[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Rah rah ah-ah-ah. Roma-roma-ma. Ga-ga ooh-la-la!

That’s right.


Love it, hate it, or love to hate it, romance is popular. Over 50% of paperback books sold in the USA are romance novels. The romantic comedy rules Hollywood. From Jane Austen to Stephenie Meyer we love our romance stories.

Confession time: Both Austen and Meyer make me want to throw up in my mouth a little. But Gaudy Night will always be my favorite Dorothy Sayers novel. The point is, there’s a romance for everyone.

Even if it’s a Bad Romance.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

So what is a romance?

According to the Romance Writers of America, the two elements of a successful romance plot are:

1) it must be focused on the relationship and romantic love between (at least) two people; and

2) it must have an “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”

So no, you can’t kill off the love interest. That puts you firmly in the “drama” category. But other than that, you can have pretty much any subplot or backdrop for your story, so long as the main plot, conflict and climax are focused on developing the relationship between your characters. Let’s take a look at a few of the classic categories for romance.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_single_image border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” title=”historical romance” img_link_large=”” image=”24822″][vc_column_text]Historical romance combines the elements of historical fiction and romance. The historical period that provides the backdrop for the story is usually the early 20th century at the latest, although as we move further from the 20th century the later half of the 20th is becoming fair game.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_single_image border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” title=”contemporary romance” img_link_large=”” image=”23976″][vc_column_text]Contemporary romance is set in or near the present day and often focuses on problems specific to the time period. For example, while it would be unusual to have a divorced woman as the heroine of a historical romance, it’s a frequent occurrence in contemporary romance.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_single_image border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” title=”time travel romance” img_link_large=”” image=”24820″][vc_column_text]The plot of a time travel romance usually (although not 100% of the time) has one of the romantically involved characters travel backward through time to meet the other character(s). The main conflict often involves the hero or heroine’s struggle to return to the present day, while still desiring to maintain a relationship. The resolution may involve the characters remaining together in the past, or the love interest finding a way to travel to the present day.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_single_image border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” title=”paranormal romance” image=”24824″ img_link_large=””][vc_column_text]Paranormal romance includes elements of fantasy like vampires or werewolves. Often one of the major plot points is the tension in a relationship between a monster and a human. Alternately, the characters in the relationship may both be monsters but of types which historically have been at war with each other, generating a Romeo-and-Juliet type plot… but don’t forget: romance has a happy ending for the characters.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_single_image border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” title=”sci fi & fantasy romance” img_link_large=”” image=”24831″][vc_column_text]Yeah, I know. But science fiction and fantasy romances are distinct from time travel (which features the past) and paranormal (fantasy elements in a contemporary setting) romance. Again, however, the focus must be on the romantic connection between the characters. Star Wars is not a science fiction romance just because Han and Leia (or Anakin and Amidala) hook up. The main plot centers on the ongoing conflicts between the Empire and the Republic.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_single_image border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” title=”erotic romance” img_link_large=”” image=”24830″][vc_column_text]There is a difference between erotic romance and erotica. I know it might not sound like much of a difference, but erotic romance is focused on the plot and the development of the relationship between the characters, and the characters happen to have some explicitly described sex while that’s happening (cough*Julia Quinn*cough). An erotic romance could function if you, like my friend’s mom, paperclipped the “spicy” pages together and didn’t read those parts. Erotica, by contrast, uses sparse plot or setting to move the characters from one sexual situation to the next. The primary purpose of erotica is to deliver those explicit situations, without a focus on plot or development of the relationship.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]So that’s pretty much all, folks. Romance is a story that takes place in any setting, has a primary plot that revolves around the successful (after a few bumps) relationship between main characters, and has a happy ending.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

How to tell if you’re not writing a romance

  • Is your plot focused on the exploits of one character to the exclusion of the other character in the relationship? Not a romance. Even if all those exploits are generally focused on obtaining the other character. That’s a video game. Remember you’re supposed to focus on the development of the relationship.
  • Does at least one of your main characters die? This is not an emotionally satisfying and successful happy ending within the definition of those terms. Congratulations, you have written a tragedy.
  • Does the relationship not change, or even deteriorate, over the course of the story? Look. We all liked The War of the Roses, but it’s not a romance. Romancing the Stone? Romance. Jewel of the Nile? I think you could make an argument for it. But even if you picture War of the Roses as the third installment in that Michael Douglas/Kathleen Turner lovefest, it’s not a romance.


This is a big and scary genre!

It is. Kind of. But if you’ve never tried writing a romance, here’s the good news: all you’re doing is writing the kind of story you usually write, but with two characters that interact instead of one that has feelings. So give it a shot, you might be surprised. And check out our writing help section for tips and tricks on dialogue (including punctuation!) and character interaction.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]