In my last few posts, I have started the conversation about the Romance genre by discussing who the genre is for as well as who writes in the genre. This week, I’m going to start digging into the writing of Romance by posing the question: What do readers expect from a book in the genre?
Maybe now is a good moment to pause and think about what you remember most about the Romance books you’ve read. What elements do they share? Which of those elements do they maybe sacrifice in order to stand out from the crowd without sacrificing the genre label totally?
One thing to consider, of course, is the scope of the project you’re undertaking. As this infographic from Literative, a digital collective of fiction writers, demonstrates, Romance is one of the more flexible genres when it comes to length (they drew upon a number of resources to make this infographic, so definitely check their website out for more on that).
As you can see, Literative’s infographic would seem to indicate that the successful Romance novel can flirt with a length from anywhere from forty thousand to one hundred thousand words in length. That’s a much more forgiving range than a Western novel or a Memoir, just to point to two other examples.
And yes, of course rules are made to be broken, especially in self-publishing, where gatekeeping doesn’t serve as an editorial force the way it does in traditional publishing, where recommendations are less optional than they are in our corner of the bookish world.
If even traditional publishing can recognize that Romance is a forgiving genre when it comes to length expectations, that’s really good news for you! Whatever the scope of your next Romance novel may be, there’s room for it in the hearts and minds of dedicated readers. But what do those same readers expect when it comes to content? Here’s where we return to the Romance Writers of America, as we have done previously. (They’re a great resource! And you don’t have to be traditionally published to be a member, apparently.) On the RWA website, the association notes that their definition of the genre is one where “Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. […] Romance novels may have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have varying levels of sensuality—ranging from sweet to extremely hot. These settings and distinctions of plot create specific subgenres within romance fiction.” They then go on to note that there are slightly more specific expectations for content within each subgenre, but never so long or complicated that you can’t grasp the basics in a sentence or two. The subgenres they acknowledge include contemporary, erotic, historical, paranormal, suspense, spiritual, and young adult. Their two “tentpole” characteristics for defining Romance apply to all of them–it’s just that they may be framed a bit differently from each other depending on audience.
So if the Romance genre is so forgiving in respect to content as well as scope, isn’t that essentially permission to write pretty much anything, so long as it features … well … a romance? Absolutely! The difficulties involved in writing a Romance have less to do with what is expected of you and a lot more to do with winnowing down all of the possible things you can do to an achievable list of what you want to do with each specific book.
In my next post, I’m going to take on the challenge of selecting one’s direction: How can a writer ever narrow the options down to pick just the ones they want to focus on right now? We’ll find out together.
You are not alone. ♣︎