What is a Romance Novel?

What if you were asked What is a Romance Novel by someone who doesn’t read romance novels? A relative asked me this question. She’s an educated, well-read person, so I wanted to give her as good an answer as I could.


This is what I said:

Romance novels can be incredibly diverse, encompassing history (like me), suspense, elements of women’s fiction, comedy, paranormal, inspirational – you name it. They can also vary by tone from light “romps” to darkly emotional. But what they all have in common is that they are telling the story of a romance. The book is about the romance. The story is the romance–How two people fall in love and find their happily ever after. The happily ever after is essential. A romance is not about doomed romance or tragic romance. It is a celebration of successful romance.

What I mean is, an historical romance is not about the historical events; it is about how two people manage to find love together. Historical events might impact on them, but the story is about their romance. Same with Romantic Suspense- the story is not about—say—a murder mystery. It is about how two people find love together while impacted in some way by a murder mystery.

Because of the focus on two people falling in love, romance novels are basically character focused. And because nobody would read a book about a romance that goes smoothly from first meeting to the wedding day, there has to be conflict. There must be forces driving the couple apart as well as the attraction between them that make them fall in love.

The very best conflicts are internal ones, things about the personality or emotional characteristics of the hero and heroine that drive them apart. External conflict should also play a part. External conflict can often be what the hero and heroine think is keeping them apart, but really it is something inside them that they need to change in order to have their happy ending.

Romance novels today mostly have strong heroes and heroines. Gone are the victim heroines who must passively be rescued by the hero. Heroines need to act on their own behalf just as much as the hero. Characters must be three dimensional and must act in sensible ways or in ways that are understandably motivated.

The hero and heroine should not be “Dudley Do-Right” perfect; they should have flaws, ways they need to change in order to have their happy ending. The conflict should not be something that could be solved by a conversation. The hero, in my opinion, should be someone the reader will fall in love with; the heroine should be someone she’d like to be.

There are some “mostlys” we see in romance novels:

The hero and heroine mostly meet in the first few pages.
The hero and heroine are mostly together for most of the book
The plot is mostly fast-paced with a major turning point in the middle of the book and a “Black Moment” toward the end.
But none of these are hard and fast rules.
I also provided some links:

The best place to start is with Romance Writers of America. Here’s their take on what constitutes a romance novel:
Be sure to click on the link to the various subgenres as well.
Here’s a nice article from a respected romance review site where authors say what they think makes a romance.
Here’s another description – The essential elements of a romance novel according to Pamela Regis
Pamela Regis is an academic who has studied, taught, and researched the romance genre. She’s written a scholarly work on Romance Novels: A Natural History of the Romance Novel
Here’s a little summary:
And from my publishers, Mills & Boon, the UK branch of Harlequin- what constitutes a perfect romance

Okay….so, how did I do?

How would you have answered the question What is a Romance Novel?
What links would you have provided?
Speaking of romance novels, my cover of Chivalrous Captain, Rebel Mistress is still up for best Historical cover at Cover Cafe. (So is one of Amanda’s covers) Vote here if you haven’t already, but don’t forget to vote in at least three categories.
On Thursday at Diane’s Blog, my guest will be Colleen Gleason, talking about her new adventure in publishing!

About diane

Diane Gaston is the RITA award-winning author of Historical Romance for Harlequin Historical and Mills and Boon, with books that feature the darker side of the Regency. Formerly a mental health social worker, she is happiest now when deep in the psyches of soldiers, rakes and women who don’t always act like ladies.
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