With a dash of love

The rise of ‘paranormal romance’ as a best-selling genre has me reflecting on the role of ‘romance’ in the wider speculative fiction genre and fantasy in particular.

I think it’s fair to say that most fantasy novels written over the past few decades incorporate romantic sub-plots, and I’ll admit without shame that I for one like a good dash of love in the novels I read. After all, these are stories about people, and in the natural course of events they form relationships. My favourite novels, fantasy or otherwise, are invariably those which have amazing characters, and usually amazing love stories.

The point is, however, that these love stories in speculative fiction and fantasy are usually sub-plots — they may have varying levels of importance, but they are sub-plots nonetheless. The stories themselves are instead complex weaves of courage, adventure, challenge (and so on) . . . as well as love.

Having said that, the genre of ‘fantasy romance’ seems to be rather popular in the USA. I was never really sure what this sub-genre of fantasy was all about until I downloaded some free examples onto my Kindle while travelling recently. Turns out, this genre is effectively ‘category romance’ in a fantasy setting. The ones I read weren’t great, but since they were free I am sure they’re not reflective of the overall genre.

Even so, this limited experience did convince me that ‘fantasy romance’ is probably not for me. Give me that dash of love — even a strong dash — but focus on ‘saving the world’ (or equivalent). I will say, however, that I have recently enjoyed Nicole Murphy’s Secret Ones and Power Unbound, which are indeed paranormal/fantasy romance. (Two books, two couples.) However, I feel that the author here has done a great job with her world building, and the level of threat, that the non-romantic storyline is given almost as much weight. Almost.

Naturally another reason for all this reflection is that in winding up my novel, I am also winding up the love story sub-plot. At one time in the writing of the first draft I wondered whether there was too much romance, and whether it would be classified as ‘fantasy romance’ by the spec fic community. Having read a few of that genre now, I can see that this is definitely not the case.

Oh yeah, and it’s also on the day that I heard Harlequin is trying to patent the Romantic Kiss. Yeah right!

3 comments

  1. I know quite a few writers aiming at the ‘paranormal’ market. essentially (as you have discovered) ‘paranormals’ are category romance with paranormal elements ie vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters etc. The ones I have read (drafts mainly) have minimal world building. the authors don’t have much room for anything more elaborate due to the restrictive word count.

    On another topic, thought I would let you know the RWA conference is in Melbourne this year, if you are interested. I don’t think it’s ‘open’ yet. May be worth considering – they always have agents/publishers available to take pitches.

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  2. Good point re restrictive word counts and world building, Lisa. The novels I cited are longer than your average romance novel at ~400p and are interestingly being marketed by Harper Collins Voyager as their fantasy line. (I suspect there may be some readers who don’t realise they’re essentially romance when they buy them…)

    I am definitely interested in the RWA conference. Will check it out. I don’t think it’ll be relevant for me as far as pitching goes, but I would love to hear some of the speakers they typically have!

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