What makes a story a romance, and what isn’t romance?
Brandi Spencer (formerly B. C. Marine), CAO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Last week, I compared romance, erotica, and women’s fiction. Today, Iet’s take a deeper look at romance.
All You Need Is Love (and a Happily-Ever-After)
Romance can refer to many different things in different contexts, but in the world of modern fiction, the genre has a specific meaning. A romance is a love story, primarily focused on the emotional journey of the relationship ending with a happily-ever-after (HEA).
Isn’t that predictable?
The draw of romance is the journey, not the destination. It’s the characters that get readers to turn the page. What will they do to get their HEA?
Also, the two requirements for the genre, though rigid, are the only requirements. Within those parameters, anything goes. There are romance subgenres for every genre in literature, and just like in the real world, the stories of how couples come together can be as diverse as the people in them. Just a few examples of romantic premises:
- Friends realize affection for each other but are afraid of ruining their friendship
- Characters meet and hit it off but the timing is always wrong
- Characters meet and instantly hate each other but slowly realize they were wrong
- Lovers are on opposite sides of a feud or war
Doesn’t that include every story that ends with a happy couple?
Not at all. Many, many stories feature a romantic subplot, but they are just that: subplots. In romance, the relationship must be the focus of the story.
But what about tragic love stories?
They aren’t romances by modern fiction standards. Most tragic or bittersweet love stories are best classified as drama or woman’s fiction. Classics like Romeo and Juliet or Wuthering Heights would not be classified as romances; most likely they would be considered dramas. Love stories which end with the woman choosing to be alone are usually women’s fiction.
For stories that would be in a subgenre if they qualified as romance, they are simply categorized in the corresponding main genre. So instead of historical romance, Gone With the Wind is historical fiction.
What about series?
In a book series, you can’t exactly have a complete HEA before the last book because there needs to be enough conflict left for book two (or three, or four…). With an ongoing series, individual titles may end with happily-for-now (HFN) instead. Both HEA and HFN are optimistic and satisfying, but HFN either leaves a minor plot thread unfinished, places the characters in circumstances that can easily change. Characters may end a book by successfully navigating a relationship stage, leaving them explore the next phases in the rest of the series.
Sex Sells (Sometimes)
Romances are not “bodice-rippers” (mostly). It’s true that there are many steamy romances and even the subgenre of erotic romance, but they don’t represent the entire genre. It’s a wide spectrum from sweet to erotic, and even those at the steamier end could take umbrage with that term. Why? For one, it’s derogatory, so that’s a bit rude. Two, it’s specific type of plot involving a non-consensual relationship evolving into a consensual one, which is just one of the many possible plots (and not a common one in recent years).
So what level of sexual content can you find in romance? Anything, really. You can find an in depth description of content levels in our guide, but these are a few examples:
Sweet (11+ or 14+ by our system)
These are chaste stories. There is no sex, and kisses tend to be brief, if they occur at all. Many inspirational romances fall in this category, although sweet romances are not by any means inherently religious or spiritual.
The lovers consummate their union, but descriptions are metaphorical, and sexual encounters are infrequent in the story. Kisses receive much of the focus and are more intense than in sweet romances.
Sex is described in more graphic terms, but the acts themselves are mainstream. Encounters are more frequent.
Sex is integral to the story with frequent encounters throughout. Descriptions are graphic and often involves a kink or fetish. This differs from erotica in that the relationship is still the main focus of story despite the sex being an important facet of it.
Romance is a diverse but well defined genre. What are your favorite romance plots or tropes? Let us know on our Facebook page or leave a comment below!
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