Love-story vs. Romance

“A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, and from love to matrimony in a moment.”
from Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

Sometimes when my writing is stuck, my thoughts meander into such “philosophical” questions as “will I ever finish it?” or “what genre will it be?” (“it” refers to my would-be second novel). Since I cannot imagine a novel (even though I’ve read many novels) without a central love story, I occasionally wondered whether “it” might be a Romance. A ‘Romance’, I naively thought, is a love story with a happy end. To illustrate this assumption, The Princess Bride would be a romance, while Romeo and Juliet would not.

Recent threads in the Writers’ Cafe, this one, and this one (the latter includes explicit talk about sex), taught me that while every romance has in its core a love story, love plus happy ending aren’t sufficient to be called ‘Romance’. In the following there are some citations about what makes a romance a ‘Romance’:

“Princess Bride is not a Romance. It’s a fairytale, or action and adventure, or fantasy. Sure it has a strong romantic subplot but it’s not Romance with a capital R.
Romance (with the capital R) has certain expectations, no matter what sub-genre you write… women readers need to be able to relate to your heroine. She’s needs to have a flaw that other women struggle with.”

“I think people get confused with “love story” and “romance”. Stories can have a love element, which relates to life. But unless the main focus is the relationship, it’s not a romance.”

“The fantasy of romance is a man who will take care of you. So many women spend their lives taking care of other people. When they read, they don’t want to do the heavy lifting. It’s okay if the MCs take care of each other, but the hero must be attentive to the heroine’s needs. That includes her sexual needs.”

“Romance is much more than a Happily Ever After. Romance is diverse, but it isn’t. It’s ALL, every kind of it, about a journey of two people toward love, toward connection in their life, through their own struggles and weaknesses. They have to be two people that readers can CARE about, and to do that, readers have to be able to identify with the heroine and fall in love with the hero IN THE BOOK. The hero and heroine have to fall in love deeply, passionately (by which I don’t mean sex) and exclusively, “forsaking all others.” There are many sub-genres but the differences are only on the surface.
Romance readers need to be able to identify with the heroine and fall in love with the hero.
The focus of the story is these two people’s journey toward love and a life together. It can also be their individual journeys, but the arc is a romance arc, even if there’s also a suspense arc or whatever else.
She’s had a hard time in some way or another. She meets him, and it’s a struggle to be with him, but they get there together, and they win. She wins. She overcomes.
If you don’t have those things, you can still be writing some other genre with a romance arc… But it probably won’t work as a romance, with a romance audience… Women are reading romance, from Pride and Prejudice on down, to be absorbed by the idea of a man who’s crazy about a woman, and a woman who wins in her life after some kind of struggle. Hopefully with the help and support of the guy. Romance is all about a woman and a man who are able to be vulnerable with each other, even if (especially if) with nobody else, who are able to be each others’ rock, each others’ safe place in a hard world.
(summarized from different posts of Rosalind James)

“Having romantic elements doesn’t make something a romance. You could totally remove the relationship from my books and they would still make complete sense in terms of plot. The romance between them is secondary and there for character purposes.
Most popular fiction has romantic relationship stuff in it. From Jack Reacher to Alex Cross to The Expanse to Game of Thrones, it’s got that stuff in it… relationships of a romantic/sexual nature are part of being human for most humans… people can be busy solving the mystery and killing the bad guy, but pretty much any book can be enhanced with at least the hint of relationships because nobody lives in a vacuum (unless of course that’s your story, kind of like The Martian which still had interpersonal interactions/friendships/etc despite the main char being stuck alone most of it).
To connect to readers, your main char will likely need to at least want to be in a relationship with someone even if it isn’t ever requited or to have someone want to be with them.”
(excerpts from Annie B)

“I write mostly mysteries and paranormal stuff, but I have found the romance angles are immensely popular in my books even though they’re not the main focus. People want to root for a couple and the romantic stuff helps because if someone else loves the character it’s easier for the reader to love the character.”
Amanda M. Lee

So, if I understood correctly, to be qualified as a Romance, a happily-ever love story has to have three additional elements:

  1. relatable (from readers’ point of view) heroine
  2. desirable (from readers’ point of view) hero
  3. the focus of the story is on the relationship between the two

One of the reasons for the diversity in Romance is that not every reader relates to the same type of heroine (e.g. shy and emphatic as opposed to feisty and a natural leader) or finds attractive the same kind of hero (brash “alpha male” vs. someone who is strong yet caring). However, if either of the main characters cares more about saving the world (or whatever) than their beloved, it’s definitely not a Romance, even if at the end of the story they live Happily Ever After without looking at anyone else…

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