R is for Romance (PNR)

Just over a week to go until the A to Z Blog Challenge is over – April is going by so fast! Today, we’ll discuss romance as a genre and how it ties in with paranormal romance, or PNR (my current genre).

Why is love so prominent in fiction? Simple—because it’s a daily part of most everyone’s lives, whether in the form of friendship, romance, familial, animal companions, or anything else. Everyone, unless they are the truest of true hermits from a young age, will suffer the pain of loss or a broken heart, from loved ones who pass to partnerships that end. Love is something just about everyone who’s old enough to understand the meaning has experienced, and this universal experience is what makes it so important in fiction.

It’s no wonder, then, that the romance genre is consistently the number one (rarely lower than 2 or 3) fiction genre. But even when it lands in the number two spot for a month or two, it’s still the most dominant genre when you include it as a dual-genre with other categories and any time it’s used a subplot. Romance features in just about every other category, again, because it’s something essentially everyone can relate to, adding a connection between the readers and character(s).

But just because a story involves a romantic relationship, doesn’t mean it’s technically a romance, even if it’s a main plot line.

I touched on this previously, but genres are basically built on reader expectation. That’s the only way defining genres becomes a reality—they must include certain elements. If the author disregards these standards, they run an extremely high risk of upsetting the audience and losing readers. Whether some view it as reasonable or not, there are plenty of readers who (depending on genre and their passion for it) will not forgive an author for this and won’t even bother picking up another book by them. Like it or not, this is ESPECIALLY seen in romance.

A true romance’s main requirement is that the story MUST end in a “happily ever after” or a “happy for now,” shortened to HEA and HFN for easy searching. If you don’t end your story this way, you haven’t written a romance.

If one of the individuals in the relationship gets cancer and dies at the end, that’s not a romance. Nor if they break up, regardless of how vicious or bittersweet it is. These are LOVE STORIES. If there is ample pain, grief, and loss, it’s considered a TRAGEDY. A ROMANCE has a happy ending. Period. No exceptions. This confuses a lot of new authors, so I wanted to address this to save someone the misstep.

Beyond that, the expected conventions are minimal and fairly obvious. The characters and their relationship journey trump plot. Does this mean you can just throw some awful plot together and focus on the characters? I mean, you CAN, though it wouldn’t exactly be wise. But you don’t have to worry so much about intricate plots and crazy planning like you might in a thriller or a mystery. The readers are here to see the characters experience a meeting, a journey filled with ups and down, and a happy ending.

Speaking of their journey, it should start off with what is often called a “meet-cute” even if it’s not under “awwww” circumstances. I’m sure you’ve seen/read them. Girl wearing raggedy robe and a facemask opens the front door to see cute delivery boy. Or one person spills something on the other. That kind of thing. Then they experience joyful togetherness just to be broken up by something, then they reconcile and HEA for the win. Some stories vary in the journey department because some relationships become official early in the story, where others are the actual climax.

I won’t go into much more, as I have an upcoming post that will cover a touch more, but romance books rely on emotional tension in the form of a rollercoaster. How many ups and downs the characters experience by the end can vary greatly. The must-have first meeting and the HEA bookend the journey, but there are many ways to handle these steps.

One last thing to mention that is also critical is the “spice level” of the story. This is a way romance authors and readers have come to identify the amount of . . . well, physical bonding the characters do on the page. For the A to Z Challenge (and in most future posts unless labeled specifically to cover an important adult topic), I’ll be keeping my posts clean, so I will put this as delicately as I can. If you have questions or need further clarification, just let me know. Here are the general levels, though they may differ slightly depending on who you ask.

RELIGIOUS: Absolutely zero bedroom intimacy in any way, nor any thoughts or hints about it.

CLEAN: Kissing and hand-holding are as far as this goes.

SWEET: This includes making out, and you can imply that they are going to do the deed, but it will happen behind closed doors. Often referred to as “fade to black.”

MIDDLE: As the name states, this is the middle ground. While the bedroom scene (obviously it doesn’t have to be a bedroom) happens on page, the descriptions of the act are milder, often using metaphors for body parts to avoid using coarser terminology while emphasizing the romantic, loving part of the intimacy.

STEAMY: Hot and heavy, on-page physical intimacy with applicable explicit verbiage. However, there are likely only a few scenes of this at most—more prominence would make it erotic fiction.

SPICY: Erotica

You’ll often see hot pepper emojis in book listings to indicate how “hot” the book is, and there are vaguely different scales, but the more peppers they are, the hotter it is. For example, erotica would be 5 peppers, whereas Christan romance would be no peppers. Indicating spice, or heat, levels is critical to reaching the right audience for your story.

I’m glad you asked! Because the two genres make for excellent fiction when blended together. My listed genre is paranormal because that is what all my stories, current and future, have in common. But they will be different combinations. For example, some paranormal mysteries or thrillers. But my current duology is paranormal romance, the first book of which is Capturing the Wylde Wolf.

As I discussed in my P is for Paranormal post a couple of days ago, when blending genres as a combined category, like paranormal romance, the two genres must feature almost equally. If you’re writing a mystery where the sleuth has a little fling or goes on a date or something small that has no bearing on the case itself, then the romance portion is simply a subplot, and the book would still be labeled as a mystery.

So the key to a dual-genre story is finding the appropriate balance. This can be easier if you plot in advance because you can clearly see if the two genres get equal importance and page-time. Additionally, these two elements should intertwine to make a more cohesive story; otherwise, they are just two unrelated plots using the same characters. If you can tie the two together, you’ll have something much more realistic.

If you are writing romantic suspense or romantic thriller, for example, you could have someone kidnap one of the partners because of jealousy. Then the suspense/thriller aspect is covered by the action scenes that come from (or before) the kidnapping situation, while you can include romance scenes before and after the event (as well as during if it’s told as a story or flashback). Because the kidnapping wouldn’t have happened without the romance, the two are perpetually tied together from the catalyst all the way through one (or more) lover(s) trying to save the other(s).


2 thoughts on “R is for Romance (PNR)

  1. Emotional/sexual tension and happy ending. Got it. I like your description of the spice levels although I wouldn’t describe pornography (erotica) as romantic. I like romance novels, and romantic stories in books of other genres. I included a serious romance in my supernatural thriller series because it would have been less fun and less satisfying without it…for me and the reader, I reckon.

    • Well then it sounds like you made the right decision! As far as a fictional genre, there is erotica and there there is erotic(a) romance, and I was referring to t he latter as part of the romance genre. In erotica, the emphasis is put on the “intimate” scenes, and there’s little else besides bits of narrative to tie scenes together, and if there’s any romance, it’s just thrown in as a minor point. In romantic erotica/erotic romance, it’s the opposite. The emphasis is placed on the romance between the characters and their building relationship, but the “intimate” scenes between them leave little to the imagination, and these scenes appear more frequently throughout the story.

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