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A romance novel is a book that centers on love and relationships as its primary plot element. This type of novel usually has certain other stylistic qualities, although these are not consistent. There are books about love that are not romance novels, and what precisely qualifies as a romance novel is usually in part determined by who published the book. Partly due to its subject matter, a romance novel tends to be most popular among adult women. Despite a reputation as lowbrow works, romance novels make up one of the most widely read genres of literature in the English-speaking world.
Many people apply a very strict definition to what may be called a romance novel. The Romance Writers of America, for instance, only classifies a book as a romance novel if the main plot revolves around two people working to build a romantic relationship with one another, and if the ending is optimistic. This means that a novel re-telling the romantic story between Romeo and Juliet focusing solely on plot would not be a romance novel, because while the main plot revolves around love, the ending is not emotionally satisfying or optimistic. In practice, the structure of romance novels may be more flexible, although such books may not be as popular among romance novel readers.
Romance novels are often categorized with a number of subgenres, including historical romance, paranormal romance, and contemporary romance. These niche novels often have extremely devoted followers, and may gain fans who typically do not read romance novels. There are also books aimed at different age groups, races, and sexual orientations, although these are often more controversial because they can appear extremely stereotyped.
The characters in a romance novel are sometimes considered the most important part of the story. Love in a romance novel typically follows a predictable and optimistic path, so in order to keep readers interested, the characters and setting must be unique. Fine use of language is generally not required for a romance novel to be successful, although many romance novel writers are extremely gifted authors. Romance writers are necessarily experts in story telling, though not always in literary phrasing.
Many women find that they are able to bond with other women over romance novels. This genre provides an outlet through which many women exercise their literacy and also build a sense of community with other readers. Despite critiques of the genre as a form of female-oriented pornography, the focus on positive outcomes and building strong relationships is affirming for many women. As the kinds of men women look for evolves, so too will the romance novels written about finding love with perfect men.