What is a romance novel?
Romance fiction is smart, fresh and diverse. Whether you enjoy a contemporary story, a sassy heroine, historical settings, paranormal, suspense or any number of other themes within the romance genre, there's a romance novel waiting for you!
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 centres 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 plot of the story.
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. A romance novel must end with a ‘Happily Ever After’ (HEA) or ‘Happy For Now’ (HFN) ending. If your story doesn’t end in one of those two ways, then your story is not a romance, rather another genre with a romantic interest.
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.
Romance Novel Formats
There are two formats for romance fiction:
Series or "category" romances: books issued under a common imprint/series name that are usually numbered sequentially and released at regular intervals, usually monthly, with the same number of releases each time. These books are most commonly published by Harlequin/Silhouette. These stories range from novella size (20,000 words to around 55,000 words. Sub categories within the series format are around 75,000 words)
Single-title romances: longer romances released individually and not as part of a numbered series. Single-title romances may be released in hard cover, trade paperback, or mass-market paperback sizes. These novels are usually 80,000 – 110,000 words.
All romances have a central love story and an emotionally satisfying ending but 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. Romance fiction may be classified into various subgenres depending on setting and plot elements.
These subgenres include:
Contemporary Romance: Romance novels that are set from 1950 to the present that focus primarily on the romantic relationship.
Erotic Romance: Novels in which strong, often explicit, sexual interaction is an inherent part of the love story, character growth and relationship development and could not be removed without damaging the storyline. These novels may contain elements of other romance subgenres (such as paranormal, historical, etc.).
Historical Romance: Romance novels that are set prior to 1950 or are more than 50 years in the past.
Inspirational Romance: Romance novels in which religious or spiritual beliefs (in the context of any religious or spiritual belief system) are an integral part of the plot.
Paranormal Romance: Romance novels in which fantasy worlds or paranormal or science fiction elements are an integral part of the plot.
Romantic Suspense: Romance novels in which suspense, mystery, or thriller elements constitute an integral part of the plot.
Young Adult Romance: Romance novels in which young adult life is an integral part of the plot.
In a romance, the focus is on two main characters. You can say that there are two protagonists – the people who fall in love. The story is normally told in the point of view from either of the protagonists, but a higher percentage is told from the female’s point of view. This works well, as the reader of a romance wants to fall in love with their hero as the protagonist does.
There is not a lot of interest in secondary characters. Even if the romance will be part of a series, a protagonist is introduced without much definition, other than they are a friend or sister, or knows one of the protagonists in some sort of way. Other than that, they do not feature.
There is serious conflict in a romance, and both characters must overcome their Fatal Flaw in order to earn the love they strive to feel at the end of the novel. The inner journeys of the protagonists are intense, and the harder and more emotional the journey, the more satisfying the romance.
The spine of the story is about how the two protagonists work through their inner journeys and work through all the forces keeping them apart. The readers’ main interest is the development of the relationship, the too’ing and froo’ing between the characters.
If you are interested in writing a romance, it is a good idea to read vastly. Read every sub-genre. Read category and read single title. (You probably already do if you’re interested in writing a romance novel). That way you will know the characteristics that feature in each sub-category and which ones you like best.
Length of the books
Type of heroines and heroes
Historical time period
Plot elements that appear in many of the books (for example: crime, religion)
The explicitness and type of sex scenes
You will discover a huge variety of features in every romance novel sub category. Decide what you like or don’t like. It takes months and years to hone your craft to write a good romance novel. It is not as easy as you may think it is. It is very important to write what you love to read. You have to keep your interest and enjoyment fresh when you write because one thing is for sure, you will spend hours writing your story.
Whatever sub-category of romance story you want to write, the central plot will always be the same – the goals, conflicts and motivations between your two main protagonists, the roller coaster ride of falling in love and the happy ever after your readers want.
Need more info? My secrets for writing over 20 romance novels: Write Your Right Romance