Romance Fiction

When someone says the word 'romance', we usually picture meet-cutes, fake dating that develops into real feelings of love, or steamy chemistry between two characters. But is that all romance is? How did the genre come to be? Read on to find out!

Romance Fiction Romance Fiction

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Table of contents

    Romance fiction: meaning

    Before we look into the definition of romance fiction, let us first investigate where the word 'romance' comes from.

    Before and during the medieval age (c. 5th century to 15th century), the language of learning was Latin. Medieval English was considered a vernacular language, i.e., the language spoken by 'ordinary' people at the time. It was not until Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales (c. 1387) that Medieval English became the language of preference for poets and authors.

    Outside England, it was the educated elite who spoke and wrote in Latin. The common folk spoke languages that are identified today as the Romantic languages, including Italian, French, Romanian, Portuguese, and Spanish, among others. Romance, therefore, was identified with the vernacular, as opposed to Latin.

    In England, works written in vernacular English dealt with topics and themes that the common folk at the time could relate to or understand. Romance, therefore, came to be associated with tales of chivalry, honour, and love. Today, over 500 years later, Romance as a genre continues to highlight these themes, particularly that of love.

    Romance fiction is typically seen as a category of genre fiction.

    Genre fiction: in the book trade, genre fiction refers to fictional narratives that are classified by certain genres, such as romance, science fiction, crime fiction, etc., as they feature certain tropes and storylines that are typical of the genre. With genre fiction, the readers know what to expect from a narrative based on which category of genre fiction it belongs to.

    A work of science fiction would typically feature journeys to outer space, encounters with aliens, or some form of futuristic technology.

    According to this understanding of genre fiction, romance fiction refers to fictional narratives that feature the theme of love and chivalry in a sentimental fashion. An example of a work of romance fiction is The Undomestic Goddess (2005) by Sophie Kinsella.

    It is important that you do not confuse the romance fiction genre with the Romantics or the Romantic poets of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Romance fiction is a genre of fictional narratives with certain characteristics, while the Romantics or the Romantic poets refer to a group of poets whose works emphasised individualism, communion with nature, and expression of profound emotion.

    Romance genre characteristics

    Now that we've clarified the meaning of romance fiction in the scope of genre fiction, let's explore some of its key features.

    It is important to remember that, while most works of romance fiction will adhere to the features listed below, some works may defy these conventions of romance fiction to stand out or to present a different perspective.

    The theme of love

    Love, themes of love, and sentiments of love, are central to a work of romance fiction. When a reader picks up a book that is characterised as a work of romance fiction, they expect to read about characters who harbour feelings of love for each other.

    An optimistic ending

    Typically, a work of romance fiction has an optimistic ending, where the characters falling in love overcome obstacles, resolve any misunderstandings, and manage to find their way to each other to lead a content life.

    Strong chemistry

    Given how important love or falling in love is to a work of romance fiction, it is crucial that there is strong chemistry between the main characters. A good work of romance fiction features strong, witty central characters whose interactions lean into their intimacy as the narrative progresses.

    Conflict resolution

    The way to a happy ending in a work of romance fiction is by resolving the conflict. This conflict is usually between two or more characters who feel love for each other. Often, this involves a transition between the unwillingness to fall in love towards not being able to stop falling in love.

    An epilogue

    Although not all works of romance fiction include an epilogue, it is not uncommon to find one at the end of a romance fiction narrative. The epilogue gives the reader a peek into how the characters went on to lead their lives after their union.

    Romance fiction examples

    In this section, we will look at some examples of authors of romance fiction and their seminal works.

    Romance fiction authors and books

    The most well-known authors of romance fiction include Jane Austen, Nicholas Sparks, and Nora Roberts.

    Jane Austen

    Jane Austen is arguably one of the most popular authors of 19th-century romance fiction. Her works are primarily written from the perspective of a female character who, over the course of the narrative, meets her match. She eventually unites with him after resolving misunderstandings, escaping dodgy engagements, and overlooking the judgment of society and the social standing of their potential partners.

    An example of Jane Austen's romance fiction includes Pride and Prejudice (1813), in which Mr Darcy is often perceived as proud and haughty because of his social ineptitude. At a social event, he meets with Elizabeth Bennet, who takes an immediate dislike to him because of her tendency to form biases easily. Over the course of the novel, the two encounter each other frequently. They learn that they have misunderstood each other and consequently fall in love.

    Austen's Pride and Prejudice is immensely popular and has inspired numerous films, television series, and fictional retellings, one of which even includes zombies!

    Nicholas Sparks

    When it comes to contemporary romance fiction, Nicholas Sparks is one of the most popular authors of the genre. He has written numerous novels featuring strong protagonists who find their way to each other. However, not all of his stories have happy endings. In some works, such as Message in a Bottle (1999), the male protagonist, Garrett, dies before he can unite with Theresa, leading to heartbreak and grief.

    Many of Sparks' novels have been adapted into film, including one starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, The Notebook (2004).

    Other works of Nicholas Sparks include The Lucky One (2008), The Last Song (2009), A Walk to Remember (1999), and Dear John (2006).

    Nora Roberts

    Nora Roberts has written over 200 romance fiction novels and can arguably be seen as a master of the genre. She has won numerous awards for her writing, including RITA awards which are granted for excellence in romance fiction writing. Roberts was the first author to be inducted into the Romance Writers of America's Hall of Fame.

    Some of Roberts' works include Opposites Attract (1984), Divine Evil (1992), Blue Dahlia (2004), and The Witness (2012).

    Romance fiction genre overlaps

    As is the case with most categories of genre fiction, romance fiction also overlaps with other genre categories to develop more interesting narratives that capture the reader's attention. Some of these overlaps have resulted in niche genre categories that readers seek out to satisfy their needs.

    Below are some examples of genres that overlap with romance fiction:

    Historical or regency romance fiction

    As the title suggests, these narratives are set during particular historical periods, such as the Regency period. The description of the settings, the dresses worn by the characters, and the everyday speech of these narratives mimic those typical of the time period.

    Julia Quinn's bestselling Bridgerton novels (2000–6) have been adapted to an immensely popular web series on Netflix.

    Fantasy romance fiction

    Fantasy romance fiction books or stories blend the elements of fantasy and romance. They often build completely new fictional worlds that are different from the real world in their systems of culture, religion, governance, or magical abilities and laws.

    A Court of Thorns and Roses (2015) by Sarah J. Mass.

    Young adult romance fiction

    In young adult romance fiction, the target readers are teenagers and young adults. In order to relate to young adults, the narratives often touch upon themes of finding oneself, dealing with identity issues, friendship, and coming-of-age experiences alongside tropes of romance fiction.

    Jenny Han's To All The Boys I've Loved Before (2014).

    Science fiction romance

    Science fiction romance is a fictional narrative that blends elements of science fiction and romance fiction.

    Winter's Orbit (2021) by Everina Maxwell.

    Romance fiction today

    Today, the genre of romance fiction is one the most widely consumed genres by mass readers. It continues to enthral readers, and over the last years, it has expanded to represent members of the LGTBQ+ community, thereby diversifying its offerings to readers.

    Romance Fiction - Key takeaways

    • Romance fiction refers to fictional narratives that feature the theme of love and chivalry in a sentimental fashion.
    • Romance fiction is one of the categories of genre fiction, wherein the reader knows what to expect from a narrative based on its genre.
    • Some popular authors of romance fiction include Jane Austen, Nora Roberts, and Nicholas Sparks.
    • Works of romance fiction often overlap with other genres such as Regency romance, fantasy romance, and young adult romance fiction.
    • Romance fiction is one of the most widely-r genres today.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Romance Fiction

    What is romance fiction?

    Romance fiction refers to fictional narratives that feature the theme of love and chivalry in a sentimental fashion.

    What is contemporary romance fiction?

    Contemporary romance fiction refers to those works of romance fiction that are set roughly in the same time as the reader.

    What makes a romance fiction?

    A work of romance fiction typically features the theme of love and includes characters that eventually fall in love and have an optimistic or happy ending. Sometimes, works of romance fiction include an epilogue.

    What is science fiction romance?

    Science fiction romance is a fictional narrative that blends elements of science fiction and romance fiction. An example of a science fiction romance is Winter's Orbit (2021) by Everina Maxwell.

    What is romance as a genre?

    As a category of genre fiction, romance refers to fictional narratives which centralise the theme of love and include characters falling in love.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    True or false: Romance fiction refers to works written by the Romantic Poets

    True or False: Romance fiction is fiction set in the 18th century only

    Which of the following is an author of romance fiction?


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