What’s in a Genre: Romance

by | Dec 19, 2014

Last Updated:
May 27, 2017

I wrote in a previous post that I was surprised to find After the War, the first book of my newest trilogy contained more romance elements than sci fi. But would I call the novel a dystopian romance? Should that mishmash of genres even should exist?!

To answer that question, I need to know what really defines a romance novel.

I thought this definition would be easy. What constitutes a romance is surely easier to determine than sci fi or dark fantasy. Romantic writing has been around for centuries, right?


Jane Austen's novels are the first I think of when I hear romance

Jane Austen’s novels are the first I think of when I hear romance

Having been around for centuries might be accurate. Writers such as Jane Austen are considered pioneers of the romance genre, at least according to Wikipedia. And having read quite a few of Jane Austen’s novels, and swooned for a few of the characters as well, I will agree with that statement. 😉

After noting the tentative beginnings of the romance genre, it is easy to get lost in the thicket of a genre definition! Jennifer Crusie over on her blog does a great job outlining why defining romance is difficult. Such as: is romance only between a man and a woman? And while I’d say emphatically no to that, I know the concept is treading on emotions and perceptions that could lead to arguments lasting decades. And on the other side of the spectrum lies: just how explicit does the romance get? Is erotica or pornography romance or does a romantic novel end at chaste kissing?? These questions, to me, are narrowing the scope of what is the essence of romance to a very fine point. So let’s back things up a bit.

Every website I hit that sought to define romance had a pretty solid theme. A romantic novel is a book where the central plot is two people falling in love and working to create a relationship. A romance is a love story at its heart. There can be subthemes, but the romantic relationship is the big one – the one that the building tension, crises, and resolution is about.

And the other big point that defines romance that I commonly saw regarded the end of the novel. A romance doesn’t end with one of the lovers dead and the other in tears alone. The ending doesn’t have to be ‘happily ever after’ but it does need to feel ‘right’ if not full out good.

Jennifer Cruise sums all the above up really well with the statement: A romance is a love story that has an emotionally satisfying, optimistic ending.

Perfect! I think I know what a romance is now. 🙂

So is After the War, book 1 of Friends of my Enemy a romance as well as dystopian? Can a romance be dystopian?

A dystopian story that DOES tout its romantic elements

A dystopian story that DOES tout its romantic elements

Dystopian fiction doesn’t have to end in defeat (though is often uncertain at least!), so I do think a dystopian novel can be a romance. But saying with full confidence that After the War is a romance is harder. Maybe it was on the first read through, but after I settled on what really needed to be the central theme of the novel, subsequent editing faded the romance part. Now I would say the ‘love story’ element really feeds into the central theme of a very serious power struggle. So yah, there is a love story… but its existence causes a lot of problems!

Not to mention the question of if would I describe the novel as having a happy ending in terms of romance? Well that would depend on which character you are talking to…

I think I’m not going to be using a romance label with After the War! As much fun as dystopian romance sounds, and that I do think some readers would find it applicable, romance is a sub, sub theme and not its main niche. It is squarely dark fantasy/dystopian!

Do you have a definition for what you consider romance?


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Written by: Autumn

Autumn is a best selling indie author, conservationist, & world traveler with plans for many more adventures both real and fantastical! She is currently settled in the wilds of Maine with her small dragonish dog and husband, searching for a portal to another world.

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