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What Are the Different Romance Genres?

By Tara Barnett
Updated May 23, 2024
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There are many different romance genres, and the ways in which romance novels and stories are classified change over time. General romance, which is a romance novel that does not easily fit in a more specific category, is itself something of a rare category because most romance novels fit well in one of the many additional subgenres. At its core, a romance story is typically thought of as a tale that has a strong emotional core and a satisfying ending, which alone does not typically make up a well-rounded story. It is best to think of romance genres as further specifications on this basic romance center.

Many romance genres specify the setting and time period in which the story takes place. Historical romance, for example, takes place in the past and may include highly detailed historical details. While romance genres that are specific to places are typically not broad enough to constitute full subgenres, some areas and time periods do warrant categories of their own and may include Viking romances or romances set in specific wars.

More recently, the race, age, and sexual orientation of the characters have become defining characteristics of genres. African American romance novels, for example, have become broad enough to warrant entirely separate publishing lines among some publishers. Gay romance novels are also a separate genre, although some definitions of romance exclude any controversial elements like homosexuality. Young adult romance typically involves characters that are the same age as the target reader and may range from preteen to late teen protagonists.

Some romance genres are extremely broad, describing not the story itself but the way in which the story is produced. For example, novels can be either serial or single title affairs. While not officially a kind of genre, tales that take inspiration from well-known writers or even the actual body of work of a single author are sometimes used as classifications of genre. This is particularly true for writers who are prolific and whose writing style is extremely unique, as these writers become genre defining and therefore worthy of separate classification.

Romance novels may also cross with other genres of fiction, including paranormal fiction, Christian fiction, and suspense fiction. It is important to note, however, that romance genres that are a combination of two genres must give preference to the standards of romance writing. Many novels have romantic elements, but not all stories with romantic elements can be considered romance stories according to the very narrow definition put forth by various romance writing associations.

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Discussion Comments
By Rotergirl — On May 20, 2014

@Pippinwhite -- Have you seen any of the "adult contemporary" romance novels? Yuck. I like the old Harlequins. I'm not necessarily a fan of the historical romances, but they've got to be better than some of the crap I've stumbled into lately.

I think the authors of the Harlequins of the 60s and 70s were just better writers. They could all take the same basic plot, dress it up and make it interesting.

These adult contemporary writers just wallow in the gutter. The language is beyond profane and even the love scenes are just perfunctory. Gah. They're fairly awful.

By Pippinwhite — On May 19, 2014

O.K. I admit it. I like historical romance. Give me a good bodice-ripper any day. Talk about balls and dances and soirees and ladies needing to make a good match and falling for an utterly disgraceful, but sinfully handsome earl who makes their blood run hot.

No one is pretending this is great literature, but when well-written -- and a fair amount of it is -- it's better than the majority of the navel-gazing, self-indulgent, whiny, angsty fiction on the shelves these days.

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