Monday, 28 October 2013

Genre: Romance

By Iola Goulton

The biggest genre is romance: biggest both in terms of the number of books published, and the number of books sold. Romance novels, according to Romance Writers of America, have two defining qualities: they have a love story that is central to the plot, and they have an “emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending”—the Happy Ever After, or HEA. If it only has one of the two, it’s probably be Women’s Fiction, not romance. There are several major sub-genres within romance:

Contemporary

Contemporary romances can be set any time after World War II, but are usually set in the present day. They can date very quickly, both in terms of the technology (cassette decks or dial-up internet) and in terms of the social norms they espouse. There are numerous sub-genres within contemporary romance: military romance and cowboy romance are currently popular, as are books set in small towns with old-fashioned values of friendliness and community.

Romantic Suspense

Romantic suspense novels are more plot-driven, and usually feature the hero and heroine working together to solve some mystery (or may feature one trying to rescue the other from evildoers). One or both protagonists usually work in either law enforcement or serve in the Armed Forces (FBI agents and Navy SEALs are especially popular). Note that for a novel to be considered romantic suspense, the love story must be central to the plot. If the suspense is more important than the love story, the novel is likely to be a thriller/suspense with romantic elements. The same holds true for other romance sub-genres.

Historical

Historical romance can be set in any period prior to World War II. The most popular period in Christian fiction is probably novels set in the American West in the late 1870’s, while both Regency and Victorian England are popular in general market romance. Edwardian fiction is gaining traction in both markets, probably due to the popularity of Downton Abbey. The key challenge for authors in historical fiction is blending historical accuracy with modern-day sensibilities, particularly around sexist or racist attitudes.

Chick-lit

Chick-lit isn’t really romance, as the heroine’s relationships with family and friends are often as important as her romantic relationships. The origin of the phrase is chick (young woman) lit (literature). It’s not chic lit. Classic (!) examples include Bridget Jones’s Diary, and these exemplify my issue with Chick-lit: they often feature and glorify infidelity and promiscuity.

Chick-lit has a slightly different meaning within the Christian market: it refers to novels that are humorous or ‘light in tone’ with a colloquial voice. Examples include Sandra Bricker and Lisa Wingate. This was popular in the 1990’s, but has now fallen from favour.

Edgy

Most Christian romances maintain a standard of purity around sex and sexual feelings. Those that choose to address sexuality more directly are often referred to as 'edgy'. While I understand those who prefer to read Christian romance because it provides a clean read, I do believe there needs to be a place in Christian romance to acknowledge the physical feelings associated with love, and to provide readers with a godly way of dealing with those feelings. 

Bonnet Romance

Romances featuring Amish or Mennonite characters. Amish romance is a genre quirk: it’s a hugely popular sub-genre of Christian fiction, but not in the general market. It is usually contemporary, set in one of the various Old Order Amish communities in the United States, and often features a teenager falling in love for the first time as she struggles to come to terms with the rules of her faith.

Do you write romance? How do you describe what you write? What do you feel are the essential ingredients in a romance novel?

Next week we will discuss some more common genres: mysteries, suspense and thrillers. I hope to see you then.

I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog.

20 comments:

  1. Well, I'm not going to lie, Iola. I'm glad romance is the biggest published seller. I write historical romance, set in Australia in the colonial era... which is not the same as the colonial era in the US. In my bio, I say I write, "the Heartbeat of Yesteryear, Historical Romance - Aussie style"

    My stories all take place between 1840 and 1880, but I think I'd like to explore the early 1900s sometime too.

    Yay for romance!! :) Thanks for the post.

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  2. And I'm another Aussie Historical Romance writer. But I guess I've discovered I like to have some suspense elements in there as well. :)

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  3. Romantic suspense is my favourite genre, with historical romance coming a close second. In fact, the only sub-genre I don't enjoy is Amish.

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  4. Ok blogger ate my last two comments.
    I am going to buck the system I like a little as I dont mind some bonnet romance. My favourite would be historical but not regency, I like the westerns and other ones. I like some Romantic suspense but not big on suspense. Love Margaret Daley's books and the LIS. The ones I really dont like are Chick Lit they seem to be 30ish single girls with high flying jobs desperate to be married. Camy Tang is an exception.

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  5. Iola, why do you think Chic-Lit has fallen from favour?

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    1. Dotti, the cyclical genre trends in Christian romance sometimes follow the general romance market trends. Chick-lit (or chook-lit according to the Aussies, lol) was big 10-15 years ago, with the popularity of Bridget Jones and Sex in the City. At the height of chick-lit, Kristin Billerbeck's Ashley Stockingdale books were very popular in the Christian market. But readers 'moved on' from chick-lit in the general market and other genres have grown in popularity eg, paranormal romance. While paranormal/erotic romance has taken off in the general romance market, bonnet romance has done a similar thing in the Christian romance market. It will be interesting to see if bonnet fiction is a cyclical trend or a new 'staple' in the Christian romance genre that remains popular with readers.

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    2. Narelle is right in that these things go in cycles. In the early 2000's chick-lit was all the go in Christian fiction, and if an author wrote anything historical they couldn't get a contract for it - it had gone out of fashion and no publisher was buying it. Biblical Fiction was even more difficult to sell than Historical. Amish had also started to take off about this time, led by Beverly Lewis. Dee Henderson had established the popularity of Romantic Suspense, and Medical Suspense such as Harry Kraus and Hannah Alexander was also popular. Contemporary Romance and Women's Fiction was more popular as well.

      Fast forward a few years and it's a different landscape in the publishing world. Historical has become the more popular genre once again, pushing Contemporary to a back seat in all areas with the exception of Romantic Suspense and Amish. Biblical fiction has also once again grown in popularity, entrenched even more this time around than it was in the late 1980's/early 1990's.

      Chick-lit has all but disappeared, yet for many years it was all the rage. Who knows if it will make a comeback? Never say never - just ask those who now have several Biblical fiction titles published when just a decade ago they kept being told no.

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    3. I think Narelle and Ellie have answered this nicely (thank you, ladies).

      I wonder if there might be another reason: readers want to see the happy ever after ending, and chick lit didn't necessarily deliver this, so publishers have moved to focus on delivering what the reader wants.

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    4. I found some was good but a lot focused on well off 30ish ladies who were unhappy being single and it made it seem like if you were over 30 and single there was something wrong with your. (Oh I loved Virginia Smiths books but heres were not really chick lit were they).

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  6. Iola, thanks for this post. I've read 1 or 2 romantic suspense novels recently and enjoyed them. Who are you favourite romantic suspense authors?

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    1. Dee Henderson (but only the O'Malleys and Uncommon Heroes), Kristen Heitzmann, Dani Pettrey. Irene Hannon and DiAnn Mills have some good romantic suspense but also write contemporary (Hannon) and historical fiction.

      Which authors did you read?

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    2. have you read any of Margaret Daley's texas Rangers series. its a really good romantic suspense series.

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  7. Enjoyed your post, Lola. I've read some great books in all of the above sub-genres. My own writing would fall into the category of Historical romantic suspense, but as long as romance is there in any good book, it keeps me going to the end :-)

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    1. I agree, Deirdre. I think almost any novel can be improved by a solid romantic subplot!

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  8. Iola, thanks for your informative post. My first love is contemporary romance, and I'm blessed to have the opportunity to write for Love Inspired Heartsong Presents. My contemporary romances are set in Australia with Aussie characters. My first three book series is set in a fictitious small town, and my second three book series is set in Sydney.

    Emotion is an essential ingredient in a romance, irrespective of the sensuality level. The developing relationship between the hero and heroine is always the central focus, even with the genre mixes. Romance readers know the hero and heroine will end up together. They want to journey with the characters to discover how they overcome the many obstacles in the story to achieve their happily-ever-after ending. In a Christian/inspirational romance, the hero and heroine's faith journey is an intrinsic part of the romance plot.

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    1. The Christian journey is important for me. I've just finished reading a YA manuscript that wasn't written by a Christian. It's very good, but it missed that essential theme of faith and hope that good Christian romance does so well.

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  9. Again, great post, Iola - good to have things defined so clearly.

    I enjoy reading contemporary romance the most, but closely followed by historical and then anything goes after that. (Yes, I even like the odd bonnet romance too!)

    When it comes to writing though, its contemporary for me, with an Australian setting. I get a kick out of reading a book set in a place/suburb I know well; as a consequence my first novel was set in Sydney and then the Gold Coast. The one I'm currently writing is all Sydney.

    As Narelle said, emotion is an essential ingredient in a romance. My aim is to also include a healthy touch of realism. That may seem a far-fetched statement coming from me when my hero in 'A Simple Mistake' was a celebrity, haha, but it's the dynamic of the relationship and the obstacles the characters face that need to be real in order for the reader to relate and have empathy.

    One more gem of wisdom I gleaned from somewhere (I think it was from Nicholas Sparks' website): a romance has to have a happy ending - a love story does not.

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    1. Absolutely on the happy ending! Romance Writers of America say if it doesn't have a happy ending, it's not a romance.

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  10. I have enjoyed this whole post, Iola - together with the comments. Yes it's helpful to know what's in and what's out. But I feel it's best for me to stay within the genre I understand best. And hopefully will be recognized for my particular style in historical romance.

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  11. Sorry late responding here for such a good post, Iola. I do agree with inspirational romance (as Christian romance is called in the trade) needing to deal with emotions and sexual desires. Romance readers want what Randy Ingermanson calls "emotional experiences" and so a certain level of sensual tension is expected by romance readers. I've found this is not at all easy to do adequately. In fact, I've discovered the prologue of my first Baragula book, Return to Baragula" is considered "edgy" by some readers - especially from the Bible belt areas of America. Would love to hear what Aussie readers thing about the level of emotions I write in my books - especially as I am close to final edits for my current manuscript and know I will never stop learning!.

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