As a genre, romance encompasses a broad range of topics and subgenres. In the most basic sense, romance books contain a central love theme and a happy resolution. This leaves room for an infinite number of variations that constitute romance. However, the common themes of romance novels fall into several identifiable categories and subgenres. As an author, it can be tricky to know which of those subgenres you want to write. But with a good understanding of what those subgenres are and how they might suit you as an author, the decision can become easier.
In this article, you’ll find:
- Categories of romance
- The main subgenres
- Subcategories within the subgenres
- How to pick the right subgenre for you
Romance novels can be either standalone books or series, and they fall into three different age categories: young adult, new adult, or adult. To choose which of these literary categories is right for you, consider how complex you want your storyline to be, how old you would like your main character to be, who you want your story to appeal to, and how explicit you want your romance to be.
Young adult romance features a protagonist in their teens or early twenties and focuses on their transition into adulthood. These romances tend to address coming-of-age stories and often entail first love, though these themes are not required. The category of young adult uses age-appropriate language for children but can tackle challenging topics. For a better understanding of young adult romance and what goes into it, check out this article on How to Write Successful YA Romance Novels.
New adult romance protagonists can be anywhere between the ages of eighteen and thirty. These narratives allow more flexibility concerning language and can be more explicit. They also offer a broader range of sexual experience, as older characters often have a romantic past and are coming into their own as individuals within the relationship.
Adult romances have the most freedom when it comes to age and sexuality. In adult romance, any level of steam and explicit language is considered acceptable. This category is where erotic romance fits best, as the characters are of adult age and capable of making informed decisions.
Series or Standalone
Choosing whether your romance fits as a series, or “category” romance, or a standalone novel is another consideration. Category romance often contains shorter romantic plots that tie together from book to book, while standalone romance does not need to take other storylines into consideration. E. L. James’s Fifty shades of Grey books and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series are great examples of category romance, whereas John Green and Nicholas Sparks write standalones. Both are viable options depending on where you wish your storyline to go.
Subgenres of Romance
Romance can be broken down into subgenres based on the themes within the book. As long as love occupies the central storyline and the book ends with a happy ending, the book could contain vampires, a murderer on the loose, or a magical object that transports people back in time. However, to better understand the main subgenres of romance, these are the definitions of each:
Historical romance is set in the distant past (generally during World War II or earlier). While they can take place in any location or historical time, the setting usually stays true to life and should reflect the culture and characteristics of that time. This may require research if you are not familiar with the time period you choose, but the historical backdrop can add rich detail to the story and encourages societal commentary. Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series is a wonderful example of historical romance, and Jane Austen is famous for her Regency romance, a subset of historical romance set in the time of the British Regency.
Contemporary romances take place any time after World War II and contain modern issues. This subgenre focuses on conflict that readers have more readily experienced. It is most commonly written in first person narrative and often has a less formal tone than that of historical romance. Jojo Moyes writes wonderful contemporary romances, such as the Me Before You series.
Erotic romance has less stipulation on where or when it takes place, though the culture within the novel should fit with the more explicit nature of the text. After all, a devout Catholic wouldn't work as an erotic character—unless the story is about them breaking away from their beliefs to explore their sexuality. This subgenre focuses on sex at a more explicit level and includes heroes and heroines who regularly practice intimacy. Erotic romance contains steamy scenes throughout the book and can use more provocative language. E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey is a perfect example of this subgenre.
One subgenre that has grown in popularity in recent years is paranormal romance. This subgenre also includes fantasy and sci-fi and focuses on more magical or futuristic themes. Paranormal romance includes real-world human encounters with supernatural creatures, while romantic fantasy is set in a fantastical land, and sci-fi romance takes place in a futuristic world. Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series is a paranormal romance.
Romantic suspense contains a more fast-paced storyline with romance at its center. This could mean a variety of high-stakes situations that put the protagonist’s happily ever after at risk. But a happy ending is still key. Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks is a perfect example of romantic suspense, as the heroine of the story is on the run from her abusive husband, and when she falls in love with a stranger she meets in a small town, it puts both her and this new love interest in danger.
Religious romance pertains to characters who overcome obstacles, either in their faith or through their faith, to find happiness with the one they love. This subgenre can range from strong religious themes to more spiritual undertones that hint at faith-based morals. It often contains more G-rated or sweet romantic scenes that reflect the beliefs of the religion it adheres to. Francine Rivers writes moving examples of the religious subgenre.
Breaking It Down and Mixing It Up
Of course, these main subgenres can be broken down into more specific categories with themes such as western romance, secret billionaires, unplanned pregnancies, or romantic comedy. And each subgenre can overlap or blend well with other subgenres. For instance, Francine Rivers’s Mark of the Lion series is both religious and historical romance, as the story is about Christian persecution during the Roman Empire. It’s perfectly acceptable to combine subgenres, so long as they make sense together.
How to Know What Subgenre Is Right for You
Choosing which subgenre you want to write can feel like a daunting task. But before deciding, consider these important factors.
Write What You Know
Think about what subgenre of romance you are familiar with. What do you read? Often, we are drawn to specific storylines and themes, and the more you know about the subgenre, the more interesting the story you will be able to write. It helps to know how your romantic subgenre is done well so you can better emulate it.
Think About POV
Consider what point of view you wish to write from. Not only is the age of your characters—and audience—an important consideration. So is how closely you wish to dive into your hero’s perspective. Contemporary romance tends to get up close and personal, as can paranormal romance and erotic or religious romance. Historical romance and romantic suspense, on the other hand, tend to be written in the third person to create a more formal tone or add to the tension.
Find What Appeals to You
The more interested you are in the subgenre you choose, the easier it will be to write. Knowing what you’re passionate about within romantic subgenres will transfer through your writing, so it is important to consider which subgenres appeal to you. Those will be the books you read and the movies you watch, so you will also be more familiar with the nuances of your specific subgenre.
Consider Your Purpose
Each subgenre of romance has a purpose. Historical romance aims to reflect upon the culture and society of past civilizations, whereas contemporary romance delves into the more modern struggles we face with love. Erotic romance explores sexuality, while paranormal romance explores the imagination. Religious romance and romantic suspense address more philosophical and psychological questions. So which concept would you most readily want to examine in your theme?
Each romantic subgenre can be massively entertaining to read and write, so picking the one you want to write should be a fun adventure rather than a daunting task. Still not sure which subgenre is right for you? HotGhostWriter can help! Our team of skilled writers and editors can help you make your romance book a stunning success.