Friday, February 6, 2015

The Rules of Romance

I’m not sure why, but the genre of Romance tends to be an easy target for people who want to shoot down a particular genre. I’ve heard so much abuse of the genre for being cliché, escapist, unrealistic, and second-rate. Of course, the thing that makes me shake my head at the folks who throw that mud is that, as a genre, it’s supposed to be escapist, idealistic, and hopeful. That’s why Romance is routinely one of the highest-selling genres.

So let’s embrace Romance as a genre. What do you need to know to join the ranks of those of us who can’t seem to write without writing a love story? What exactly is a Romance novel?

According to the Romance Writers of America, a book qualifies for the Romance genre if it contains two things. Yep, just two things, and I quote (from the RWA website):
“Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”
Having a central love story means that the crux of the plot revolves around the relationship between the hero and the heroine. There can be an external plot (terrorists trying to blow up the world, a vampire battle royale in the making, the duke being bribed by a dastardly enemy), but most of the energy and focus of the plot will be on the hero and the heroine, what brings them together, and what keeps them apart. Everything else going on is secondary to the tension between your two main characters.

An emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending simply means that they all live happily ever after. This can take all sorts of forms too. Whether it’s the hero and heroine finally getting together in the end, or whether it means that, after they’ve come together, they solve whatever conundrum made up the external plot, as long as the resolution ends with the reader believing that true love has been found and nothing will ever come between the hero and heroine again, you’re golden.

Now why would these two elements—which are, admittedly, not necessarily the way real life works—be the foundation of one of the best-selling genres? My theory is that we all need a little hope in our lives. We all want to believe that the good get what they deserve and the bad are punished. We all want to rest assured, knowing that love really does conquer all. The folks who come down hardest on Romance always seem to play the reality card, arguing that people are foolish if they buy into all that happily ever after tripe.

I say, who cares? Let love rule. We all need it, we all want it, and with Romance writers filling our hearts with optimism and happiness with just turn of the page, it’s no wonder they sell so well. I write because I love.
Merry Farmer is a history nerd, a hopeless romantic, and an award-winning author of thirteen novels. She is passionate about blogging and knitting, and lives in suburban Philadelphia with her two cats, Butterfly and Torpedo. Connect with Merry at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.


  1. As I commented on yesterday's post, I'm not a huge fan of romance novels. Maybe I've read the wrong ones, but many of them seem too much like Cinderella and Prince Charming and happily ever after -- and the heroine's are nothing like me or people I can relate to. Love is great (makes the world go 'round, I've heard), and happy endings leave me satisfied; but unless I find a good dose of realism, I feel like I've been conned. Having said that, I do include romance in my stories -- it's just not the main thrust.

  2. I'm not the target audience for romance novels, Merry, but I get the attraction. Escapism is the reason I read fiction or go to movies ... that last thing I want in my entertainment is gritty reality ... I can get that from my daily newspaper (yep, I still read 'em). So, I totally understand why romance novels do well ... the hell with the cynics.

  3. Romance novels focus on the "falling in love/endorphin rush" part, evoking those emotions in the reader that can be addictive. This is why love stories sell, no matter the quality of writing. Always have, probably always will. It's the dysfunctional thinking perpetuated by some romance novels I have a problem with.


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