Vision: A Resource for Writers
Holly Lisle's Vision
Is It Romance?
An outsider's look at the genre
By Lazette Gifford
2002, By Lazette Gifford
fascinates me: All writing, and all books. I want to know everything
I can about how the different genres work. I was recently surprised
(even shocked) to find out how little I know about the romance field.
After considerable discussion on several mailing lists, checking through books,
and haunting web sites, I now comprehend Romance a little better.
are guidelines that define any genre, but there are also rules in Romance that
go beyond this. Learning them helped me to better understand the field,
and to discover what is and isn't considered romance in the current publishing
world. In this article I'm going to cover just three of these rules. There
is, as in any genre, leeway within different publishing houses on how strictly
some of the rules are enforced, but knowing what they are will better help a new
Romance writer breaking into the market.
most important rule: HEA
written a novel about two kids who grow up next door to each other, fall madly
in love in their teens, marry and have a wonderful life, until the tragic death
of the husband in a car accident. Is it romance?
The story fails in what is the most important of the romance rules -- Happily
Ever After. Modern romance novels must have a happily ever after ending in
order to be considered part of this genre. That is the element the readers
are looking for when they pick up the novel. It might be considered fairy
tales for adults.
about a book where a woman meets a wonderful man at the place where she works,
but for some reason the romance doesn't happen. She goes off and marries
someone else, with whom she is in love. And then the man comes back into
her life, and she finds herself torn between the two?
is also not a romance by the normal definition. The woman cannot have two
love interests, and she cannot be forced to choose between them. With the above
example, it's obvious that someone is not going to live happily ever after, even
if it isn't the heroine.
by following the rules, a story that starts with that initial contact, then
summarizes a marriage that ends in either divorce (or even death) and the
reunion with the original man could be a romance if it leads to an HEA ending
for the two.
like Gone with the Wind, which was once considered romance, no longer fit into
that category, while Jane Eyre still does. What these other books have
become is not as well defined, but some have suggested 'Relationship Stories' as
a term for the novels where something -- especially the ending -- does not
follow the romance rules. This tag might best describe all types of
stories that involve romantic associations, whether they are accepted romance or
outside those bounds.
# 2: I only have eyes for you...
to many of the people I discussed with this, once the hero and heroine meet,
there should be no other love interests, even if the two do not 'hit it off' at
first. The relationship, both ups and downs, is the focus of a romance
story, and in the end the HEA factor has to be apparent in either a marriage or
the knowledge that the marriage will occur. This is why my second story
idea (listed above) could not be a romance. The woman would be torn
between two men she loved, violating this rule.
in today's romances are rarely chaste. The actual level of sexual content
depends on the guidelines of the publishing company, and this is something that
the new romance writer needs to take into account. Some romance lines want
a certain level of graphic description while others want all such description to
end at the bedroom door, so to speak. As the types of sexual activities
inch away from 'accepted' practice, the book moves from romance to erotica.
romance as it is written today, the sexual content must be both consensual and
meaningful to the relationship. Books that just throw bodies together are
not romances. Romance stories concentrate on both the mental and physical
aspects of the relationship.
# 3: POV
readers of present-day romance want to identify with the woman, and from that
aspect they are uninterested in the hero's POV. Finding out what the hero
is thinking isn't important. Besides, part of the allure of romance is the
mystery of the chase, and that can be much harder to maintain if the reader
knows too much about the other character.
is apparently not a carved-in-stone rule. Many writers, and readers,
accept head hopping in romance. Some said that third person from the
heroine's POV is much better than a first person account. But overall, it
seems that most prefer the POV to be entirely from the woman's eyes.
these may be rules for writing in the regular romance category, there is a
section of mainstream publishing that is romance without the rules.
Several novels have hit the bestseller lists that would be considered romance
except for the HEA rule. Some are romance in feel, but not by the rules.
The Bridges of Madison County is probably one of the more famous examples of
this type of book.
are authors who insist that their work, even without an HEA ending, is still
romance. They are in a minority, and from what I've seen, are often at
odds with the others over this subject. Finding print romance publishers who are
willing to step outside the rules is rare (although Harlequin's new Red Dress
line seems to be heading this way), and so it appears that many of these writers
are turning to epublishing and finding their audience on the Internet. As
often happens, epublishing companies are willing to take chances with material
that doesn't fall within the normal boundaries. If their reading public
continues to grow, it may be that this type of book will find its way into a
recognized subcategory of romance, along with the Regency, paranormal and other
types. Each of these subgroups have their own set of personal rules as
well, and anyone who wants to write within these tags should study the types of
books that are published.
those who write the non-HEA books, but aren't as insistent on the Romance tag,
there are other publishing opportunities, though it might lose them a large part
of a voracious readership. The ability to have 'Romance' listed on the
spine of a book (or the ebook tag) can make a big difference in sales. At
the same time, however, the readers of this genre have helped to define what it
is, and putting something under the romance tag that doesn't meet their
expectations is not going to instantly win them over to a new type of romance.
like all genres, should always have a fringe group that is testing the
boundaries and 'drawing outside the lines.' They are, in fact, part of
what helps define the core. Any time the fringe disappears it is a sure sign
that the genre is in decline. Whether or not the larger group accepts the fringe
material is not important. The current style of romance grew from just
such groups that had stepped away from the 'girl running away from the front of
the castle' gothics and the polite adventures of Mary Stewart. It is an
what you are writing before you send it to a publisher
is no rule that says you cannot write whatever story you want, bending the rules
in anyway that suits you. However, if you've read this article, you should
now realize that there are restrictions to what you can rightfully call romance.
And because of that, a writer needs to be fully aware of what type of material
any publisher accepts. Always read the publisher's guidelines. Even
if they say they are looking for romance, there is a chance that they will have
despite what at first look like restrictive rules, is filled with an incredible
range of material. Sub-genres include historical romance, Regency (a very
specialized type of historical), fantasy romance, sf romance, paranormal
romance, and even a special category for time travel romance. There are
others as well, that fall just within the accepted range of material.
are even new publishers, mostly on the Internet, who specialize in gay and
lesbian romance stories that would never make it in the normal print market.
This is (as I've said in other articles) the place where niche markets can grow.
your market is important to writers of any type of book, but as I studied
romance I was surprised to learn how complex writing for this genre really is.
I hope that this article has helped define some of the core needs for anyone who
would like to be published in romance -- which is, by the way, the largest
selling genre on the market.
Writers of America is an expansive and helpful organization for those writing
within the genre. I urge anyone who is even considering writing romance to
go and check out their site at http://www.rwanational.org/
best description of romance that I found comes (paraphrased) from RWA's web
site: Romance is a central love story with an emotionally satisfying and