As we’ve relaxed on the front porch with house guests this summer, those two questions come up a lot.

To the what do I write question, I respond romantic fiction similar to authors Danielle Steele, Nicolas Sparks, and Barbara Delinsky. Unfortunately, some of our guests have never heard of those authors, a sad, sad thing because those authors write incredible stories. So do I. :)

Others have no idea what romantic fiction means.

I completely understand the genre confusion because so many different types of books are lumped under the umbrella labeled romance. Many of which lack the very specific expectations for characters and plot structure romance readers seek.

So what is a romance novel?

Every true romance novel contains two elements – a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. (

Romance novels can be contemporary, historical, mystery, thrillers, fantasy, or any number of other themes with settings and distinctions of plot that create specific subgenres. Whatever the plot, a romance novel always centers on the developing relationship of two people and ends with what romance writers call HEA, a happy ending.

Romance novel formats include


  • 20,000 to 25,000 words
  • Themed collections also called anthologies


  • 40,000 to 65,000 words
  • Series (or “lines”) with a certain number published each month. Harlequin Romances available on a subscription basis are an example.

Single Title

  • 75,000+ words
  • Labeled as mass-market or trade by publishers based upon the format—small vs. large size and price point.

The industry standard for the romance genre is for the reader to experience the story through both the hero’s and heroine’s viewpoints, in third person, past tense.

The typical romance reader looks for only one viewpoint per scene in a story. However, there are romance authors like Nora Roberts who have challenge this standard successfully.

Lastly, the scope of the romance can be from sweet (no sex, no swearing) to extremely hot (no holds barred).

That fact always brings up another question: “You write like 50 Shades of Grey?” followed by a quick look and snicker at my husband. Whereupon, I quickly explain my stories are classified sweet romance.

More on romance classifications next week.

Considering the definitions above, do you read ROMANCE novels? If you have, tell us about one of your favorite novels.