What makes a novel a Romance? With so many sub-genres, so many different themes and settings, varying from sweet and light to steamy and intense, with every shade of grey in between, what is the one thing all our novels have in common? It’s the happy ending, that promise to the reader that no matter how tough life gets, there’s a rainbow at the end of the storm.

Did you Know?

Romance Writers of America (RWA) defines a Romance novel as any novel that contains the following two elements:

  • Central love story:the unfolding romance of the two main characters should be the main focus of the novel.
  • Emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending:whether it’s a Happy Ever After (HEA) or a Happy For Now (HFN), the risks the main characters take should be rewarded with unconditional love.

Sub-Genres in Romance

Based on setting, plot elements, time period and heat level (whether sweet romance or explicitly steamy), romance novels are divided into sub-genres. This list is by no means exhaustive as new genres continue to  emerge and many novels cross genres.

Contemporary: novels set in the present day, ranging from hearth and home type stories to glossy, international settings.

Historical: novels set in time periods as diverse as Ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, the American west, the twentieth century, and of course the perennially popular Regency period.

Inspirational: novels in which spiritual or religious beliefs are integral to the story. Though these can be any religion, they are predominantly Christian.

Paranormal: stories involving werewolves, vampires, shapeshifters, angels, faeries… characters with extraordinary powers.

Fantasy and Sci Fi: Time travel, futuristic or fantasy novels in which romance is central to the story.

Dark Romance: Romance with a darker edge, often including anti-heroes, taboo subjects or elements of horror. Not for the faint hearted!

Medical: Romances set against a hospital backdrop or featuring medical practitioners – including alternate therapies. The Grey’s Anatomy of books.

Romantic Suspense: novels in which the central relationship is set against a backdrop of danger and intrigue.

Romantic Comedy: Light-hearted stories with humorous plot lines, but still focussed on the central relationship.

Chick Litnovels featuring romantic elements but not exclusive to romance, often focusing on issues of family, friends and careers.

Erotic romance: though the central relationship is important, the explicit, erotic scenes are the novel’s primary focus.

Young Adult: aimed at readers aged 13-18 years. No sex, but no less intense, these explore the experience of coming of age.

New Adult: aimed at readers aged approximately 19-28 years, often more angsty than intense than other contemporary novels, and focussed on characters who are in college or their first jobs.

Other genres include time travel/time slip, dystopian, steampunk, multicultural, sagas, sports romances, thrillers, mysteries, military romances…if you can imagine it, it probably exists.