Subgenres of Romance
Anne M. Marble
Anne M. Marble
to popular opinion, not all romances are alike. Though they follow the basic
'boy meets girl' plot, there is much room for variety. The plots and characters,
the settings, and the characters can vary as much as within mystery novels.
make things more confusing, some categories of
romance novels have subcategories, which in turn have further varieties.
So the romance genre, supposedly full of books that are all the same, really
resembles a tree with branches going off into many directions.
thing I want explain immediately is that romance novels do not necessarily have
sex in them. For example, Regency romances often tell a love story without so
much as a passionate kiss. Even when they do have sex scenes, the best romances
are not about sex, they are about love.
So think of them as love scenes, not
sex scenes, and you'll have a better understanding of the genre as a whole.
you might guess, historical romance novels take place in the past. It's not so
easy, though. For one thing, Regency romances (see below) take place in the
past, but but they fall into their own category. Also, within historical
romances, books can use varying amounts of history as their background. Some
historical romances use the setting as a 'wallpaper' while others are researched and
written in depth. The moods and plots of these books can vary widely from
humorous to deadly serious. Mystery and intrigue plots are often popular. Also,
while some historical romances have dollops of sex, others have only a few love
scenes or even none at all.
you decide to write historical romances, be warned that publishers are rarely interested in some periods. At times it feels as if
all the historical romances are set in the American West, Medieval England, or
Regency England. Something of an exaggeration, but not too far off. Yet even
when books are set in the same era, they can be as different as night and day.
For example, both Julia Quinn and Anne Stuart have set historical romances in
the Regency period. Yet Julia Quinn writes romps with clever banter, while Anne
Stuart writes about tragic, driven characters who sometimes betray each other
before finding redemption.
writers of serious historical romances include Mary Jo Putney, Patricia Gaffney,
Laura Kinsale, Anne Stuart, Johanna Lindsey, Catherine Coulter, Lorraine Heath,
LaVyrle Spencer, Judith McNaught, Kristin Hannah, Megan Chance, Linda Francis
Lee, and Judith Ivory. For a lighter read, try Julie Garwood, Julia Quinn,
Amanda Quick, or Jill Barnett. The ones your mother won't let you read are by
Bertrice Small, Susan Johnson, Thea Devine, and Robin Schone.
are not the same as historical novels set during the Regency period. They are
shorter, generally with an emphasis on Regency society and dialogue over action
and sex. (Although Mary Balogh and others have brought sexuality into the
Regency.) It's safe to say that Regency romances owe as much to Georgette Heyer
(one of SF author Lois McMaster Bujold's favorite writers) as they do to Jane
Austen. However, today's Regency doesn't have to be a drawing room comedy or a
romp. The Regency can be about angst-ridden characters, about heroes discovering
the importance of family life, about heroines recovering from sexual abuse,
about bluestockings, and even about heroines forced to become prostitutes (Mary
Balogh's The Secret Pearl). Many
writers started out writing Regencies before turning to historical romances.
authors of humorous Regencies include Emma Jensen, Barbara Metzger, Diane Farr,
Marion Chesney, and Kasey Michaels. Notable authors of more serious Regencies
include Mary Balogh, Carla Kelly, Joan Wolf, Patricia Oliver, Mary Jo Putney,
Alison Lane, Elisabeth Fairchild, and Jo Beverley.
you might expect, contemporary romances are set in the present. At this time,
popular trends include humorous romances and romantic suspense. (Romantic
suspense is big enough to get its own category in this article.) That could
change any minute now. Besides, many writers aren't afraid to tackle serious
stories about characters recovering from abuse or alcoholism, people coping with
life-changing events, and so forth. That said, tearjerkers where somebody dies
at the end are published as women's fiction rather than romance.
writers of humorous contemporary romance include Susan Elizabeth Phillips,
Elizabeth Bevarly, Jennifer Crusie, and Rachel Gibson. For a more serious read,
turn to Paula Detmer Riggs, Theresa Weir, Kathleen Eagle, or Ruth Wind. For more
suggestions, check out the Romantic Suspense listings.
romances (also known as series romances) are a special type all their own. These
are the books put out in monthly 'lines,' such as Silhouette Special Edition and
Harlequin American Romances. The major publishers are Harlequin and Silhouette,
although some other publishers have dabbled in this field. All but one of the
lines are contemporary. Category romances are shorter than the typical
contemporary romance. Like other types of romances, they can be dramatic,
humorous, sexy, or mysterious. Before submitting to one of the lines, you must
read their guidelines and read the books within that line. Many writers start
out writing category romance and go on to longer 'single-title' romances. (A
single-title book is a romance that is not part of a series.)
who have gone on from category romances to bestsellerdom include Nora Roberts,
Linda Howard, and Elizabeth Lowell. Other notable authors in this field include
Suzanne Brockmann, Jan Freed, Margot Early, Ruth Wind, Eileen Wilks, Ruth Wind,
Virginia Kantra, Rachel Lee, Marilyn Pappano, and LoriFoster.
Fantasy, and Paranormal
romances don't take place in the real world -- they take place on other planets
or in imaginary lands, or they involve creatures such as vampires, werewolves,
genies, ghosts, and pixies. The tone can range from dark and gloomy to
whimsical, even fluffy. Be aware that the worldbuilding and science fiction
elements usually aren't as strong as in typical science fiction or fantasy --
the romance always comes first. Books in these subgenres are generally hard to
sell to traditional publishers, although J.D. Robb (actually Nora Roberts) and
Dara Joy do well. However, some e-publishers specialize in these books.
writers of futuristic and fantasy romance include J.D. Robb, Dara Joy, Susan
Kyle, Susan Grant, Justine Dare, and Amanda Glass. Notable writers of paranormal
romance include Susan Krinard, Maggie Shayne, Jillian Hunter, Christine Feehan,
and Christina Skye.
futuristic, fantasy, and paranormal romances, time travel romances take place
one step beyond the 'real' world. Unlike those other stories, however, time
travel romances are more likely to be popular with the typical romance reader.
Readers who would hold up garlic every time they see a vampire romance might
still enjoy time travel romances. Maybe it's because so many readers have the
fantasy of traveling back to a more romantic age. That might explain why it's
most often the heroine who goes back in time.
most notable author of time travel romances is Diana Gabaldon, though to be
fair, she doesn't think of herself as a romance writer. Another best-seller in
this field was A Knight in Shining Armor
by Jude Deveraux. Other writers in this subgenre include Constance O'Day-Flannery,
Lynn Kurland, and Sandra Hill.
is a genre that you don't see much of today unless you spend a lot of time in
used book stores. That's not to say Gothic romances aren't being published, but
they're often published as romantic suspense instead. The typical Gothic romance
combines moody atmosphere and suspense with a brooding hero and a heroine who is
unsure of whether she can trust the hero. For example, the heroine might wonder
if the rumors about the hero killing his first wife are true. In some Gothics,
the heroine had to decide between two men -- often a fair, charming man and a
dark, brooding one. Of course, the charming man turned out to be the
psychopathic killer, and the brooding man saved her.
authors of the past have included Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, and Mary
Stewart. Today, writers such as Barbara Michaels, Megan McKinney, Kay Hooper,
and Theresa Weir still write with a Gothic touch.
suspense is a cousin of the Gothic romance. Today, the windswept moors and
spooky houses are out of favor. Most romantic suspense novels explore plots
involving drug dealers, serial killers, smugglers, and the like. While most of
these books are serious, there is a growing trend in humorous romantic suspense
novels. Almost all romantic suspense novels are contemporaries, although some
authors (such as Elizabeth Thornton and Amanda Quick) have written historical
with romantic suspense subplots. Many writers have used romantic suspense as a
bridge from romance novels to mainstream bestsellerdom.
writers of romantic suspense include Catherine Coulter, Linda Howard, Sandra
Brown, Jayne Ann Krentz, Susan Andersen, Tami Hoag, Iris Johansen
goes on and on. Like I said, it's a popular category.
you're interested in writing a particular type of romance, be sure to read a
wide variety of books in that subgenre. You don't want to tread over ground that
has been covered before -- unless you can cover that ground with new growth.