What is Romantic fiction?
Many writers—even those who have just won an award for Romantic writing—deny that they write romantic fiction. So how does one decide that a novel, a story is romantic? The dictionary defines romantic as “characterised by or suggestive of Romance, imaginative, visionary, remote from experience.” Romance, apart from being “the vernacular language of old France” is defined as “a prose tale with scenes and incidents remote from everyday life…”
Is Donna Leon a romantic writer? She writes crime—and extremely well, but her hero is definitely in love with his wife. Tolstoy? Anna Karenina? There’s a love story there all right—but is the book a romantic novel? An editor once referred to Dr Zhivago as “that old saga.” Is it a literary novel or is it a saga? Could it possibly be both? Sarah Harrison, The Dreaming Stones? A great historical or a love story with a great deal of literary merit thrown in?
The trouble with trying to define a romantic novel is that there are so many sub-genres. The words romantic novel cover an amazing variety. It’s like stepping-stone into the most beautiful old English country garden, a hollyhock here, a cowslip there, different, but each perfect in its own way.
The newly published anthology, Loves Me, Loves Me Not, contains a number of sub-genres. Contemporary romance, women’s commercial fiction, paranormal, chick lit, historical, Regency, suspense, mystery, fantasy, multi genre—they’re all in there and a few other sub-genres too. Could there even be one of that Holy Grail of the contemporary critic—the Literary story? Read it and see.
Loves Me, Loves Me Not looks unashamedly romantic and is packaged to appear so. But not all books are. What if all books came in green leather covers, no pictures of ‘killer heels’ or half-dressed hunks, no blurb, no paeons of praise from other writers. How would you know what kind of book it was supposed to be? You’d have to read it—and you might find a few surprises.
As for trying to fit your square little book into a hole so that you can succinctly tell an agent or an editor what you’re writing, try giving each thread of your story a title—love story, family relationship, experienced tragedy, ambition etcetera. Next, picture a mountain range, the Cairngorms, the Himalayas, whatever, and give each mountain peak the title of a strand of your novel, with the most important thread going on the highest peak, the least important, the smallest. If when you’re done, the love story is stuck on K2 you’ve written a romantic novel. ‘Seemples.’