Now that we’ve read the definitions of the various genres, the mere fact of making romance the primary plot is going to change some of the definitions in Lecture 1. There are also subgenres that are unique to romance.
So, what are the subgenres of romance? There are a lot of them, and growing all the time. Since I don’t write every single thing in the world, I’ve asked some wonderful people to help me out with the proper definitions for this workshop. Many thanks to Maria Geraci, Karen Jones, Kate Duggan and Claire Delacroix of the RWA Online chapter #136 for their definitions to explain several subgenres. I’ll credit their specific topics as I go along, as well.
The first thing to know is that subgenre in romance steps away from the bookstore shelving requirements. The bookseller doesn’t much care whether it’s romantic suspense or paranormal in single title. "Single title" romances are ones that are not part of a series that the publisher produces for monthly shelving. Category is the the only type of book that is unique in a bookstore. A group of volumes are shelved together by . . . well, category.
Where all of the single title books are alphabetical by author name, category books are often numbered and color-coded.
Remember that subgenre is only useful to the author to help find the right publisher for their book. Some publishers have lines that handle certain kinds of romances, but not others. But in the store, you will find inspirational next to contemporary and chick-lit next to erotic, depending on the last names.
What genres WON’T you find in the romance section? Children’s, because before twelve, a child has no concept of romantic love, and horror, because there isn’t usually an HEA. Pretty much any other sub-category is up for grabs.
Category/Series: Category in romance isn’t so much a subgenre as a marketing concept. In the 1980's, publishers like Harlequin, Bantam and Silhouette got the brilliant idea to sell books as perishable products in the groceries and discount stores. By regularly rotating the stock, the store was relieved of the burden of ordering books individually and could pay the publisher a flat rate to set up on special shelves (or stand-alone racks). Each of the books has a date on the spine, just like a shopper would find on a milk carton. Most of the category sales are directly to the publisher’s Book Club — where subscribers to the service receive 1-3 books per month in each of several categories, or imprints, such as Blaze, Bombshell, or Regency. They are marketed with similar covers and colors so that the reader can easily find new offerings in their favorite category. Thanks to Claire Delacroix for this wonderful history lesson!
Chick-Lit: The type of book has meant a number of different things over the years, but it has evolved to simply mean the tone of the work (i.e. an irreverent, upbeat tone, which can be a bit edgy. It’s often set in an urban area and deals with friendship, material possessions and dating.) Because it's considered to simply be the tone of the work - which is graphically represented in several different ways currently on the covers - there can be ChickLit in any part of a house's list.
Romantic Comedy: Humorous situations center around the H/h falling in love and getting their HEA. My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a romantic comedy, but these are often considered chick-lit or contemporary for the purpose of selling to a publisher.
Contemporary (short) - For the purpose of romance, Contemporary means the same as the genre definition in Lecture 1. It’s a "here and now" description that covers a wide variety of styles. If the people are human and the time is the present, it’s probably contemporary. Often, in review magazines, alternate world paranormal novels are grouped in contemporary, because it’s still here and now, even though "here" happens to be another dimension. When you see "short" in the title, that means it’s part of the category family, owing to a shorter length of 40,000-60,000 words.
Contemporary (long) - Long contemporary has the same definition as short contemporary, but is likely to be a single title (not part of a category or series). Single title novels generally have a word count from 70,000-110,000.
Erotic/Romantica™ - You’ll note that the term "Romantica" is shown with a trademark symbol (™) after it. This is because the publisher Ellora’s Cave invented the term and registered it with the U.S. Trademark Office. It may only be used with the trademark symbol or a notation that it belongs to Ellora’s Cave. As defined on their website, Romantica™ is "any work of literature that is both romantic and sexually explicit in nature. Within this genre, a man and a woman develop "in love" feelings for one another that culminate in a monogamous relationship." Erotic romances are not necessarily erotica. You can have erotic content in any subgenre of romance, but that merely makes it a sexy romance. True erotica requires that sex be a key element of the plot, so that if it is removed, the plot no longer stands on its own. There are many people that consider erotica a fancy name for pornography, but that is not true. The difference between pornography and erotica is "emotion." Pornography is the written slap of flesh against flesh — no matter who the person is. Wife, lover, lonely girl at the end of the bar, or hooker in the alley. Erotica DEMANDS emotion in the text. Whether it is anger, or fear or love. Yes, sex is the story in each, but erotica allows the flesh to gain humanity. It’s a person with life and desires and feelings you’re with, and that makes all the difference in the world. Okay, off my soapbox on that
Historical (short) - Historical romances include westerns, and use the same definitions as in Lecture 1. A short historical is a category title of 60,000 words and under.
Historical (long) - Again, this is the same definition but for single title books over 60,000.
Inspirational - Inspirational includes the primary H/h, but they each answer to a higher power, so it’s almost as though the book is being written with a third main character.
Mainstream. As it applies to romance, mainstream is a "woman’s journey." There is still romance, but the heroine is more likely to have a life-changing event through the course of the book than the hero. Thanks to Karen Jones for this great definition.
Multicultural - Multicultural books are just what they sound like. The books have mixed races falling in love, often in a contemporary setting. You might have a hero who is Chinese and a heroine who is Middle Eastern, or any other mix of cultures possible. Often, African-American and Latino books where both partners are of the same race, other than Caucasian are placed in this category.
Paranormal - Ah, paranormal. The darling of the current market. No other category is so confusingly grouped into one lump. There are any number of sub-subgenres of paranormal romance, so take a deep breath and let’s go through them:
A. Futuristic: A futuristic novel is one that is from 2006-infinity, but is EARTH-BASED! This means that you are using humans as they exist on Earth that may or may not interact with other species that have yet to be discovered, or dealing with a world very different than what we know know (whether from natural catastrophe, alien invasion, world politics, etc., etc.) The future world must have rationale that is understandable. For example, humans don't have green blood. They will probably NEVER have green blood, so don't try it. But Vulcans (Star Trek) DO have green blood, so that's okay. Star Trek is a tricky one, because it IS science-fiction, and it IS futuristic, and big chunks of it ARE fantasy. It's generally considered science-fiction, for the record.
B. Fantasy: The biggest issue with the fantasy sub-genre is the concept of "world-building." Fantasy novels come in two breeds: One is a different world, with creatures that don't exist on earth, that may or may not talk, etc. The other fantasy is "alternate reality." An alternate reality is one which follows Earth history except for one or two things. The Laurell K. Hamilton, Anita Blake world, for example is a good example. Vampires have always existed. But they were hunted like rats -- UNTIL the United States Supreme Court declared them "not dead". Suddenly, vampires could own property, adopt children (since they couldn't bear them on their own), marry, divorce, etc. Probates for "dead" relatives were unwound and life generally was upended. The key to a fantasy romance is making the fantastical elements an equal partner to the regular ones. So the guy is a vampire -- some are jerks and some are sweeties. It's an ELEMENT of the personality, but they don't have to fall into "set" requirements, because it's NOT REAL, so it doesn't have to adhere to known legends.
C. Science Fiction: This is often confused with futuristic, but the goal of science fiction is the USE OF science in the story. Whether the story is set in 2005 or 3035, hard science that is well thought out is key. The Time Machine or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, if they incorporated romance would be science fiction, but not necessarily futuristic.
D. Time Travel: Also a close contender for futuristic. After a long and... ahem, spirited discussion among the authors in the FF&P chapter, we determined that the difference between futuristic and time travel is one key element. Susan Grant's The Scarlet Empress was the issue at hand -- should it be entered in the RITA under time travel or under futuristic. The joint decision was made that it was futuristic, because THE HEROINE COULD NOT RETURN HOME. Susan's heroine was cryogenitically frozen and awoken in 2076 to save the world from a "new world order". It was science fiction, and futuristic and was a woman from the past thrown into the future. But we finally all agreed that for time travel to be a key element in the novel, the hero or heroine must have the ABILITY to return to their time, whether or not they choose to do so. Otherwise, it's in a different category.
E. Paranormal: The key element of a paranormal is LEGEND. Werewolves are legend, and so are vampires, pixies, fairies, doxies, living mummies, etc. A paranormal is PARA or "resembling or imitating" NORMAL "real life". Most vampire romances fit this category. There is a handed down legend or fable or "this really happened!" account of something outside the ordinary that we don't generally believe but aren't complete convinced COULDN'T happen. While it can be set in the future, the past or the present, the key is that everything ELSE is normal, except for the addition of this one element. Now, WITHIN paranormal, there are two additional categories (so
F. Light Paranormal - Light paranormal deals with creatures that are magical, and that have as their "legend" that they benefit mankind generally. Angels, fairies, Gods/Goddesses, spirits/ghosts, and the like. The storylines are generally that a superior being falls in love with a human or with each other and nobody gets hurt. Think of the movie "Ghost". That's a light paranormal.
G. Dark Paranormal - These are the creatures of legend that subsist on blood or flesh of humans or other creatures. Vampires, werewolves, doxies, unseelie fey (darker cousins of the fairies), leprechauns, etc. As their legends, they harm people to their own benefit. These storylines deal with the dark creature overcoming their dark nature to fall in love with a human or with each other. Think of the movie "Van Helsing". That's a dark paranormal.
Regency - There is only one true type of Regency (and yes, it is capitalized to be proper.) A Regency is set during a very specific time (1812-ish), in a particular place (England), with some specific elements, which Maria Geraci and Kate Duggan helpfully supplied:
1. The book must include correct historical facts during a narrow time period - the Napoleonic Wars, unrest at home, King George III going "mad." Riots and civil unrest should be common daily events.
2. The language should reflect the time. There are a great many expressions and terms which were only used during the Regency period, including things like: faradiddle – a lie; dicked in the nob – crazy; calf-love – a crush; all the crack – in fashion; a trifle disguised – to be drunk.
3. Forms of address. Titles and names were very complicated in those days and heaven help you if they're not correct!
4. Character given names for the time. Another element of Regency books is an understanding of the time period. For example, Claire Delacroix was kind enough to mention in a recent discussion here that British people have an intuitive understanding of what differentiates an upper class name and a lower class name, so a dedicated Regency reader won't "buy" that a proper Lady has the name "Molly," which is a maid’s name. She would probably be named "Elizabeth," an upper class name
Regency-set historicals. Thanks again to Maria Geraci for this super definition. A Regency-set historical is one set during the Regency period, but not in England following the stringent rules of English society of the time. However, the same "rules" apply that you would have in any historical, such as, it's going to be awfully hard for your H/h to take that pleasure cruise to the U.S. while the War of 1812 is in progress.
Romantic Suspense - Suspense, thrillers and mystery are all combined into this one genre and use the same definitions as in Lecture 1.
Romantic Elements Novel - This is one of the most difficult subgenres to define. Basically any other genre of novel that has a strong romance thread that involved main or secondary characters might fit this subgenre. It really falls to the writing contests and reviewers to make this call, since the publisher won't market it as a "novel with romantic elements," and the bookseller will shelve it in the location that the spine says. However, they might split the shelving if it becomes obvious that romance readers are purchasing it and having difficulty finding it.
Traditional - A traditional romance is one that follows the old rules original set out by Harlequin Mills & Boon in England. Usually, there is no sex involved, or if there is, it is very much in the manner of Lady Chatterly’s Lover — "And so to bed." It is a romance of vivid emotion and feeling, with perhaps a kiss to seal the marriage at the end.
Young Adult - In Young Adult romance, the original genre definition is altered, because young adults of 12 seldom have romantic images of the opposite sex. But for young adults of 17-18, the images of potential mates are much more physical and they often purchase adult fiction. So, much of the YA romances written are geared toward the 14-16 aged market where young adults are beginning to grasp feelings of love, envy and jealousy, but physical things are confined to hand holding or the first kiss.
Go to Lecture #1 - Genres
Go to Lecture #2 - Romance Subgenres
Go to Lecture #3 - What's Love Got To Do With It?
Go to Lecture #4 - Master & Servant
Go to Lecture #5 - Lord & Overlords