With my local RWA chapter's writing contest opening for entries on May 1st, I'm reminded of a problem area for many writers--identifying the proper genre for their stories.
IRWA's Indiana Golden Opportunity Contest (IGO) is modeled after the Golden Heart Contest run by Romance Writers of America, our parent organization, and uses the same category definitions for genre. Other than the erotic romance category we've added, our contests have the same basic rules. We've also combined all contemporary categories.
Within the romance genre, you'll find many sub-genres. These seven don't begin to include them all, but you should see a pattern in the definitions.
Contemporary Romance--Romance that focuses primarily on the romantic relationship and has a contemporary setting. The love story is the main focus, and the resolution of the romance should be satisfying and optimistic.
Erotic Romance--Romance in which the sexual relationship plays an integral part in the love story. The sexual relationship is blended with the love story, which is the main focus, and the resolution of the romance is satisfying and optimistic.
Historical Romance--Romance set in any historical time period. Again, the love story is the main focus, and the resolution of the romance should be satisfying and optimistic.
Inspirational Romance--Romance in which religious or spiritual beliefs (in the context of any religious or spiritual belief system) play a major role in the romantic relationship. The love story is the main focus, with religious or spiritual beliefs as a significant part of the love story, and the resolution of the romance should be satisfying and optimistic.
Paranormal Romance--Romance in which the future, fantasy, or paranormal elements are an integral part of the plot. The futuristic, fantasy, or paranormal elements are blended with the love story, which is the main focus, and the resolution of the romance should be satisfying and optimistic.
Romantic Suspense--Suspense, mystery, or thriller elements constitute an integral part of the plot. These elements are blended with the love story, which is the main focus, and the resolution of the romance is satisfying and optimistic.
Young Adult--Romance geared toward young adult readers. The love story is the main focus, and the resolution of the romance should be emotionally satisfying and optimistic.
With those definitions out of the way, I'd like to address some of the issues I've encountered in judging.
Q: How would you define the genre of a story with a contemporary and/or historical setting containing paranormal elements that are vital to the plot?
A: If the paranormal elements are taken out, does the story still work? If yes, contemporary or historical. If no, paranormal. If the story involves both a contemporary setting and a historical setting with the same set of characters, then some sort of time travel, reincarnation, etc. has happened. Therefore, the story is paranormal.
Q: What if my erotic story doesn't end with a happily ever after?
A: Happy for now is acceptable as long as the resolution is optimistic. However, if the characters go their separate ways in the end, the genre is erotica rather than erotic romance. The addition of the word "romance" means the sexual relationship has evolved into a loving one as well.
Q: How much suspense can I put in my romantic suspense?
A: Romance should be at least 50% of any story labeled romance, whether it's romantic suspense, young adult romance, paranormal romance, etc. The main focus in romance is the romantic relationship. That's why genres such as suspense, thriller, mystery, etc. exist. A love story isn't the main focus, or even a minor part sometimes. Romantic Suspense has a good balance of romance and suspense.
Q: Can one story fit into more than one category?
A: Yes. An erotic romance can be contemporary, historical, paranormal, or romantic suspense. In most other cases, choose the genre that most closely fits your story. Sure, an inspirational can be contemporary, historical, or romantic suspense, but the religious/spiritual factor is usually a defining element for a publisher.
Q: Where do steampunk, sci-fi, and urban fantasy romances fit in?
A: If you've read any of these sub-genres, you know that paranormal-type elements are an integral part of the stories. They contain futuristic and fantasy world-building. They're paranormal in the case of the IGO.
Whether you're entering contests or submitting to editors and agents, know your genre. Not knowing--or choosing the wrong one--could mean a disqualification or a rejection.
How about we discuss the dreaded Homophones next week?!?!
Romance...With A Kick!