Friday, July 17, 2009

Writing 101: What are the romance genres?

The romance genre, is a genre all to itself. In order to be classified as a romance novel, the story must revolve around love as the central plot, and there must be a happily-ever-after (HEA). This, first and foremost, classifies a book as a romance.

When writing a romance novel, it's important to know in what romance sub-genre you are writing, so you can pitch your story and target toward the right publishers. It's also easier to talk about your story if you have identified the genre.For example, an aspiring author I met recently described her book as "a romance but there really isn't a happy ending because the hero dies."

So you first have to stop and think: Is this really a romance? Since we said one requirement for a romance novel is to have a "happily-ever-after," meaning that the hero and heroine are together at the end of the story, if the hero dies, is this truly a romance?

Considering the response above, I dug a little deeper with the author. Turns out the hero actually dies before the story occurs, that he is a ghost throughout the story interacting with the heroine, and yes, they sail off into the sunset together--an emotional satisfying ending. Ah, I suggested, it sounds like your book is a paranormal romance.

Publishers identify the genres they are looking for right up front, usually in their writer's guidelines and on their Web sites. Some of those most common, over-arching genres referred to include:

  • Contemporary romance - novels set in contemporary times in any setting, usually after 1945.

  • Historical romance - novels set in any time period or setting prior to 1945.

  • Paranormal romance - novels with paranormal themes, including sci-fi/futuristic, fantasy, time travel, ghosts, shifters, vampires, etc.

  • Romantic suspense - novels which focus heavily on suspense, thriller or mystery elements.

  • Inspirational romance - novels with strong spiritual or religious beliefs.

  • Erotica - novels with elements of sexually explicit detail.
But wait, there's more. Many books these days cross genres, which means they may combine two or more of the above romantic sub-genres into a new genre. For example, my time-travel series, The Legend of Blackbeard's Chalice, is both time travel and romantic suspense, so I refer to them as time-travel/suspense novels. Take a look at the book trailer below and see if you can pick out both elements of suspense and time-travel. Culinary mysteries (mysteries with food themes) have recently become popular. A novel with a central love story and HEA, that includes elements of mystery, and is set in in "food" setting, might be considered a Culinary Romantic Mystery. A story based on a fairy tale theme, that includes a shape-shifter, and is highly sexually graphic, might be an Erotic/Paranormal.

It is important for a beginning author to understand the basic elements of sub-genres before crossing genres. Also realize that the sub-genre categories listed are not all-inclusive, and you may know of, or identify others that have not been included here.

For more info: Remember to email Maddie with your romance novel writing questions at

The Legend of Blackbeard's Chalice Trilogy

Next up: Writing 101: What are romance publisher lines and imprints?

Previous Writing 101 article: Writing 101: How do I get started writing a romance novel?

Copyright © 2009 Maddie James

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