When I was a child, my mom noticed my interest in books. I’d reach for one of her many paperbacks. You know the one–a shirtless man with long hair standing in the wild outdoors with a swoony woman in a billowing dress.
And, of course, she tried to coax me into more age-appropriate reading. "These are adult books, romance books. Right now I don’t think you’d be interested in the plot. Maybe when you’re older."
She was absolutely right.
When I was a teenager, I’d pick on her for reading those same romance novels. I’d never read the genre myself, but couldn’t understand what was so interesting about romance being the main focus of a story.
Now I do.
In a little over a decade, romance as a genre has evolved and grown past those paperbacks moms read on long road trips to the grandparents' house.
The romance genre is no longer looked at as lesser than. They are the ‘bigger and better’, and it’s thanks in part to the subgenres within.
By definition, a subgenre is ‘a subcategory within a particular genre.’ Like any story, the romance genre has a plot, and within that plot comes smaller genres, usually connected to a subplot; a secondary story that helps move the romance plot along.
If romance is the heart of your story, then the romance subgenres are the veins. They go in many directions with many possibilities and outcomes. They help the blood of the story flow.
And just like veins, there can be multiple subgenres in your romance genre.
That metaphor got a little graphic, so let’s get a better breakdown of the types of subgenres your story can have.
Think of any genre of literature. If you make that the secondary point and add romance to the forefront, there’s your subgenre! Do you like History? Historical Romance. Love mystery? Romantic Mystery. The combinations are never ending, but here are just a few:
• Romantic Comedy
• Romantic Drama
• Dark Romance
• Romantic Thriller
• Academic Romance
• Western Romance
• Erotic Romance
• Holiday Romance
• Military Romance
You can even take a more daring approach with these less explored subgenres:
• Romantic Space Opera
• Steampunk Romance
• Dystopian Romance
You might be thinking you’ve seen stories like this before. Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games has a potential interest in Gale while falling in love with Peeta. That’s a great example of genre vs subgenre.
The Hunger Games is a dystopian science fiction novel first, and hardly a romance second. The romance subgenre in that novel is deep down, taking a back seat to the dystopian world around them.
Now what if Katniss had to fall in love or die? What if that was the game? What if she instead fell in love with the president's son, and seeing that love bloom stops the evil president from continuing the games? Now it falls under the romance genre, with a dystopian subgenre!
Sounds like great potential, right? Here are some romance books with interesting subgenres that you actually can read!
Nearly every romance novel will include a subgenre, even if it’s Contemporary Romance, which just specifies that the romance happens in a present-day, realistic fiction novel.
• King of Battle and Blood by Scarlett St. Clair – Fantasy/Paranormal Romance
• Lotus: A Love Story by Jennifer Hartmann – Romantic Mystery
• Twisted Love by Ana Huang – Dark Romance
• A Proposal They Can’t Refuse by Natalie Caña – Romantic Comedy
• Before I Let Go by Kennedy Ryan – Contemporary Romance
• Gaslight Hades by Grace Draven – Steampunk Romance
• To Marry and to Meddle by Martha Waters – Historical Regency Romance
The romance genre is on the rise, with 50% of romance readers claiming that since the pandemic, they’ve read more of the genre. $ Fortune$ even states there was a romance ‘boom’ in the years after 2020.
So if you are like me and remember the time where romance was at the bottom of the barrel, fear not. That steamy story in your head can come out whenever and however you want.
The key to working with romance and subgenres is to first have a good hold on writing romance. Here’s a comprehensive look on $ How to Start a Romance Novel$ to get you going.
Once you have an understanding of how to start, think of what subgenres would fit the themes of your story.
Let’s go back to our Katniss re-imagining and put her in the old west. President Snow is now mayor of this ‘ere town, and it ain’t big enough for both Katniss and his son. However, like Romeo and Juliet (a classic romantic tragedy), they desire nothing but to be together.
And he’s a cowboy or something.
Let’s add a little tragedy. Maybe Snow was right. The town isn’t big enough for the both of them. Maybe the town is destroyed. There is no District 12.
But wait, Mayor Snow didn’t cause the leveling of the whole town, so who did? And where is Katniss’s lover who suddenly vanished? Now we have a tragic romance mystery western. (That might be a tad overkill, but you get the point.)
It’s very easy to get carried away with subgenres, but most of them can fit any romance with the right characters and setting. Research what you like, read what you love, and write the story you want to read. Oh, and don’t forget to add a little spice.