What Makes the Romance Genre Unique?
If you walk through the romance aisles of your favorite bookstore, you see a whole range of novels in all colors, sizes, and subgenres. If you were to pick a few of the novels off the shelves, you could find yourself holding anything from historical romance to paranormal romance to contemporary romance, or, hey, even a romantic thriller. All of these genres exist outside of the romance genre--historical fiction, thrillers, horror, and science fiction. Yet, when we look at romances, they usually have a component of another genre.
As someone who is pretty much always reading romance novels, I get asked a lot of questions about them from both men and women who don’t read them. Some questions are more from the stereotypes about the genre than from true interest, such as, "So how dirty do those books get?" But, the one question that is always genuine is, “What makes a romance novel special?”
My personal opinion is that there are lots of things that make romance novels great because, let’s be honest, romance novels are freaking awesome. I may be biased, but it’s still true. The romance genre is one of the best-selling genres in the publishing industry, so that just supports my claim. But, in terms of what sets the genre of romance apart from other genres, there is one major difference: in romance novels, the relationship between the main characters is the focus of every story in the genre. If there is something else happening, it is in the background and helps facilitate the coming together of the main characters.
Let’s compare a hypothetical paranormal mystery with a hypothetical paranormal mystery romance. The paranormal mystery features a vampire who uses his abilities to work as a private investigator. His heightened senses make him one of the best investigators, so when a millionaire thinks his wife is trying to have him killed, the vampire is hired to look into her activities. Events unfold, and, maybe, the vampire and his client’s wife become involved in a torrid affair that ends with him discovering her plan. She is really with her husband’s business partner, and after she has her husband killed, they will take the business and the money and be together. Upon discovering this, the vampire is able to pass on the information to his client and the police, leading to the wife and business partner’s arrest. The client is happy with the vampire’s work, and the vampire goes on living in the modern day and solving cases.
Looking at the paranormal mystery, it is important to realize that the relationship is not the story; the story could happen without the affair between the vampire and the client’s wife. Also, with this being an affair, there was no chance at a clean happy ending between the vampire and the wife; their ending up together would have caused too many other problems. The story was about the mystery, not their relationship.
A paranormal mystery romance would fall more along the lines of this: A vampire uses his abilities to become an amazing P.I. For his latest case, an overprotective father has hired the vampire to follow his daughter who has moved away from home, so he knows she is as safe as he wants her to be. After bumping into her twice by accident, the vampire finds a way to insert himself into her life. As he becomes more and more infatuated with her, their connection and attraction deepens, and he hides his secrets from her. But, when a stalker begins threatening her well-being, they must work together to keep her safe. As they do this and work to overcome the issues he has hidden from her, they fall in love.
You can see here that the romance between the main characters is definitely the most important part of the story. While the mystery and external conflict definitely adds to the story, readers are more focused on learning about how and why the couple comes together and how they overcome the background obstacles as a couple. Romance novels put the love and romance first, offering the joyful and positive escape most romance readers look for. The happy, satisfying ending with the couple and their story is essential to the romance genre and what makes it so iconic.