Genre Tips: How to Write Romance

Romance makes the world go ’round. In many respects, it makes the book world go ’round too. Romance consistently remains one of the bestselling of all fiction genres, so it’s no surprise so many people write it—both out of personal enjoyment and because, when it hits the sweet spot, it can be extremely lucrative. Learning how to write romance, however, is no easy feat. For all that romance stories often look simplistic, the genre is one of the most demanding.

At its core, romance is nothing more or less than two people coming together and falling in love. Most romances are HEA (or Happily Ever After), but, of course, tragedy has been popular ever since Romeo & Juliet graced the stage. The genre is sometimes maligned for its stereotypes and often contested by readers who have varying “steam-level” preferences, but it remains perennially popular—and for obvious reasons. Genre itself represents an archetype, and there is perhaps no genre more archetypal than romance, representing as it does the heartbeat of all life.

Romance is a highly specialized genre with a demanding audience that wants exactly what it wants. This is true to the point that many romance descriptions now tell readers exactly what to expect, so they can find what they’re looking for and steer clear of what they’re not (e.g., Reverse Grumpy-Sunshine, Second Chance With a Baby, or Enemies-to-Lovers), as well as indicating what sort of “rating” love scenes might warrant (since going too far in either direction can turn off specific audiences).

Although romance novels in their strictest sense are simply about the drama and excitement of two people navigating a new relationship, the genre can feature many subgenres (such as paranormal romance or romantic thriller) or be featured as a subplot in stories that fall into other genres (such as fantasy, historical, etc.).

4 Tips for How to Write Romance

Sooner or later, most writers will tackle romance on the page to one degree or another. It’s difficult, after all, to write authentically about life without including so integral an experience. I am not a romance writer myself and in no way consider myself particularly qualified to teach on the finer points of the actual genre, but I have always featured a romantic element in all of my novels and I enjoy reading well-written romance stories. So today, as the second installment in this five-part “Genre Tips” series, I am offering some of my own thoughts and observations on how to write romance.

Beginnings in Romance: Hook Into the Romance Fast

This is true for any genre: give readers an early taste of what they can expect. In a fantasy, this will be something fantastical. In a mystery, this will be something mysterious. In a straight-up romance, we want romance, and generally speaking we want it now. Like any self-respecting picky romance reader, I have my own set of pet peeves that make it less likely I will read the book. The first rule is simple: I want to get to the good stuff as soon as possible.

The most important element in a romance is the interaction between the leads. I don’t like to wait more than a chapter before I get to see these characters together and experience their chemistry. More than any other type of story, I like to see romances breaking out of the gate fast. Although it is important to set up each of the characters and their respective lives and problems, much of this development can be carefully distributed as the story progresses.

For Example: An example that has stuck with me for many years is Dee Henderon’s True Devotion, which opens with a Navy SEAL rescuing his best friend’s widow, a lifeguard, from a dangerous situation in the ocean. The story introduces the romance immediately, when the woman, in a near-death state, shocks her longtime friend with the declaration: “I love you.” Obviously, not all romances will be able to open with characters whose relationship is already in medias res, but this is a good example of how you can cut to the chase and hook readers into the meat of your story’s relationship right away.

Characters in Romance: Don’t Get Confused About the Antagonistic Force

Who is the antagonist in a romance? Although some stories, such as those in the romantic thriller subgenre, will feature a villain who is endangering one or both of the leads, this villain character is not the antagonist within the actual romance.

First, a quick refresher. “Antagonist” is a morally neutral term. It does not imply a character is a villain. Rather, it indicates which character is creating obstacles to the protagonist’s goal. In a romance, the climactic goal is to make the relationship work. Therefore, the primary conflict comes from within the relationship. Both characters must work through all the outer obstacles and inner resistances to their being together. This means each of the romantic leads can be seen to be each other’s antagonist.

This is important to understand when plotting the story and particularly when planning the Climax. Too many romance novels fall off the rails in the Third Act if the author feels it necessary to bring in non-integral elements of danger or heightened external stakes in order to ramp up the tension. Although there is nothing wrong with including a suspense subplot or something similar, the book will be better off for observing two guidelines:

1. The Subplot Antagonist Must Be Foreshadowed and Integral. In other words, the subplot must be set up early in the story and make sense all the way through, rather than being tacked on for thrills in the end. More than that, it should be thematically important to the success of the romance.

2. The Climax Must Be Focused on the Romantic C0nclusion. Even if something super-dramatic happens with a subplot villain (such as one character getting kidnapped), the structural Climax must focus on the culmination of the romance. Whatever happens in a story’s Climactic Moment “proves” what a story is about. A romance is, of course, about the romance. If the Climactic Moment fails to back that up, the whole story will feel off and unsatisfying.

For Example: In Ellen O’Connell’s western romance Eyes of Silver, Eyes of Gold (which is soooo much better than either its title or its cover lets on), an important throughline is the female lead’s psychotic father’s resistance to her relationship with a biracial rancher. [SPOILER] This subplot culminates in a tense sequence in which the husband must rescue his wife from her deranged father. But this is not the Climax. The Climax naturally emerges from this threat when the taciturn rancher finally speaks his love for to his traumatized wife, which is both a necessary step away from the danger they both just endured and the awaited culmination of their relationship within the story. [/END SPOILER]

Characters in Romance: One or Both Characters Will Arc

Creating Character Arcs (Amazon affiliate link)

Character arcs in a romance are usually Positive Change Arcs, in which one or both characters must overcome a Lie that is holding them back from personal wholeness and therefore the ability to functionally relate to one another. They inspire each other to arc into a new and more positive thematic Truth. These Lies/Truths can be as varied as the stories themselves, but a prominent theme in many romances is that of healing.

When written with authenticity and skill, romance stories often offer deep insight into human nature and development. However, more than perhaps in any other genre, romance demands authors dig deep and write with utmost honesty. The power of the genre lies in its ability to access archetype; but archetype is always one short step away from stereotype. The romance genre is full of stereotypes and overdone tropes, and if an author relies too much on these, rather than exploring deep and authentic change for the characters, the stories can become some of the most cringe-worthy in the entire catalog of literature.

Understanding the beats and progression of character arc can be extremely helpful in writing a powerful and fresh romance.

For Example: L.J. Shen often writes grittily about characters suffering the effects of trauma. In Playing With Fire, both leads arc dramatically via their relationships with each other—one overcoming the shame of terrible scarring from a house fire and the other consumed with guilt for irresponsibly hurting a family member. Each character has a Truth the other needs in order to heal and grow past their fears and hang-ups.

Story Structure in Romance: Beats to Set Up Pacing

Structuring Your Novel IPPY Award 165

Structuring Your Novel (Amazon affiliate link)

The basic Three-Act story structure (with its eight turning points) will create the same skeleton for a romance story as for any other. However, the beats of romance stories are often highly specific. Although there is always wiggle room for exploration, most readers expect and want to discover a familiar pattern. Many books and blogs specialize in exploring these specific beats for the romance in more depth, but here are some quick hits from own observations in reading the genre.

Hook: The first chapter will either introduce one character’s problems (i.e., what is currently causing the problem in the person’s relational skills) or promptly throws the two leads together in some sort of “cute meet”—usually with their defenses coming to the fore and creating obstacles to their attraction and chemistry.

Inciting Event: In stories with a slower start, this may be where the characters meet for the first time, but in a tighter structure, this will be where the characters irretrievably engage for the first time. Either they are forced into proximity or they make a move toward expressing interest in one another.

First Plot Point: This is where the First Act ends and the relationship really kicks off. Something happens here that cements the characters’ connection. This could be a first date or a first kiss, but it could also be something external that happens to permanently keep them in contact with each other (e.g., they become partners on the police force).

First Pinch Point: Pinch points always emphasize the antagonistic force’s threat and what is at stake for the main characters. In a romance, these stakes are all relational. By this point in the story, the romance should be well under way (whether the characters are fully willing to admit it or not), and this First Pinch Point offers the first significant obstacle—something that makes one or both leads question whether the other person is really who they thought or whether they are willing to stay open to the relationship. Usually, it leads to some expression of vulnerability or to one or both people learning something surprising about the other which deepens their intimacy.

Midpoint: The Midpoint turns the plot from the “reaction” phase of the first half (in which the characters aren’t quite sure what they want from each other) to the “action” phase of the second half (in which the characters become more and more consciously committed to their relationship). It should also bring the all-important Moment of the Truth. From the perspective of plot, this might be the result of the characters finally committing to their relationship in a big way. From the perspective of the character arcs, this new “crisis of commitment” within the relationship will be the result of one or both characters admitting, if only to themselves, that they are willing to start transitioning out of their old “Lie-based” mindset so they can be more available to the relationship.

Second Pinch Point: This Second Pinch Point is often much more serious than the first one. Now both characters have much more at stake. Whether they’re ready to admit it or not, they are in love with each other. Losing each other, therefore, would be a huge blow at this point. Pinch Points in a relational story are usually relatively low-key. What happens here may be as simple as a reminder of all the characters have to lose and how much, on an internal level, their fears are messing with them.

Third Plot Point: This the “Low Moment” in the story, when everything seems as if it is falling apart. In a romance, this moment may not be as dramatic as what follows in the Climax, but as the story now makes the turn into the Third Act, something happens that puts the relationship on the line. Although the threat here may external if other antagonistic characters are in play, this is usually where the characters learn something about each other that shakes their trust. Lies and secrets come out, and consequences must be faced.

Climax: A romance with an action-oriented plot may see the two leads fighting side by side against an external antagonist in the Climax. More often, this is simply where the heat really gets turned up on relationship. The characters must face everything they fear about each other and about themselves. They must complete their respective character arcs and discover if they can heal themselves or their perspectives enough to make the relationship work. Often, the Climax will separate the leads in order to allow them to “find themselves” outside the relationship, so they can then return to each other as “two wholes.” However, it is important that the characters not be separated for too long. Just as readers don’t want to wait too long in a story’s beginning for the leads to come together, they also don’t want to wait too long for the leads to get back together in the end.

Resolution: Romances like their epilogues. Readers often enjoy seeing how the relationship turned out by fast-forwarding a bit into the future to be reassured the characters will be able to make it together longterm.

For Example: To see structural breakdowns of various romance stories, check out the Romance Books and Romance Movies sections in the Story Structure Database.

Learn how to write romance stories by studying popular books and movies in the genre.

***

In my own subjective opinion as a reader of the genre, romances can be either some of the most powerful and memorable of stories or the most miserable and annoying! Although personal subjectivity will always play a role in how a reader reacts to a romance story (again, perhaps more than in any other genre), learning how to write romance well is a matter of demonstrating both strong technique and the courage to show up and write about one of the vulnerable and intimate parts of life with honesty and insight.

Stay Tuned: Next week, we’ll talk about how to write historical fiction!

Previous Posts in This Series:

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Have you ever written romance—or a romantic subplot? What are your thoughts on how to write romance? Tell me in the comments!

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in Apple Podcast or Amazon Music).

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. What an appropriate post- just in time for Valentine’s day. 🙂

  2. Eric Troyer says

    I’m not a romance writer or reader (though my wife and I do like romantic comedy movies), but I really like the reminder that the climax shows what the story is really about and that all story beats must lead to the climax. That’s a great way to keep a story on track. Happy early Valentine’s Day!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, if there’s one thing to know about story structure, I think that it’s. Everything else grows out of that understanding.

  3. Another great analysis, and a lot to think about — even for how whole different genres can zero in on their own focus as well.

    There’s a principle in some romance circles called “First Girl Wins,” the idea that when there are multiple romantic options for a character, the first one there is always the right one. Some people wonder if that includes how far back the characters knew each other before the story, but it doesn’t. It’s about positioning the real couple so they interact right near the start *of the story,* whatever else happens. If the reader has to guess who to root for or wait long to realize it, the story isn’t simply a romance anymore.

  4. I absolutely love that you brought up the antagonist element. I’ve taken many plotting and screenplay writing courses on how to lay out story and character and it’s extremely rare for them to touch on the most unique part of romance – co-protagonist/co-antagonist. Why is this person the best one for the hero/ine and why is the person the worst one for the hero/ine. So thanks for bringing that up.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, I think misunderstanding this can often cause romance authors to unnecessarily fragment their plots by bringing in external antagonists who don’t really add much to the core story.

  5. Jonathan R. Allen says

    K.M.,

    This post might have been good for publication tomorrow – on Valentine’s Day! 😉

  6. One theory is that Romance can be divided into two genres
    Tragedy (the love story)
    Romantic comedy/ Happy ending romance (comedy of manners)
    Some people will resist ideas that a romcom isn’t really a love story- but you really can’t take the love to the limit unless it ends in tragedy or death (sorry Jane Austen is comedy of manners)
    One thing i have noticed about Korean Drama whether it has a sad or happy ending, it always has some deep trauma at the midpoint. That raises the romantic stakes considerably in a Rom Com and makes it more satisfying from a Romantic point of view.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I like theories like that, although I do think the divisions can be too simplistic, especially for romance novels, which are often quite dark and traumatic even when they end happily.

    • I’ve seen something similar re: the romance distinctions. Basically, if at least one half of the couple dies, you have a love story. If they live happily ever after (HEA) or happily for now (HFN) it’s a romance. And this is strictly for marketing purposes, according to what you slot your story into on Amazon and the like. So if you wanted to have a love story, don’t put it in the romance category unless you’re willing to have bad reviews by readers justifiably angry that you tricked them.

      For this reason, I understand Danielle Steele is NOT considered romance. She’s in the glitz & glamour category, like the late Sidney Sheldon.*** The first book of Steele’s I ever read featured a man who fell in love with a single mom, married her, they had a child, the wife dies halfway through the story, and he has to pick up the pieces. He falls in love again at the end and it’s HFN with the second woman.

      Glitz & Glamour = protagonist living amongst the jet set. Romance is an important element, but not the sole element. In the olden days the protagonists in this genre would be anyone who could plausibly appear on “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous.” Now it’s whatever equivalent exists for those who have champagne wishes and caviar dreams.

      *** I don’t think I’ve read anything in this genre since Sheldon died, so I have no contemporary examples, sorry.

  7. Should the arc of a romance subplot climax at the same time as the main plot’s climax? I my WIP revelations in the main plot’s climax have repercussions in the romance and bring it to a head later during the resolution of the main plot.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      A subplot certainly *can* be resolved at the same time as the main conflict, but it can also either have its conclusion build into the necessary events for the Climax or have its conclusion become possible as a result of what happens in the Climax. What’s important is that it’s all cohesive–dominoes knocking into one another.

  8. I never expected to be a romance novelist, but so far I have written seven. I was really looking forward to this instalment and, as it turns out, rightly so. Thank you for sharing it! (I confess with some reluctance that I violate your first tip far more often than not….) :\

  9. I am working on a Jane Eyre-esque romance right now, and one thing that helps me in not getting lost and tangled in trying to make a sensible story is that both parties in the relationship have something to learn that only that other person can teach, whether either of them are conscious of it or not. It makes writing so much simpler, and the ups and downs of the relationship fall in place quite easily.

  10. Thank you for this. I don’t write Romance with a capital R, but as you say, romantic subplots tend to pop up like mushrooms in all subgenres.

  11. sanityisuseless says

    Note from reader: ALWAYS set up your third plot points. Too many romances base their thirds on the absolute stupidest of misunderstandings, and it’s outright painful to read. If your lovers fall out, have it stem from issues they had all along that finally came to a head.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Totally agree. This is perhaps the worst contrivance in romance–when the conflict isn’t earned and makes no sense. It only makes the characters look like dopes.

  12. I didn’t expect much from this, and shame on me! I write fantasy, and there are sometimes romance subplots which should definitely use strengthening (not necessarily to be confused with spicing up). I tend to follow the strong woman standing behind the man who is better than he thinks he is trope – that’s a trope – right?
    At times, I wonder if I’m writing in the right genre, so I’m looking forward to this complete series. Bless you for sharing this with us.

  13. Becky Jones Fettig says

    I’m writing my sixth romcom and was glad to see this post today.
    I follow a normal plot structure for romance, as in alternate POVs between the hero and heroine, and taking the first two chapters to show their “normal” lives before the meet cute in chapter three which disputes everything.
    But in my WIP I was worried because I have them meeting in the first chapter. I’m having to sprinkle in their normal lives (and what’s wrong) in the following chapters so I’m happy you said to get to the romance fast.
    PS. I like the spontaneity of the couple meeting as soon as possible.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Every book is different. What is ideal varies from book to book–and, honestly, from reader to reader.

  14. This is a great post. It’s true “romance stories often offer deep insight into human nature and development.” One that caught me off guard recently was Normal People on Hulu. It’s the most authentically modern romance I’ve seen. Two people fall in love, have deep impacts on the direction of each other’s lives, and, in the end, still can’t seem to stay together. I thought it was an amazing critique on how ordinary romances have huge impacts on us. And how, despite this, they often end in disillusionment – as if we believe there’s something better to be found.

  15. The absolute best book for learning to write romance is On Writing Romance by Leigh Michaels. It covers everything you need to know. I’m a longtime romance reader and a multipublished romance author. It’s not an exaggeration in the slightest when you hear we know exactly what we want. You get exactly one chance to deliver it. Fail on any point and you’re toast. In many ways it’s a brutal genre and in just as many it’s intensely rewarding.

    Anyone who wants to write romance, read it voraciously. If you don’t read it, don’t even think about trying to write it. We can tell and we won’t be kind about it on the internet. Romance readers can be the most supportive section of the internet or we can be the most vicious. Choose your path wisely for there is no middle road.

    Also, don’t try to go down the road of “it’s debated what the definition of a romance is.” Especially if you’re thinking about trying to write it. It’s not debated anywhere except by those who refuse to acknowledge it’s the backbone of the book world. Romance ALWAYS has a happy ending. Always, always, always. It’s nonnegotiable. If one of them dies at the end or they don’t end up as a couple, it’s not romance. Period. Hollywood likes to play loose with this definition and people try to use it as justification to apply to romance novels. It’s a great way to get yourself embarrassed and blacklisted inside Romancelandia.

    Romance readers and authors are some of the smartest people you’ll ever meet. Many authors are former lawyers, scientists, pilots, and doctors. There’s one who clerked at the Supreme Court. Don’t discount our intelligence unless you want a potential career in romance to go up in a nuclear explosion. We’re also voracious and many go through three or four romances a week, of all lengths from category (Harlequin) to trade length of 80K to 100K.

    Romeo and Juilet and Gone With The Wind get pulled up a lot as examples of romance. Neither is a romance because neither has a happy ending. Both are tragedies more properly slotted as a love story, as someone said in another comment. If you want the full experience of how horrible Amazon reviews can make you feel as an author, write something where one of the couple dies and slot it in romance. You will never be forgiven and you’ll never get another chance with readers.

    I’m all for more people writing romance. But take the time to understand who and what we are as a genre and as devoted readers. If you don’t, your career is over before it begins.

  16. Having worked in the past in pulp publish romance as a “Copy Writer” at Mills and Boon, Black Lace, and a couple of others, (lol- June Rutherford) I swore when I decided to plow my own furrow (oh dear, no pun intended) that I would never write another romance. Of course, many of my subsequent books have contained elements of romance and sex but only once did I break my promise to myself. I wrote a contemporary romance back in the early noughties called “Twisted Sisters” It had few of the traditional romance themes and a dialogue-based format but still it is my bestselling novel. (Oh, but don’t read it, a novel of its time, it is dated now) So, you are right KM Weiland, Romance is a magical thing when done correctly.

  17. I love writing a series where subsequent books further explore the growing relationship of the couple. In my last book, the second in a series, I had one of the pair needing something from the other character that he wasn’t getting, while the other character needed to let go of the thing that was preventing him from giving his lover what he needed.

    I like writing romantic thrillers where the lovers discover something personal about themselves as they fight the villain in the Climax. It’s where they discover the Truth that allows them to grow closer. All while they’re chasing the villain, they’re uncovering bits and pieces of the things they need to improve their relationship.

    The only drawback with writing a romance series with the same couple is that it doesn’t fit neatly into typical romance beats. I usually figure it out by following your books and cobbling them together with typical romance beats. This post makes me wonder if I’m doing something wrong with my WIP.

    Basically, Thomas and Hadrian are a couple. They solve crimes together and must solve a new one. Thomas has clubfoot and is insecure about his deformity—part of his Ghost. At the First Plot Point, I have the arrival of a fit, gay Pinkerton wedging them apart instead of bringing them together. No one cheats in the book, but Thomas’s insecurity and jealousy threatens his relationship with Hadrian.

    Doesn’t that sound right? It’s not cementing the couple, but it feels right. I always have trouble trusting my feelings.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’d look at the Climax. If the Climactic Moment is romantic, then I’d structure it like a romance. If the Climactic Moment is suspenseful or action-oriented, I’d structure it like that.

      • Sorry. I don’t think I worded that well. It’s definitely romance. I’m writing a trilogy about the same couple. I’m on the third book and noticed in this post that you said the First Plot Point should bring the characters closer. In this third book, my protags are already together. They are a couple and a detective team. At my planned First Plot Point, I’m introducing a new character, a rival who will cause one of the protags to be jealous. I’m not cementing them; I’m wedging them apart. Since this is a continuation of their story, does that make sense to have that as the First Plot Point rather than the traditional one for a first book?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Ah, yes, series are different. What I’ve shared here is the structure for a first book when the couple first cute-meets and commits. Sequels are necessarily an expansion from there.

  18. I’m writing a sci-fi/fantasy with two leads who get thrown together right in chapter 1 and have to work together to fight the villain. But I’m not sure if my two pinch points match up with these beats for romance, since they’re more plot-focused. Especially the first pinch point, since the two characters have hardly even thought of each other in a romantic light yet – not until the midpoint. But there’s also a reminder of the love triangle around the timing of each pinch point – where there are feelings of jealousy regarding the “other guy”. Do you think that counts as a sort of pinch point for the romantic subplot?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      If the plot is oriented around a more external conflict, then the pinch points will very likely emphasize that. However, if the story is truly a romance (and not another primary genre with a romantic subplot), then the relationship stakes should also be affected.

  19. I’m writing a M/M romance / adventure trilogy. First book ends with a one year separation of my protagonists. Book 2 ends with the death of one of them. The third one will be “Hope” with the reconstruction of survivor and his falling in love with another man. I know that romances should have “happy ends”. Is it a problem that it only happens in tome 3 of the serie. Thank a lot for your comment.

    • This is a major, major problem if you plan to put it in a romance category. As in it’s a career ruining choice if you want to be a romance writer. No one will read past the second book and your reviews will tank. Readers are invested in that initial couple and one of them dying isn’t allowed in romance. You’re planning a bait and switch and it’s guaranteed to make romance readers angry. To plan this and call it a romance unfortunately means you haven’t quite grasped what the genre is. Which is a dangerous path to be on if it’s the direction you want to go.

      • Thank you, Rachel. I write M/M romance and was trying to think of some way to say that.
        @Daniele (sorry, I don’t know how to make the accent on my phone) Just wanted to add that HFN (happily for now) endings are acceptable in books 1 and 2 of a trilogy. Killing one of the protags is not. Personally, as reader, I wouldn’t even like the separation and would stop reading the series there. Love in the real world is often difficult and full of heartache. People read romance for the magic of that HEA. Some reality is fine (to me) but I want to feel joy at the end of the book.
        You could market this as something else. I don’t know if there’s a category for gay adventure, but there’s probably a niche it will fit somewhere. I have a friend who writes M/M scifi with romantic subplots, for instance. There’s a whole world of LGBTQ books right now. Just don’t market this as M/M romance or readers will hate you forever.

  20. Hello.

    I have been reading your blog for years now and enjoy learning about what goes into writing a story.

    I do have a question concerning Romance. You seem to imply that tragedies can be a part of Romance and brought up Romeo and Juliet. However I have seen arthurs and websites going into the genre insisting that Romance stories are required to have happy endings, and that tragedies such as Romeo and Juliet do not count as being Romance stories. I do see where they are getting at as it comes down to that when people read or watch a Romance stories they are expecting to see two characters get in relationship with each other, and so a story that ends with the two breaking up or one or both of them being killed off goes against those expectations the audience has. I certainly know that if I was in a mood to read a story about characters falling in love and pick up a story that seems to promise that only for it to not deliver I would be disappointed as well.

    So the question is what is your stance on this? Would you say arthurs are being strict about this requirement or no?

    • Speaking as a romance author and reader, there’s no stance to take. The genre has a hard definition, just like every other genre out there. No one ever argues that you can have a murder mystery without a murder. It’s absurd. The same thing applies to romance. You can’t have a genre romance without a happy ending. It’s nonnegotiable.

      Romance readers are the ones who hold the definition of romance. We’re more invested in our genre than any other reader group. It doesn’t matter what anyone says who doesn’t write it or read it. We deal with that all the time and it gets old real fast. If there’s no happy ending, it’s not a romance. It’s not up for debate. Except the entire world outside romance insists it is.

      • I understand. I have dealt with people like this before in which I would explain to them about a particular genre but they want to push back on my explanation. For me this happens when discussing Slice-of-Life and Isekai stories. I think the reason for this is because they feel these descriptions are limiting when in actuality that is not the case.

    • Yes, there’s good discussion in the comments above, from Rachel and others, about the differences between “romance” which ends happily, and other types of love stories, which allow for more variety.

  21. Joe Long says

    I’ve been reading and talking to you for years but this really hits home. As mine is primarily a romance as well as coming of age this piece was much easier for me to see the applicability to what I’ve written. Thanks!

  22. This was so helpful, thank you! I’ve been struggling to outline my romance novella, but this has helped a lot.

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