…and they lived happily ever after.
Trite though it may sound, according to Romance Writers of America, a happy ending or “an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending” is one of only two requirements for a story to be classified under the Romance genre. In order to meet both requirements, the story must also revolve around the romantic relationship between the two main characters. The love story is the pivotal plot, although there can be any number of subplots.
These subplots are part of the reason for the different subcategories of romance—of which there are many. Considering that a romance can take place anywhere, be about anyone, and incorporate as many other subgenres as a writer can imagine and still reside within the broad boundaries of “Romance,” it’s no surprise there are as many subcategories as there are. Here are a few:
- Contemporary: Any sub genre of romance set after World War II (circa 1945) is considered contemporary. The exception to this, of course, is novels written before 1945. They are considered contemporary to their time.
- Historical: Any title written before World War II is considered historical, though with the caveat noted above.
- Romantic suspense: A romance with a mystery or crime subplot would be categorized as suspense.
- Paranormal romance: A romance with a nonhuman, godlike, or more-than-human character would be considered paranormal. Think vampires, werewolves, angels, demons, witches, ghosts, etc., and you’ve got yourself a paranormal romance.
- Time Travel Romance: Often an opposites-attract story, time travel romance displaces the heroine in most cases and sends her back in time, where she faces unforeseen obstacles to win her hero.
- Erotic romance: Romances that stretch the sexual boundaries, are more graphic in nature, and focus on the sexual relationship rather than the romantic relationship would be categorized as Erotica.
- Inspirational romance: A title whose background theme involves the characters’ faith and relationship with God, and whose romantic relationship is often tamer, sweeter, and less physical than other sub genres.
The list of sub genres is virtually limitless. Additionally, a romance can also be classified as a series or category romance, in which shorter stories with consistent themes or characters are published in a series, or a single-title romance, which are stand-alone romances published individually as the title implies. Harlequin and Silhouette are two large publishers of series romances.
Romances have been around for hundreds of years. Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded written by Samuel Richardson in 1740 was the first bestselling novel to be written from a female’s point of view. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is considered one of the greatest happily ever afters written with its richly developed characters, relationship development, and extensive character growth all wrapped up in a tale of opposites attract. And more recently, the bodice-ripping historical novels of Johanna Lindsay and the contemporary love stories of Nora Roberts have sold millions. Romantic novels span the sub genres and the centuries.
What makes a good romance? Besides telling a love story and ensuring a happy ending, a good romance makes the reader care about the characters. Sometimes it’s not instantaneous, which is even better. Honestly, who doesn’t love a guy who’s a bit of a jerk in the beginning, but there’s something about him, and slowly he grows on you, morphs into a real man, makes you root for him, and then gets the girl in the end?
When an author creates realistic, honest conflict, whether internal or external, it only amplifies the reading experience. The tension that builds as the characters grow closer while working toward a resolution and navigating the misunderstandings of new relationships is what anticipation is all about. A good romance will build anticipation steadily before the story arcs to its natural conclusion without rushing or dragging out any of the good stuff in between.
And speaking of the good stuff in between, that’s most of the reason readers love a good romance. Sure, the happily ever after gives you the warm fuzzies, but when a story grabs you and catapults you into another time, or country or reality, and you lose yourself in the characters and their struggle to find their way through the difficulties of life to that one perfect person created just for them… *sigh* What’s better than that?
That’s also part of the reason authors write romance. In an informal poll, authors were asked why they write romance. Many say they write what they like to read, and if they don’t see what they’re looking for, then they write it themselves. Writing romance gives the author a chance to step away from her everyday life, take her normal, so-so experiences, and extrapolate that into the perfect fantasy. She controls the flaws of her characters, so she can remove any and all annoying or disgusting habits from her hero. Writing romance is satisfying and rewarding. Taking two characterless lumps of clay, shaping them into people with depth and honesty—people you’d like to call friends or family—and then steering them down their paths so they can fall in love is nearly as much fun as creating the perfect antagonist to throw a wrench in you hero’s carefully laid plans. And imagine—with romance, you get to do both!
It’s no surprise that romance novels account for about half the total book sales in North America. Sounds like a happily ever after in my book.