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What Defines a Romance Story?

Updated on September 23, 2016
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

You might think this is another cut and dry genre, but you’d be surprised how people approach romance with preconceived ideas. It might not be what you think.

Defining Romance

Webster defines romance as a love story. That means emotion has to be involved and love is the topic. That is the basic definition of romance. But let's explore the world of romance further as a genre and see what it really is and isn't.

Romance Writers of America says that there has to be a central love story to a romance novel and an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending." This means there cannot be tears of deep sadness at the end. That also means that if another genre is more prominent, then the story might not be a romance exactly.

What Romance is not

Never assume that a book found in the romance section of a bookstore is full of sex. This is one comment I see a lot in reviews. Reviewers are disappointed when a romance story is not steamy. They expect ‘romance’ to be synonymous with ‘sex’. In this genre it can be far from the truth.

Strict romance stories are ones that involve the love of two or more people. They typically fight challenges that get in their way which often include themselves. There is usually some sort of intimacy between characters though sex might not be part of the story. Then again, it might be but is only alluded to or it could be described in detail.

Romance stories do not have to have explicit scenes to be categorized as such. I once commented that I like to read romances. The person next to me was shocked that I liked porn. I couldn't get them understand that I liked romance stories...not sex stories. They honestly believed they were one and the same.

The romance genre involves love and relationships. It is not all mystery, history, or sex.

Types of Romance

Most romance books cross genres. Strictly romance books are Harlequin book types and are focused solely on the relationship between two individuals. There might be intrigue with a third party who wants to end the relationship, but these types of romances tend to ignore the other genres such as mystery.

You can find romance books under historical, fantasy, paranormal, mystery, thriller, Christian and even horror. For a story to be even classified partly as a romance, the romance element has to be rather large in the book. It cannot be a little bit of it. A side story does not generally push a book into the genre of romance nor does a kiss of the romance blossoming after the mystery has been solved. Romance can be found in any book, but it doesn’t make it a romance story. It can be just a tool to add more depth to the plot and expand the characters.

How much of the book centers around the romantic relationship? If fifty percent or more does, then you have a romance story no matter what else is in it.

Vintage Versus Contemporary Romance

Vintage romances are ones that were written typically in the early eighties and earlier. These are ones where the young woman is typically just barely an adult, very innocent and always a virgin, and the man in domineering and possessive. He wants her and will get her. In the end, they fall in love.

Contemporary romances are ones that have been written in the last twenty years with sometimes women in their late twenties and thirties who are career minded, experienced with men, and can handle nearly every man. The men might still be domineering, but most contemporary romances will show the softer side of the man and give him more tenderness.

Regency Romances

These romances are set in Victorian England and focus on nobility. The women are usually young daughters who are paired with a rake, a noble man with an unseemly reputation. They struggle with their attraction to each other and sometimes even flirt with scandal.

They can be explicitly written or nothing more than steamy kisses and embraces. The popularity of such romances has gradually increased over the years.

Paranormal Romances

This is a newly popular style of romance story. I stress that this is not a new genre, but one that was made extremely popular thanks to the Twilight series. They involve mythical creatures who fall in love with each other or with humans.


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