The inevitable question…what do you write?

May 22, 2008 at 11:16 am | Posted in Meg, writing | 2 Comments

Over the past few weeks, I’ve interacted with numerous writers who are new to the writing world- the vocabulary, the genres, the rules. This led to me to thinking that an explanation of some of these nuances may be of benefit to us all. An introduction for the ‘newbie,’ a reminder for the veterans and maybe something innovative for those of us in the middle.

This week, I thought I’d tackle genres since I’ve been asked a few questions about this subject (and it might help me understand what urban fantasy is). When we first started this blog, Jessica, Bria and I shared what we wouldn’t write and we listed numerous aspects of the romance genre. I’d like to expand on what was presented and give an explanation of each so that you can decide where your current ms falls and/or what you would and wouldn’t write. And I’m blatantly borrowing this from Wikipedia (my favorite online resource). (is it plagiarism if you cite your source?):

The Very Basics
Category romance (or series romance) is the basic girl meets boy, conflict ensues and then they kiss and make up. These shorter books (less than 250 pages) are published in clearly delineated categories, or lines, each month (and stay on the shelf usually for only a month). Each line has its own rules for the level of intimacy, subject matter and levels of sensuality so the reader knows what to expect and is not disappointed. Harlequin is a leading publisher of category with numerous lines ranging from Blaze (red-hot reads) to Steeple Hill (Inspirational line).

In contrast, single title romance novels are longer (around 350 to 400 pages) with no set rules as to when the hero and heroine meet. They are not published in conjunction with other novels. While these stories also follow the standard ‘girl meets boy’ outline, they have secondary characters and subplots to add layers and juice up the story.

A third type is the novel with strong romantic elements which does not feature a key romance in the storyline. While the lead characters may fall in love, this relationship is secondary to the plot or character development (but can still be lots of fun!)

Adventure romance vs. suspense
These two styles are often grouped together, but there is a significant difference in them – the soundtrack. Adventure romances have the Indiana Jones theme running through them – they have action, adventure, strong heroes and heroines. You can’t turn the page fast enough because you’re so caught up in the fast moving plot and energy. Think Suzanne Brockmann’s series on Navy SEALs.

Romantic suspense’s tune is the eerie, spine tingling music that makes you grip your teeth in anticipation. You turn the page to get to the next level of mystery or danger which is the key facet of the story. My favorites are Kay Hooper and Alison Brennan.

The World Building Genres:
The key to this subgenre is fantasy. To write this kind of story, you must have the ability to create an entire new entity whether it’s a new planet, time or character. Here are the current styles of romantic fantasies:
Paranormal covers imaginative characters or extra-human characteristics that can range from vampires, shapeshifters and werewolves to faith healers, psychics and ghosts. Success in this genre is not only about creating such characters, but about developing them so the reader believes they exist. In my opinion, the best in the business is J.R. Ward and her Brotherhood series.

Time travel involves one or more characters starting in one time and traveling in the book to another. It could involve a dream, hypnosis, concussions or a magical transport into the future of past.

Science fiction often blends with the futuristic so I’m going to lump these two together. Both are different from true fantasy as they deal with the plausible, and what could really happen when you base your ideas on proper scientific and logical consequences. Usually the worlds are other planets or space settings, but I may be overgeneralizing since I don’t read this genre. J.D. Robb’s In Death series is a great example of futuristic romance.

Urban fantasy has fantastic elements incorporated into a modern-day, urban setting like Boston or Paris. Often protagonists must navigate a fantasy world that coexists with the ‘real world’, and includes magical/paranormal creatures such as werewolves, fairies, vampires, or witches. Romance is usually a subplot to the issues arising from these blend of real and fantasy worlds. Dark urban fantasy contains the same elements as urban fantasy, but usually has serious leanings towards horror elements. Dark and bloody events can and do happen in these novels, and a happy ending is not a necessity. J.R.Ward would fall into this category.

Age defining romance
Chick-lit follows the trials and tribulations of women in their 20s and 30s as they navigate the dating scene, work settings and shoe shopping. While the romance structure requires a happy ending, the more flexible chick-lit structure allows for ambiguity. Bridget Jones’ Diary is a great example.

Young adult novels or YA tend to portray adolescents coping with tough life and developmental issues. Although originally, the focus was on innocence of first love, these stories have matured with sexual experience woven into the plotline. The target population is generally ages 12 through 18 and can involve any of the above subgenres as long as they are written under the caveat that youth will read them. YA can range from the fantasies of Harry Potter to Judy Blume’s coming of age novels. YA is a huge market and many of our favorite Honorary Heartlettes write YA- there’s no mistaking that Stephenie Meyer is one of my favorites. Middle Grade follows the same guidelines as YA, but the target audience is younger, usually 9-12.

Time involved romances
Contemporary romance is set in present time. The hero and heroine live and work in a world most readers understand, with modern conveniences and current social mores.

Historical romances are not set in contemporary times. I’m new to this subgenre and discovered that you don’t necessarily need a degree in history to understand what you’re reading, but an understanding of the time periods may be helpful. Here’s a quick breakdown of popular eras:
 Medieval 938 – 1485 AD.
 Georgian 1714-1811, but usually refers to the period of George III reign from 1760-1811
 Regency 1811-1820, but usually covers the period of 1795-1837
 Victorian 1837-1901
To elaborate on one of these periods, regency romance has its own rules on marriages of convenience, arranged marriages, nanny and/or governess romances. Although there is sexual attraction and tension, there is usually no sex between the unmarried hero and heroine and the writing is more formal or stylized. Jane Austen is possibly the most celebrated regency romance author, and Loretta Chase has quite the fan base as well.

Cultural romance
African-American romances tend to focus exclusively on relationships between African-American or black heroes and heroines, and are commonly set in urban areas. African-American romances are also sometimes referred to Multi-cultural romance, though the latter also includes all non-white groups. Interracial romance is also sometimes included in this group, though the term technically refers to romances between a hero and heroine of different ethnic background.

GLBT stories involve gay, lesbian, bisexual, and/or transgendered people as the main characters. These stories can fall under any subgenres within the romance genre. A new subgenre within GLBT is Yaoi , a purely fantasized and highly romanticized take on male/male fiction. The relationships might have complicated plots, but the graphic action is designed to get the reader’s pulse pounding. Intensity is the key.

Range of Smut in the Sex-
 Inspirational romances celebrate traditional Christian values, though they can focus on other faiths and can be written as historicals or contemporary.
 Sweet romance has no explicit sexuality.
 Erotica focuses heavily on the sexual relationships between the characters and often pushes boundaries with multiple partners and kinky situations. Language can be graphic and sexual fantasies — often not considered politically correct in today’s romance novels — are enacted.
 Erotic Romance has a high level of sexual activity, but there are boundaries. The sex is within the context of the romance and the story can stand alone without the explicit scenes. But if you’re a reader of erotic romance, you wouldn’t want it to! Passionate Ink is a great site for more info on the differences of erotic fiction.



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  1. As a reader and a book buyer, I have noticed that erotica/romance books (e.g. Take Me There) has been highly popular and is top on the charts for sales. I for one love them and can’t see myself ever stop reading them.

  2. what a great site ! I will be back to have another read through- just as soon as I stop reading and get some writing done first! thanks for all the info.

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