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Characteristics of romance genre. Introduction. The most successful convention of romance fiction is that by some twist of fate, the heroine finds her social identity threatened or already destroyed. How will she reconstruct it?
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Introduction • The most successful convention of romance fiction is that by some twist of fate, the heroine finds her social identity threatened or already destroyed. How will she reconstruct it? • Romance blockbusters usually feature this vulnerable young woman and tell the story from her point of view. The narrative sets her up as particularly isolated and defenseless, but this situation enables her to demonstrate the strength and independence of character that allow readers to identify with her.
Opening situations • From Pride and Prejudice to Twilight, nearly two centuries later, this formula is still working. The opening situations that will drive the romance plot are: • the heroine is an orphan • the heroine’s social standing depends on her taking a husband even if she does not love him • the heroine has suddenly been deprived of all her friends • If something has destroyed her identity, she must now (re)build it and she (usually unwittingly) finds the way to do so through romance.
Critical conflicts • The hero and heroine come from opposing backgrounds; their relationship is discouraged or forbidden by their families • The hero and heroine are in competition for the same thing • The hero and the heroine have completely opposite goals (he wants children, she does not) or one's desire cannot be fulfilled by the other (she wants children, he is sterile)
Common elements • Opens with a question that stirs the reader’s mind. • Is empowering, affirming the values of love, family, and relationship. • Has a sympathetic heroine the reader can care about. • Has a hero both the heroine and the reader can fall in love with. • Begins with an interesting initial conflict or problem. • Develops an emotionally intense core conflict. • Keeps hero, heroine, and reader involved in continuing complications and problems for the characters — the plot. • Has a level of sensuality appropriate to the characters and the story. • Contains at least one powerful character type the reader will recognize and identify with — an archetype. • Develops to a black moment when all seems lost. • Concludes with an ending that affirms the values of love and positive relationships, and satisfies the reader.
Basic plot structure: Act one • Introduce the protagonist (who feels incomplete) • Protagonist meets love interest but there is conflict • Characters are forced to spend time together • Characters’ goals are at cross purposes
Basic plot structure: Act Two • Characters are bound together in a situation (sexual tension occurs) • Protagonist’s individual desire conflicts with the growing relationship • Crisis – shift to prioritize relationship ends in disaster
Basic Plot Structure: act three • Climax – protagonist must make personal sacrifice for ultimately fulfilling relationship • Characters either end up happily (traditional) or apart but still in love (setting up a sequel)
7 romantic subgenres • Contemporary Romance • According to the Romance Writers of America (RWA), contemporary romance is characterized as modern novels, “set from 1950 to the present that focus primarily on the romantic relationship.” As more time passes, that date is subject to change (i.e., soon the ‘80s will be considered historical, so contemporary romance would be any story set in the ‘90s or later). • In general, contemporary romances focus on the developing relationship between two main characters with a satisfactory emotional ending. In other words, a Happily Ever After (HEA) or Happy For Now (HFN) is a must. • Here are a few common indicators you’ve got a Contemporary Romance on your hands: • Modern setting, language, and diction • Realistic scenarios or outcomes • General focus on the emotional development of a relationship • Tone varies depending on the story, so expect to read (or write) anything from humorous to heart-wrenching. • While many authors dabble in a few genres, here are some Contemporary Romance authors (in no particular order) to consider adding to your reading list: Nora Roberts, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jennifer Crusie, Jill Shalvis, Sonali Dev.
7 romantic subgenres • Historical Romance • On the flip side of the coin, historical romances are novels set prior to 1950. In general, the same rules and characteristics apply as those found in contemporary romances, minus the time period shift. From the Victorian days to the Wild West, there’s a story for every era. • Like contemporary romance, historical romances can range in tone and subject matter, though you will find some clear distinctions: • Dated setting, language and diction • Characters occupying roles not found in common society (i.e., duke) • Here are a few historical romance authors to consider: Diana Gabaldon, Sarah MacLean, Lisa Kleypas.
7 romantic subgenres • Romantic Suspense • It is what the name implies—romance novels where suspense, mystery or thriller elements are integral to the plot. From drug deals and murder to cyber crimes and more, you can satisfy your Law & Order hankering with a romantic suspense. • Generally speaking, romantic suspense tends to err on the side of serious, and you’ll find key characteristics, such as: • Fast-paced, heart-pumping plot • Some facet of crime that might jeopardize the romantic relationship • Realistic details and a modern setting • Though there are some romantic suspense novels set in a historical time period (such as gothic), you’ll find that most of them focus on current crimes and scenarios. • Get your heart racing with these notable authors: Linda Howard, Pamela Clare, Suzanne Brockmann.
7 romantic subgenres • Erotic Romance • Generally one of the more explicit types of romance, erotic romance is characterized by sexual interaction that is key to the story. Without the sexy times, the plot wouldn’t progress. Erotic romance can blend with other categories, though it is commonly found in a modern setting. It’s not just prettily packaged porn, either—expect well-conceived characters from varying backgrounds with unique and creative stories specific to their situation. • As with the other different types of romance, erotic romance has a few notable features: • Graphically described sexual encounters/scenes • Multiple sex scenes (typically more than one or two) • Unique tropes (such as a ménage) • If you’re looking for steamy reads, here are some notable Erotic Romance authors: Anne Calhoun, Olivia Cunning, Rebekah Weatherspoon.
7 romantic subgenres • Religious/Spiritual Romance • Romance Writers of America says it best when it comes to Religious/Spiritual Romance: “Romance novels in which religious or spiritual beliefs are an inherent part of the love story, character growth and relationship development and could not be removed without damaging the storyline.” In much the same way the plotline won’t progress if you eliminate sex from erotic romance, the plotline won’t progress here if you remove the spiritual element. • Religious romances can incorporate any type of belief system, spirituality or culture, and they can mesh with other genres (i.e., historical Christian romance). You’ll find these key characteristics: • Characters with strong religious convictions and/or who end the book with strong religious convictions • Explicit sexual content is typically avoided (or light) • Tropes dealing with issues of faith or belief • Occasionally referred to as inspirational romances, you can check out more religious romance titles from these authors: Karen Witemeyer, Olivia Newport.
7 romantic subgenres • .Paranormal, Science Fiction (Sci-Fi), or Fantasy Romance • While paranormal, sci-fi and fantasy novels can easily be divided into their own categories with their own specific set of parameters, in the case of paranormal romance, sci-fi romance, and fantasy romance, the common denominator is that each one’s respective features are integral to the progression of the plot. • That aside, there are different fantastical elements that alert the reader to the type of novel they’re dealing with. • For Paranormal Romance: • Typically set in the modern world with slight differences (i.e., instances of magic, either known or unknown to the general public) • Romantic relationships with supernatural beings, including but not limited to: vampires, werewolves, demons, angels, ghosts, witches and other “familiar” supernatural entities • Authors of note: Ilona Andrews, Jeaniene Frost, Nalini Singh.
7 romantic subgenres • For Sci-Fi Romance: • Set in the future and/or dealing with futuristic elements/technology (i.e., space travel) • Romantic relationships with aliens/non-human love interests • Authors of note: Linnea Sinclair, Susan Grant, Dara Joy. • For Fantasy Romance: • Set in a fantasy world separate from ours, typically with a magic system or creatures that are known and a “normal” part of life • Some crossover might occur with modern technology, but usually branded terms (i.e., jeans vs. breeches) are left out in favor of new and unique descriptions • Authors of note: Amanda Bouchet, Kristen Ashley, C. L. Wilson. • While all three tend to have action-packed plot lines, romance is still an integral part of the storyline.
7 romantic subgenres • Young Adult Romance • Last but certainly not least, we have young adult romance. As you can probably guess, young adult life is a must for the progress of the plotline. Combining elements from other genres (i.e., contemporary or fantasy), these stories run the gamut. They include most of the hallmarks found in typical young adult novels, but with an amped romantic plotline. • Look for indicators such as: • Teenage relationships or issues related to young adult lives • Empowerment, coming-of-age, and other standard tropes • Love is a primary driving force behind the plotline • Heat levels vary for young adult romances, as this largely depends on the type of YA novel in question (i.e., a Christian YA romance likely won’t have explicit sexual scenes). Check out titles from these authors for more young adult romance reads: John Green, Sandhya Menon, Nicola Yoon.
12 Key Scenes in the Lover’s Journey Adapted from Michael Hauge • Ordinary World: We see the heroine’s normal world before she meets the hero. • The Meet: The lovers meet. • Rebuffed: Heroine has a negative response to the hero that shows they’re incompatible (or you can reverse all this and make this the hero’s reaction to the heroine). • Wise Friend Counsels: Heroine’s friend/mentor points out why the hero is right for her. • Acknowledge Interest: Heroine is forced to acknowledge her attraction to the hero. • First Quarrel: Lovers have an argument or disagreement that pushes them apart.
The 12 Key Scenes in the Lover’s Journey Adapted from Michael Hauge 7. The Dance: Opposites attract and repel. Development of the relationship but with tension! 8. The Black Moment: Romance is dead, impossible due to something that’s happened. 9. The Lovers Reunite: They finally openly admit/accept they are fated/ meant for each other but things stand in the way. 10. Complications Push Them Apart: Tension precluding the big climax, usually due the complications of the subplot. 11. Together At Last: Working together, thrown together, at the climax to overcome the last big obstacle (emotionally and actually), they are finally together or joined in love and purpose. 12. HEA: or happily ever after. The reward for the hard journey.
tips • Read romances. A surprising number of people who think they can write a romance don’t actually read romances. If you’re not interested in the genre as a reader, that’s going to come across in your writing. Although it helps to read in a variety of subgenres (such as romantic suspense or paranormal romance), it makes sense to focus on the type of romance you’re thinking about writing. • Follow the formula (kind of). Romances do follow a formula—but it’s probably not the one you think. Here’s what a romance reader expects from a romance: • A hero she loves and a heroine she sympathizes with. • A believable conflict. Something has to keep the hero and heroine apart, and it can’t be a pointless misunderstanding that could be cleared up with one twelve-second conversation. • A happily-ever-after. The couple doesn’t have to get married or vow undying love but it should be clear that they’ve resolved their differences and are mutually committed to one another.
tips • Focus on the emotional payoff. Readers read romance because they want to feel something. Romances can have difficult subject matter and any number of dark moments but at heart they are life-affirming and the ending is always positive. If you kill off your hero at the end, you may have a love story but you don’t have a romance. Often the emotional payoff requires both the hero and the heroine to make a sacrifice for the sake of love. Be sure that you’re even-handed about this. Romances require mutuality to be satisfying to readers. • Keep the action going. Although romance is about feeling, spending a lot of time inside a character’s head mulling things over is the kiss of death for a romance novel. Your story needs to keep moving along to the conclusion. That doesn’t mean you should dump in a bunch of pointless action; you can have a romance where not a great deal of objective action happens. But characters need to be doing something: having conversations, going to work, throwing things.
tips • Don’t head-hop. This refers to the jumping around from one character’s point of view to another character’s point of view in a scene. This prevents you from deeply exploring one character’s feelings and situation, and is a deal-breaker for a lot of readers and editors. Also be aware that most romance is written in third person, past tense. Unless you have an extremely strong reason for doing otherwise (and you probably don’t), stick with what readers want and expect. • The love relationship must be front and center. In many romance subgenres, such as historical or paranormal, a lot of world-building has to take place for the reader to understand what’s going on. But you have to keep the love relationship front and center from the start of your novel to the last page. If your hero wanders off for fifty pages midway through the book, readers are going to be unhappy. They want to see your hero and heroine together, falling in love.
tips • Convey physical attraction. Even in the tamest of romances, the reader needs to have a sense that your two main characters are physically attracted to each other. Avoid clichés in description/narration. Romances are about sexual love relationships, even if your characters never do more than kiss. Physical attraction and desire are important parts of your characters’ love journey, and your readers want to experience them. • Use archetypes. Throughout time, certain character types appear again and again in our myths and stories, based on patterns or archetypes. Psychologist Carl Jung believed many powerful archetypes have a deep universal appeal. Mythologist Joseph Campbell described how these archetypes. If you have a strong story idea you care about passionately, it will inevitably contain powerful archetypes. To develop an awareness of archetypes you might use in your stories, think about the themes and characters you like reading about. Look at the descriptions of hero archetypes on the next page and ask yourself if the characters that touch you fit any archetypes.
Powerful archetypes • Wild woman — She’s passionately and completely herself. She’s certain of her identity, of who and what she is. She never needs to wear a mask or pretend to be someone she is not. • Angry young man — He sees injustices all around him, and his life is consumed with the need to rage at these injustices, to do battle against them. • Hero/Heroine devoted to a cause — “The cause” is so important that everything else must be sacrificed to it. Friendships, ambitions, love relationships, possessions must all be given up for the cause. • Passionate artist — The artist is consumed by the need to create. Everything that happens in the artist’s life becomes grist for the mill of art. The artist might suffer deeply at the death of a friend, but at the same time will probably soon need to put that suffering into a painting, a novel, a poem, a song. He or she is able to love deeply but cannot give up art. • Weary warrior — The weary warrior is usually a man, but may be a woman. The warrior has done battle, has seen death, and become drained by it. This deeply moral person has become cynical about his or her ability to right wrongs. The weary warrior is usually placed in a story where he or she must once again do battle, must come out of withdrawal and take up the sword. This archetype is seen in many stories of burned-out cops, weary secret agents, and crusaders returning embittered from the battles.
Powerful archetypes • Earth mother — Earth mother has a bottomless well of maternal love to give. She nurtures simply by being there. She is well grounded, seems unshakable. She is fulfilled by giving to babies, husbands, friends, who all come away from her arms strengthened. Her strength is quiet and certain. Earth mother also has a male counterpart, whose nurturing tends to be more concrete. • Virginal heroine — She feels deeply, cares deeply about those around her, but shies away from intimacy with men, sensing a danger she can’t define. She is unconscious of her own deeply passionate nature until it is awakened by the hero. Most publishers today are skeptical of virgin heroines, although statistics show that many individuals do remain virgins well into adulthood. • Alpha hero — Why is your hero so tough, hard, and outrageously masculine? You need to know, so that you understand what sent him down the Alpha road. What secret vulnerability is he hiding — especially from the heroine? An Alpha hero should directly threaten the heroine’s peace of mind, her way of life, but never forget — he’s a good man. There’s an aura of danger about the Alpha hero. This man lives by his own rules; he’s strong-willed enough to impose those rules on others, but he has a healthy respect for humanity and its laws. At first he may not understand that the strong sexual attraction he feels for the heroine can be transmuted into love. He may begin by being cynical about emotions, but by the end of the book he’s learned that he can trust the heroine with his happiness and honor. So he must have the capacity to love, to feel compassion, to learn to live with another person.
Powerful archetypes • Shapeshifter — This archetype describes anyone who has a pattern of changing character or appearance unexpectedly. Some shapeshifters undergo true transformations, particularly in paranormal romances. The hero of Gail Crease’s Poseidon’s Kiss is a son of the sea god Poseidon, while the heroines of Nora Roberts’s In the Garden trilogy are all witches. Most shapeshifters, however, only appear to change. This archetype’s most common appearance is in romance where the shapeshifter represents the mystery of the opposite sex, whose members may appear bewilderingly changeable. • Shadow — The shadow archetype represents suppressed or hidden, dark-side energies. Many romances feature dark, dangerous heroes who are tamed or redeemed by love. Battles with the dark side have a strong primal appeal, evidenced by the enduring popularity of Charlotte Brontë’sHeathcliffe in Wuthering Heights, and the recent wave of vampire heroes in paranormal romance. The weary warrior and the angry young man are both dark heroes. • Trickster — This mischievous archetype is present in all comic characters, and in characters who deliberately practice trickery for non-comic purposes, such as con men, secret agents, detectives, and undercover police heroes.