historical romance

A Crash Course in Romance Sub-Genres

Romance GEnreBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Welcome to the second to last post in my genre rundown. I hope you’re feeling more confident when it comes to genres (a topic that gives most writers a headache). Today we’re taking a look at romance.

What Is Romance?

A romance is a story where the central focus (and the core conflict) revolves around a romantic relationship between two people. Unless you want angry readers, a mandatory ingredient is a happy ending.

If you’re writing romances, it would be a very smart move for you to join your local chapter of the RWA (Romance Writers of America). Because of how big and popular romance is as a genre, romance writers have more awards to pursue than any other genre, but the most coveted are probably the RITA (for published novels) and the Golden Heart (for unpublished novels).

Defining Romance Sub-Genres

Romance is slightly more complicated when it comes to classifying it than are the other genres because, along with the sub-genres per say, you also need to define the heat level of your romance.

Heat level in romance refers to how intense and explicit the intimate scenes are. Romance novelist Starla Kaye gives an excellent overview of heat levels in romance at her website, including what publisher lines print them and the classifications given to the various levels by different publishers.

Once you know your heat level, you can pick one of the following . . .

Contemporary Romance – As the name suggests, contemporary romances take place post 1960. This is kind of a catch-all category for romance that doesn’t fit in any of the others.

Historical Romance – The line dividing a historical romance from a contemporary romance is, frankly, a little fuzzy. If your book is set pre-1960, you’re probably safe calling it a historical romance, but my suggestion for this one is to find out what your ideal publisher defines as historical and go with their dividing line. If you plan to self-publish, look at how similar books are categorized on Amazon.

Western Romance – Set in the American frontier, or in a contemporary “western” setting such as the Canadian prairies or Australian outback, western romance readers expect to experience horses, cowboys, and a simpler way of life (though not a simpler plot line).

Gothic Romance – Gothic romance combines romance and horror and often involves a mystery. The darkness and terror should complement the sexual tension between your main characters.

Regency Romance – Set in regency-era (circa 1790-1820) Great Britain, it takes more than just a location and time period to make a successful regency romance. Readers expect wit and fast-paced dialogue like that found in Jane Austen’s novels. This sub-genre is less likely to include open discussions of sex than the other sub-genres (but a lot of subtext and innuendo can replace it). Marriages of convenience, false engagements, mistaken identities, and large differences in social class are popular elements.

Romantic Suspense – Romantic suspense is the most plot-driven of all romance and usually involves a strong heroine who finds herself in a dangerous situation. The key to a successful romantic suspense is to blend both elements so that neither overwhelms the other.

Paranormal Romance – Paranormal romances usually involve a romantic relationship between a human and a ghost, vampire, shapeshifter, werewolf, or some other non-human or quasi-human being. They can also focus around psychic abilities. Unlike with fantasies, the romance rather than the otherworldly elements is central. Kait Nolan’s Red and Jennette Marie Powell’s Hanger 18 Legacy are examples of paranormal romance. (As is Twilight technically.) Many people get confused about whether their book is urban fantasy or paranormal romance, but the answer is actually simple. If the core conflict of your book revolves around the romance, you’re writing a paranormal romance. If the core conflict of your book revolves around something else, even if it has strong romantic elements, it’s an urban fantasy.

Inspirational Romance – Inspirational romances will always fall to the most conservative end of the heat spectrum. If you want to sell an inspirational romance, don’t try to push the envelope. The envelope isn’t going to budge, and you’re just going to end up with a lot of very painful paper cuts. Inspirational romances always end either in marriage or the very strong potential for marriage, and the characters’ faith journeys need to be central to the plot and their relationship. Inspirational romance can serve as an umbrella category for the other sub-genres as well. For example, you could be writing a romantic suspense that’s also an inspirational romance because of the faith element to it (ala Dee Henderson’s books). Author Jody Hedlund writes inspirational historical romance.

If you’re writing a romance, regardless of the sub-genre, I strongly recommend you read Jami Gold’s post What Makes a Romance Believable?

Where does your book fit? What do you love about romance novels? What do you hate?

I hope you’ll check out the books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series, including Mastering Showing and Telling in Your Fiction and How to Write Dialogue.

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Is Omniscient POV Dying?

Gilbert Morris The River Rose

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

A couple months ago, I was excited to be offered a chance to read and review Gilbert Morris’ The River Rose. The River Rose is a historical romance about a woman steamboat captain in 1850, and Gilbert Morris co-authored my favorite series of books during my late high school and early university years, the Cheney Duvall, M.D. series.

I love a clean read (referring to content rather than editing). I love a strong female protagonist. And I love a detail-rich world. The River Rose gave me all of these, and yet, I found myself disappointed.

Because of my great respect for this author, for all he’s achieved, and for the Cheney Duvall series, which still makes me laugh and continues to sit on my shelf of favorites after all these years, I refuse to publicly speak ill of this book, especially since I think the problem is one of personal preference.

I don’t like omniscient POV.

I’ll write more about point of view (POV) in another series of posts, but here’s a basic way to think of it.

When we’re young, our mothers or fathers or grandparents tell us stories. They’ll tell us what each character is thinking or feeling at any moment. They’ll even tell us things the characters don’t yet know. They’re all-knowing in the story world.

And we’re alright with that because we don’t want to experience the story as if we were one of the characters. We want to be safely watching from a distance while our loved one gives us the big picture view.

This used to be the case in most fiction 100 years ago. It would have been improper somehow to poke intimately into a stranger’s story, and we weren’t that far removed from the days when most people were illiterate and the majority of stories were still told orally. Omniscient POV was the norm.

But as we grow and as our society changed, we no longer want to be told a story. We want to see it and live it. We gobble up reality TV. We watch movies in 3-D. Our video games are using cameras to capture our movements to power avatars we created to look like us. We now want stories written in first person or in intimate third person (deep POV). We want to feel like we’re part of the story. At least, I do. I’ll be one of the first standing in line when they create a Star Trek-style holodeck.

So it’s not simply The River Rose. I felt the same way about Rachel Aaron’s excellently written Spirit Thief series. Despite the unique plot and beautiful language, I couldn’t connect.

Even though omniscient POV shouldn’t be confused with the head-hopping that will get your book rejected by agents and readers alike, to my brain, conditioned to first person and intimate third person styles, I felt jarred out of the story whenever I was told something the character I was currently trying to identify with couldn’t possibly know. I subconsciously sought that identification even once I figured out the book used omniscient POV.

Many genres still embrace omniscient POV, including historical fiction, so I’m sure other people will love this book. For these reasons, I’m excited to be able to give away a copy to one person today (US only). Share this post and leave a comment to be entered.

Do you feel the same way about omniscient POV? Do you think we’ll see less and less of it in the coming years or do you think, like many fashion trends, it’ll be back?

I hope you’ll check out the newly released mini-books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series–Strong Female Characters and How to Write Faster–both currently available for 99 cents.

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