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Monday, May 4, 2009

Taking a Walk on the Romantic Side: Romance Sub Genres

Last week we talked about fiction genres. Most of the time, you can choose your genre and sub genre from that huge list, (Fantasy Romance, Paranormal Romance, Romantic Suspense, etc), so I won’t go over those again. But when it comes to romance, there are a few sub genres that are unique to romance, more often used with romance, or have slightly different rules when applied to romance. So they get their own post. And again, these by no means complete the list.

Category/Series – Category and series romances are books that are published for a particular line…think Harlequin Blaze, Harlequin Intrigue, Mills & Boon Medical, Silhouette Desire. These books tend to be shorter (60k or under) and are often numbered sequentially. Generally, a certain number of titles are released in a particular category each month. They are widely distributed, especially through the publisher’s book clubs. Many of the romance novels you see on the bookstands at the grocery stores (they usually have similar covers, titles, styles) are category romances.

Single Title – these are romances that do not belong to a particular category as defined above. They are longer (70k and up). They do not necessarily have to be “stand alone” books. Meaning, you can have a series, trilogy, etc that still qualify as single title. Unless your book is specifically written for and published by a company that puts out category romances, your book is single title.

Contemporary – for non-romance novels, this has a slightly different meaning. Usually contemporary refers to present day (or very recent past). But for romance, contemporary is anything after the World Wars (1945 to present). Some writers of this genre include Fern Michaels, Nora Roberts, Jude Deveraux, and Danielle Steele.

Erotic/Romantica™ - Romances can have erotic elements without being Erotica. For your book to qualify as Erotica, sex must be the defining element of the plot; meaning, if you take the sex out, the story falls apart. However, this does not mean that Erotica is just a book full of explicit sex scenes. Emotion is a huge part of Erotica stories and must be present in the plot. Passionate Ink, a special chapter of Romance Writers of America, defines Erotica as:
stories written about the sexual journey of the characters and how this impacts them as individuals. Emotion and character growth are important facets of a true erotic story. However, erotica is NOT designed to show the development of a romantic relationship, although it’s not prohibited if the author chooses to explore romance. Happily Ever Afters are NOT an intrinsic part of erotica, though they can be included.
Examples include Shayla Black’s Decadent, Kate Douglas’s Wolf Tale series, and Beatrice Small’s Dangerous Pleasures.

Romantica™ is a sort of sub genre of Erotica. The term Romantica™ was coined by the folks at Ellora’s Cave, and is actually trademarked and so must be used with the trademark symbol. As defined on their website:
Within this genre, the main protagonists develop "in love" feelings for one another that culminate in a monogamous relationship...Ellora's Cave Romantica® must be both erotic and romantic...The sexual relationship must be integral to and an important element of the storyline and the character development. Sex scenes should contribute to furthering the plot or affecting the development of the romantic relationship or the growth of the characters…The story must meet the definition of a romance novel: the primary focus must be on the development of a romantic relationship, and there must be an emotionally satisfying committed ending for the main characters.
Gothic – these novels are usually set in the past, usually in an isolated location; a castle, distant manor houses, etc. They generally combine elements of romance, suspense, and mystery. Think of the stories where a young governess travels to tend the children of a handsome widower in his castle on the remote shores of England. They fall in love, someone tries to kill her or there is some other danger infused mystery to solve, and at the end, they marry and live happily ever after. Victoria Holt is one of the queens of Gothic romance.

Historical – as I mentioned in the genre post from last week, when it comes to romances, Historical refers to anything before the World Wars…and typically, historical romances take place even earlier, generally before 1910. These stories can take place anywhere in the world. The historical setting and details are an intricate part of the story. Western romances would fall under this category as they are typically set in the old American West. Some authors of this genre are Jane Feather, Johanna Lindsey, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, Elizabeth Boyle and Catherine Coulter.

Regency – A Regency is a very specific type of historical (and yes, it is specific enough that it has its own category). Regency novels are set in early 1800s England. The historical aspects of this time period are key elements in the story. Historical figures and circumstances are often woven into the story (even if they are background tidbits). The use of titles, proper name usage (you wouldn’t have a maid called Alexandra or a princess named Betsy), and examples of correct language and behavior for the time are a must. The focus on the setting and mannerisms of the characters are often much more pronounced than in a ‘regular’ historical. Some writers of this genre include Jo Beverley and Marion Chesney.

Traditional – these “old-fashioned” romances tend to focus on the emotional side of love with less of the physical stuff. Hand holding, tender glances, maybe a sweet kiss here and there. If there is a sex scene, it would be along the lines of “they kiss and then her husband blew the candle out." A lot of the classics like Emma and Pride and Prejudice would fall into this category.

Michelle McLean writes YA fiction, children’s picture books, and adult non-fiction, and has been published in three Chicken Soup for the Soul books. She holds a B.S. in History and a M.A. in English. If her nose isn’t stuck in a book somewhere, you might want to check her pulse.


Stina said...

Thanks Michelle for the breakdown. Even though I don't write adult romances (YA all the way), I was curious about some of the sub genres, especially since some of them are making their way into YA (with the exception of erotica, of course). But how could you misspell the grandmother of Historical Romances's name wrong? It's Katherine E Woodiwiss. ;) She turned in her grave at that.

Looking forward to your next great post.

Anonymous said...

excellent breakdown agai...Great Job!

Michelle McLean said...

Ack! Thanks Stina! It's been corrected :) I swear, you double and triple check things and still those pesky typos get you every time ;-)

Dutch Henry said...

So very helpful. This Genre thing is tough to get a handle on. I will be seriously querying my latest novel, in a few months, and have struggled with this. While my story is firmly rooted in the Romance category, I never felt totally comfortable. I feel as if so many of today's Romance novels are so fast paced, it is hard for love to keep up. In fact I've sent two queries out, and called my novel, an old fashioned love story. I like Traditional Romance. You may have helped me out a lot here. - Thanks.

Gitty up - Dutch

Unknown said...

I definitely don't write any form of the Romance genre, but the breakdown is very interesting! Thank you for sharing! I love coming here because I always learn something new!

Michelle McLean said...

Dutch, glad I could help. If your story has a Happily Ever After ending, I'd call it a Traditional Romance. I usually save the term Love Story for books that have all the romance but don't have that happy ending (but that is just me; others might disagree). :)

Amanda Bonilla said...

Great post! I had no idea that Romance could be broken down into so many sub-genres. I learn something new on this site every day!

Stina said...

Thanks, Michelle. Katherine's happy again. I have a theory about those typos, and it has something to do with computer gremlins. Or at least that's my excuse. ;)

Michelle McLean said...

LOL computer gremlins...that's much better than user error :D Let's go with that ;-)

Anonymous said...

Great breakdown, but where's paranormal? :-)

Michelle McLean said...

brimfire - I discussed paranormal last week in the fiction genre post. As any of the regular fiction genres could be used as a Romance sub genre, this week I only focused on sub genres that were either unique to romance or had different rules when applied to romance :)

Bethany Wiggins said...

Michelle, thank you for your wisdom!!! I can tell just by reading this post that you are a fantastic writer.

Yamile said...

I've learned so much from this post! I had no idea there were so many sub-genres of romance! Thanks for the info.

Anonymous said...

(re: paranormal subgenre)
Ah, yes. I see. Makes sense.