Romantic Fiction – The Genre
Something for Everyone
Romantic fiction is about love, a universal preoccupation which figures largely in all art forms from music to painting, opera and ballet. In all literature there are stories about love and its consequences. Greek gods were often distracted or consumed by it, poets and songsters revel in it, and novelists use it for their plots. Jane Austen and the Brontes were romantic novelists. Romantic fiction, dealing with the most profound human emotions, is enduringly popular, with vast sales and library borrowings. Even in very different forms of novels such as crime or fantasy, love is often an important ingredient.
Romance or Romantic?
The book trade makes a distinction. If you aim at publication you need to study what is being published now, and individual publishers' requirements.
Romance is category fiction published by just a few publishing houses in the UK, and several more in the USA. Often marketed by brand, a few titles are published each month, recognisable by format and cover, similar in length and style, and much more difficult to write successfully than non-writers believe. They are not formulaic, except in broad outline such as an almost exclusive concentration on the couple and their emotions, and a satisfying conclusion. Within this they can be amazingly varied.
Romantic fiction applies to most other novels written for the women's market, though men both read and write them. They are powerful stories of love with, usually, an upbeat ending. This story is often combined with other themes such as social change or comment, ambition, jealousy, revenge or mystery. An even wider definition of romantic as the emotional appeal of the heroic can include adventure and historical novels.
Types within the whole
We give books various labels, depending on story and setting.
- Contemporary problems such as divorce, single-parenthood, high-powered jobs.
- Glitzy backgrounds, the media, politics, big business, the theatre.
- Sex 'n Shopping, with designer labels and raunchy sex scenes.
- Family relationships, which can happen anywhere in any society.
- Suspense, with an element of danger or mystery.
- Sagas -
- tend to cover a lengthy period and may be regional.
- Gothics -
- with lonely and forbidding houses, secrets and legends, and menacing heroes, but unpopular currently.
- Regency –
- comedies of manners set in 1800 – 1825, popular in the USA, published less often in the UK.
- Historical adventure -
- from almost biographical accounts of real people to stories with only scanty historical content.
There are types which may be modern, historical or futuristic, such as fantasy, science fiction, space travel, new age, ethnic, westerns, and time travel. Romantic fiction embraces all aspects of life.
All fiction needs careful plotting.
PLOTTING THE ROMANTIC NOVEL
Give it a shape
A story (Jane met John, they fell in love, married and lived happily ever after) is not a plot, it's like a journal, or a diary on a continuous straight line with no high or low points. A plot must have a definite shape, a starting point and a conclusion. It also needs a middle with plenty of variation, twists and surprises, and it's this which makes for a great book. Anyone can write good beginnings and endings.
Assuming you have created a wonderful, attractive heroine your readers will identify with and an irresistible hero they'll fall in love with, you need a convincing situation which is real, not contrived, and which brings them together, believable conflicts and obstacles, and a satisfactory conclusion.
The plot development must always move on, every scene, conversation, action, character, word and sentence advancing the action. Sometimes the pace will be fast, unbearably exciting, other times lingering and sensuous.
These, and you can have more than one, come from the situation of the main characters, and their personalities. It may be different social or cultural backgrounds, aspirations and objectives which are opposed or incompatible, loyalties which divide them, or past experiences which scare them from trust or commitment. They may be rivals, or have secrets, or a previous failed love affair. The conflicts must be important, not mere verbal spats.
Readers must be kept guessing, always asking, 'What happens next?' Intrigue them by enticing them to turn the pages. There must be a series of obstacles, crises and moments of decision which build up gradually, are resolved in some way, until the final, biggest one of all.
Sub-plots, common in longer novels, can be used to enhance, mirror or contrast with the main one, or show the main characters in more varied aspects. These must be woven in with their own development. Don't let the crises of each sub-plot all come at the same time – space them out, resolve the sub-plots before the final main crisis.
Maintain the tension
Tantalise. Always pose further questions but delay the answers. Use hooks such as questions, surprises, new facts, disasters, conversations interrupted, an ultimatum, decisions made but not immediately announced, and all kinds of anticipation.
For information on how to write romantic fiction join a group, go on a course, read the books, or get an informed critique of your work.