteed a happy ending.”

RWA (Romance Writers of America) are a little more limited:

Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.

A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.

An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.

Romance novels may have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have varying levels of sensuality-ranging from sweet to extremely hot. These settings and distinctions of plot create specific subgenres within romance fiction.

Finally, there is this summation:

A novel is generally considered to be romance fiction if:

1.A love story is central to the plot – The main idea of the story must be that two people who are in love must struggle through obstacles to their having a relationship. While their can be sub-plots (job, family, etc.), the love story must be the main element that drives the narrative. And…

I love you, I love you, I love you – I do!  But don’t get excited:  I love monkeys, too!

2.The ending is emotionally satisfying and optimistic – The appeal of the romance novel for many is that the struggles of the lovers are rewarded and the risks they take pay off in a happy ending for them both.

A romance novel may be a one-off (“single title”), or it may be part of a series. Within the parameters of the romance novel, there are many romance subgenres, which yield endless variations in: 

*Timeframe – Romance novels can be set in the past (historical); the present (contemporary); or even the future. 

Most normal men would opt for armor…

*Setting – Whether the Scottish Highlands or a made-up universe or even Topeka, romance novels can be set anywhere. The story can take place during a family reunion or a murder investigation (which would put it in the romantic suspense subgenre).  

Sand in swim trunks: the essence of romance!

*Hero – He can be an “average guy” (as long as he looks better-than-average with his shirt off); a man in uniform (whether military, fireman… or kilt); or not even a “man” at all, as happens in the popular paranormal subgenre (“Hello, Werewolf!”).

 *Tone – The sexual explicitness of romance novels ranges from demurely warm (the inspirational genre is generally not explicit) to hot and steamy… to super-sizzling.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Uh…  No.

The Sheik springs   to mind as a very good illustration.  Women were swooning over that book in the 1920’s.  Having read it, myself, I have to say that it is an excellent illustration of The Stockholm Syndrome, and I do wish that Diana (no relation) had had the gumption to brain him and his spineless buddy with something very heavy.  Several hot-sellers from the 70’s, in which the woman is repeatedly raped (and just loves it) do  not, to my mind, qualify as romances, but nevertheless fit the various descriptions, though (to my mind) with one or two of them, the HEA (Happily Ever After) consists of being stuck with the Nasty One, whether male or female, for the rest of their life.   

I think this is a topic that is not going to go away, and I tend to enjoy listening to the arguments.  Besides, when has the presence of romance, in whatever form, *not* lent spice to a story?


16 comments on “Romance?

  1. Beth says:

    I tended to be in the don't pigeonhole contingent, until I realized nobody can find your book if it's not on the right shelf (or virtual shelf). I wrote a romance/mystery and discovered romance agents said there was too much mystery, mystery agents said too much romance. As for what qualifies as romance, I occasionally come across Alpha male types that IMO cross the line into bullies, and I see nothing romantic about that, but apparently lots of women do. I haven't read The Sheik, but from your description I'd agree that being kidnapped is hardly a romantic gesture, and rape never is. Love shouldn't involve force.I suppose the definition that matters is that of the audience, whether a certain publishing line or the readers you're targeting. And I think all books should have an emotionally satisfying ending.

  2. Diana Wilder says:

    Hi, Beth – What clicked for me was the bottom-line definition: it has to involve a relationship between two people that involves 'love' or physical attraction to whatever degree. That gives a LOT of latitude, including some of the more violent types, and has an ending that is satisfying … for whom? I guess for the two involved in the story. Personally, being stuck with The Sheik would give me the willies, but Diana (no relation) apparently was happy. *cough* I do get tired of the pigeonholes, myself…

  3. Anonymous says:

    This was so interesting. I never wrote a romance but the romance being primary seems to be right. In my younger days when I picked out a romance I wanted a romance! But as I entered my late twenties I was into Romantic Suspense–Phyllis Whitney, Victoria Holt come to mind. I think Beth is right about being on the correct shelves.

  4. Diana Wilder says:

    Hi, Catherine -I remember reading a review of a romance with a twist. I think it was with shape-shifters or else vampires… At any rate, the reviewer was definitely there with the romance until one or the other of the characters began to sprout fangs or grow a tail. If she had known it was a (fill in the blank) romance she would not have touched it with a barge pole. The thing is that it was a 'romance' by the definitions. Is it possibly the largest 'genre' in writing? I'm beginning to think so -Diana

  5. I have to say that I am not usually a fan of romance novels, mostly because they portray the stereotypical damsel in distress who needs the hero to make her happy. I do agree with your LesFic and Gay Romance sentiment though. It's all about the mutual love no matter who the parties are 🙂

  6. Lara Lacombe says:

    The thing I love most about romances is the relationship between the hero and heroine. The most satisfying romances have a couple that grows emotionally and comes together as a team, making each person the better for it. And I think a HEA is a must–if the book doesn't have an optimistic ending, it can't be a romance!

  7. Yvette Carol says:

    Hi Diana! I tried my hand at romance about 30 years ago. I made up a vision board with pictures I'd cut out of magazines for the setting and various elements of the story. I came up with hero and heroine, and got about 25 pages written before running out of steam altogether. I pretty much figured romance wasn't my genre then and there! But I admire people who can write them 🙂 p.s. I've moved to WordPress

  8. Lexa Cain says:

    I didn't really realize that romances had to have happy endings. I guess it makes sense, otherwise they'd be tragedies not romances.

  9. Diana Wilder says:

    I love to watch the two characters change and grow closer. I read a book called SNOWBOUND by Sarah Winter, where she dealt with – you guessed it – two people stuck in a house in the snow. She did a good job showing the growing feelings, deepening passion. She handled the ending well, too. (nearly as well as yours, Lara…)

  10. Diana Wilder says:

    Actually, the Damsel In Distress is not exactly passe', but is rather one type of many different romance types. Thank goodness! Thanks for coming by!

  11. Diana Wilder says:

    I can work a romance into a story, but they tend to be side-lights to the plot itself. It takes concentration to write a good one, I think. I'm off to check your new site…

  12. Diana Wilder says:

    One place said the 'happy' ending had to be 'happy' for the characters. How many books with alleged HEAs have you read that has you thinking, “Yuck! She's stuck with him? Eeek!”

  13. Sherry Ellis says:

    So is Romeo and Juliet a romance, or just a tragedy?

  14. Diana Wilder says:

    I can see people arguing about that question and leaving angry (with each other). My view of Romance (don't tell the folks I quoted) is that it concerns the relationship between two characters who fall in love. Whether it ends happily or not, a romance chronicles that story. So the story of Antony and Cleopatra a la Burton/Taylor is a romance, even though they both kill themselves. And, arguably, if the pair falls out of love, that *might* qualify as well. RWA may well disagree with me.

  15. I remember the “bodice rippers” of the 70s and how the heroine was raped as an introduction to the “hero.” I also remember my mother being shocked by them. Rightly so. Luckily the popularity of those types of romances have fallen by the wayside…I hope. You, Diana, write a “romance” more to my liking, as part of the story and not the only reason for the story. I tend to find a book with romance as the only story line fairly boring. But I guess HEA is required. I am currently using romance as part of the whole too. The major focus is historical with a smidgen of spy vs spy and a smidgen of paranormal and a smidgen of family dynamics all set in ancient Egypt. So, what category do you think Amazon will list it under? I shudder to think!

  16. Diana Wilder says:

    I just saw this response. Wow! I want to read it!

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