What makes a great romance novel? There are all kinds of romance novels available to readers. From paranormal romance to historical romance, there seems to be a book for every taste available to thoroughly entertain and satisfy romance readers. Let’s look at the common elements of a romance novel.
While these types of books seem endless in their variations of plot and character, when it comes to romance writing, there are certain things romance readers expect when they buy a romance novel.
There needs to be a central love story between characters. It needs to be emotionally satisfying, and there needs to be an optimistic ending, even if the characters who fall in love don’t end up together.
Romance writers must include these key elements if they want romance readers to continue to buy their books. So the real challenge is coming up with the romantic relationship and storyline in such a way that it doesn’t seem too cliche but ticks all the boxes that the reader expects to see in a romance novel. These elements are what make a good romance novel, regardless of the actual storyline or plot.
Elements of a Romance Novel: Category Romance Vs. Single Title Romance
There are two main types of romance novels and then several sub-genres that fall into these categories. The two main types of romance novels, category and single title will now be explained.
Romance novels are generally quick reads. They’re short fiction books that a reader can sit down and read in just a couple of sittings. Category romance is a series of books that follow the main character, usually a woman, on a journey of love.
These books are usually numbered, and they come out quickly. It’s not like other genres in a series, where the reader has to wait a year or longer for the next installment to come out.
Romantic suspense is often used in category romance novels, as is romantic tension. When writing romance of this kind, the central love story is the focus, but the romantic moments are sprinkled sparingly throughout the books, keeping the reader on their toes. There may be very few kisses and a lot of tension in the love story for the first few books.
Once the romance reader is really invested in the story and the characters, then the heat may get turned up in the series, and the romance reader devours the books more quickly and anticipates the next book in the series with less patience. Romance writers who write these types of romance novels bait the reader and then hook them after a couple of books.
Single Title Romance
Single title romances are romance novels that are meant to be stand-alone books. These are longer romances released individually. They are not part of a series, but they may tie together the fantasy worlds that the romance writer has created. Much like how not all of Stephen King’s books are a series, but he’s created a universe and reuses characters and settings, writers of single-title romances often do similar things.
In these romance novels, the writer may stay in a certain town they have invented, but each book is about different citizens of that town and their love story. The central love story can change from book to book, but you may meet or run into some of the same characters from a previous book in a new book.
This makes the reader feel familiar with the writing, but it gives romance writers a chance to change up the type of love story, the plot, and the characters. The individual reader can decide which romance novel by the writer is their favorite.
Other Elements That Appear in a Romance Novel
After the tried and true elements of a romance book have been met: you have introduced a love story, you have included emotion or at least a sense of emotional justice to the book, and you have a happy ending, you can include other elements that are often found in books of this genre that help to keep the reader interested.
The main characters don’t usually meet, fall in love, and ride away into the sunset together (also known as ‘happily ever after’) with no conflict. You could write that story in about two pages, and the rest would all be needless fluff that would most likely bore your reader.
You can make the point of the story that the heroine overcame great obstacles to obtain both the hero and the optimistic ending. You can introduce a love triangle in which the heroine must figure out which of the two handsome men she really loves and wants to be with.
You can throw all those barriers in the way to create a unique story and build it all up to a satisfying conclusion that melts readers’ hearts. All the barriers help the reader to invest more in the romantic couple.
Unconditional Love and Its Requirements
You could almost classify romances as stories that teach the lesson that good people who have virtue and faith in things like honesty, justice, and love are the ones who deserve not only the emotional justice that true love can offer but unconditional love. While twisted, manipulative people end up miserable and unloved, and lonely.
This is how many romance books go, and it’s a minor element of romantic situations that are described in romance books.
Readers want the virtuous woman to have a sigh-worthy love story when reading romance. The love interest can have a seedy past, but the virtue of the heroine alone is supposed to guarantee her the love she wants.
The barriers fall by the wayside when it comes to the limits of the love these two characters will share, and ultimate satisfaction comes at the end when the reader feels that the heroine is so loved by her partner that nothing could ever go wrong or tear them apart.
The Evolution of the Romance Novel
Romance novels are no longer confined to the story of a young adult who meets another young person. Both virgins, fall in love, share a few kisses and cuddles, get married, and then make love sweetly on their wedding night. This used to be the tale repeatedly told in different settings, with characters of different names, in different time periods.
As society has changed, so has the romance novel. There are many subgenres to romance novels. Some of them will be described below.
Types of Romance Novels
1. Contemporary Romance
Contemporary romance novels take place in the years after and around 1950, or the end of World War II. They can be set in the 1960s or present day, but they don’t go further back in time than the end of the war. Anything before that belongs in a different subset of romance.
Contemporary romances include much more modern romance aspects, and the women are often cast in a more independent light. These women are far less likely to need a rescuer or a man to support them.
It concentrates on the issues, beliefs, and traditions in the current time during the writing development. Through this type of romance, the readers can explore relatable romantic stories such as finding true love in the corporate world or empowering the vulnerable through the existence of unconditional love.
Another story that isn’t specifically put into the genre of romance is Stephen King’s short story, Willa. In this story, a young couple who dies in a train crash outside of a small town realize together that they aren’t still waiting for the train. They’re ghosts. Rather than being depressed about it, they decide to stay devoted to each other and in love, going dancing each night at a local bar and enjoying eternity together in love.
While it was marketed as a horror story in a collection, it’s really more of a romance of the paranormal kind.
2. Paranormal Romance
Paranormal romance involves a love story that features paranormal elements. This includes; ghosts, aliens, hauntings, etc. One such example is the love story between Bella and Edward in the Twilight series. He’s a very old vampire stuck in the body of a young man, and she is a human.
Their love is forbidden for obvious reasons (she’s supposed to be his food, not his lover). The romantic suspense that occurs due to the paranormal factors and forbidden love element makes readers more invested in their romantic relationship.
3. Historical Romance
Historical romances are the stories that take place before World War II. This is the subset of romance in which the setting could be in the 1800s in an English castle or in a small Brooklyn apartment building.
There is a lot of wiggle room here, but one of the main differences from writing contemporary is that in this sort of historical fiction, you have more of a damsel in distress plot elements or a woman who needs saving. You still get the optimistic ending, but it’s usually more of a white knight rescues the princess type of story than you see in other romance.
Authors of this type need to do extensive research as they need to precisely use the environment, the kind of people and the way they dress up, the prevailing courtship traditions, and other elements such as existing standards, value systems, or societal rules during that point in history. For instance, no one in the characters would be able to use the Internet if they were in a historical romance novel.
4. Romantic Suspense
Romantic suspense involves two people who fall in love with each other later in the story, but initially have to undergo something suspenseful such as solving a crime together, unveiling dark secrets of the villain, or uncovering mysteries through embarking on a thrilling journey. One character has the role of the victim, and the other one functions as the hero.
5. Inspirational Romance
Inspirational romance uses religion-based themes and elements as the anchor of the love story. Characters’ actions are mainly affected by how they live out their faith or discover their faith. Inspirational romance often presents love that stays pure despite the test of time.
6. Speculative Romance
Speculative romance centers on a love story that exists in a world where there are magical or supernatural ways of living. It integrates elements of fantasy or incorporates futuristic innovation such as time machines. Love stories with vampires and werewolves or ghosts fall under this type.
7. Young Adult
Young Adult focuses on how young people deal with romance-related events such as having an crush on someone else. The characters need to have the traits of young people and should not go beyond the general attributes of their generation. Young adult novels should present issues appropriate to their age.
Romance Novels Today
While the two basic elements of romance novels have not ever changed: romantic love between characters and an emotionally satisfying ending. These basic elements comprise many possibilities when it comes to plot and characters.
As society evolves its views of what love is and what love looks like, the romance book has also evolved. There are romance novels that include much older people, including those who are past retirement age, as lovers. Gone are the days when only a young adult is worthy of a steamy love story.
A developing romance doesn’t have to involve different genders. Women don’t have to be shrinking violets who wear aprons and need a man to save them. Even a feisty tomboy can have a winning romance and a romance element in her life, even if she wears pants and work boots. Societal norms no longer dictate what can be seen as romance-y.
While the above point is that romance novels have changed, several key elements stay the same, and they keep drawing readers. Minor characters still have almost no role in the story, virtue still counts for a lot, and readers tend to want short and sweet stories light on serious content and heavy on love, flirtation, and romance.
The Everlasting Genre
As society begins to change, so too will romance novels. This is one genre that has been around forever and will most likely be around forever. Romance novels make people feel good, and who doesn’t want to feel good?
These books provide a welcome distraction from a busy and sometimes cold real world, where anyone who is good and decent is worthy of unfaltering and never-ending love.