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Defining One's Genre: When is Romance not a Romance?

Silly question you think, but not so. While I was laboring through my story yesterday it hit me. I like to throw love into my story lines. Sure there is drama, action, death even, but there is always an underlying romance occurring. This gave me pause. Does this mean I am a romance writer? Or am I a fiction writer who has the occasional love story intertwined in the plot?

Defining your genre is crucial when querying agents, but it also pigeonholes you. What if my first two novels have a romance as a backdrop to the every day life of the characters, but my third is just a story about three guys who go on a journey of self discovery? The agent would not publish it because there is no romance. This is making my head spin.

When Jane Austen wrote her novels, did she scribble along thinking"Ahh yes, another romance." Or did she approach it has, "This will be a good story to tell and the BBC will make movies of it over and over again." Yes I am being silly.
All writers tells stories, but they must define what genre they belong to first. This has been the thorn in my side as I do not want to market my bounty hunter story as full blown romance, but in a way, it is about Molloy allowing her heart to be touched again. And by someone she least expected.

According to Romance Writers Of America's website: Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending.

A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around two individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.

An Emotionally-Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.

There is also this: Novels with Strong Romantic Elements
A work of fiction in which a romance plays a significant part in the story, but other themes or elements take the plot beyond the traditional romance boundaries.

Now I am even more confused. While I did not write a central love story, it is in there. I just told her story and love was a part of it. I cannot be the only writer who hits this wall. Some folks say you should write the synopsis before the novel so you can see where it goes and what it would be marketed as. I totally get why now. As for this book, I have sent it off to agents as a futuristic-romantic-thriller since they are former military who now hunt the bad guys and it is 2030 and in the midst of this, a serious relationship forms. Am I wrong though? Am I selling this incorrectly and need to rethink strategy here? I bet Barbara Kingsolver and Michael Chabon don't sweat about this. Lucky kids.

I struggle with pulling any serious romance overtones out of my latest work with the Angels off Death because I want it to be able to be marketed to a larger audience. Then again, Romance novels are some of the best selling in the world so no slouch there. I fear being tasked to write the same thing over and over in a formulaic style just to meet the Happily Ever After requirement. I know that is what people want, especially in such uncertain times, but it is not what I always want. And so the mumbling and rumbling in my head continues as I try to figure out just what kind of stories do I write. What kind of storyteller am I at this very moment? This is the million dollar question.



  1. "Sure there is drama, action, death even, but there is always an underlying romance occurring. This gave me pause. Does this mean I am a romance writer?"

    It means you're a girl. ;)

    Get in touch with your masculine side a little more. It can only add to your depth.


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