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What is the Contemporary Romance Genre?
This genre is called “contemporary” since it is set in the present day of the time in which the book is written and reflects the values of that time– so if the book is written in the 1970s it is set in the 1970s and features 1970s values, attitudes and situations; if the book is written in the 1990’s it is set in the 1990’s and features 1990s values, attitudes and situations.
It is – by far – the largest genre, with some estimates saying that the genre reflects over 40% of the romance novels in print (and being read) today. In recent years, it has come to feature more equal relationships between the female and male characters, and the genre is almost entirely focused on the romantic relationship between the two main characters.
One of the problems with the genre is that it does not age well – often once the terms and situations become out of date, so do the stories that feature them.
What to Expect in the Contemporary Romance Genre
- Books before the 1970s featured heroines who became full time wives and mothers; books starting in the 1980s featured heroines who had/retained careers and relationships simultaneously
- Feature realistic, well-developed stories and situations
- Feature realistic characters
- There is usually some “hidden” information which is known by only one side– the heroine is a princess who just wants to be “normal,” or the hero is heir to a huge fortune but doesn’t want to be taken advantage of for his money – this hidden information is the often the focus of whatever conflict arises when it is revealed
Contemporary Romance Characteristics
- Level of Angst
On a scale of 1-10, the level of angst in this genre is usually close to 1. Given that it is a romance novel, there is no question that the heroine and hero will end up together, and since the entire book is focused on developing their relationship it is just a matter of how long it will take for them to find each other. There are no mysteries or supernatural beings interfering, although there is always some kind of situation which threatens to keep the two apart.
- Character Development
As with the quality of the prose (below), the level of character development depends on the writing ability of the author in developing them. Lately there seem to be more trilogies and series’ of romance novels, so even smaller characters end up becoming the focus of later books. In order for that to happen, it is important to develop characters that the readers can relate to and want to read more about in upcoming books.
- Plot Strength
Since they are set in modern times, the plot is pretty formulaic – focusing on the story between the two main characters and whatever obstacle is preventing them from getting together. There are no mysterious or supernatural forces trying to keep the main characters apart, although it seems that often “life gets in the way” (or sometimes an evil relative with an ulterior motive) and threatens the relationship.
- Romantic Tension
There is some romantic tension in this genre, but unlike other genres where we are concerned about the wellbeing of the heroine and/or whether the hero faces an uncertain future/will survive whatever threatens him, the contemporary romance genre does not rely on tension to succeed.
- Level of Eros
This is the most popular genre for a reason: The audience knows that the couple will get together. Some novels feature a twist where the couple gets together for a one night stand and then the hero spends the rest of the novel chasing the heroine to try to win her love, but most of them develop as a “boy meets girl, boy pursues girl, girl gives in, boy wins girl” story. The level of anticipation is pretty minimal, and there is not a lot of sexual tension developed in most of them.
That said, some of the authors in the genre prefer to develop the emotional connections between the characters, and some authors concentrate more attention on the physical – it is not unusual to have “hot” sex scenes in this genre, although they usually develop as a result of the passion between the characters, and not by happenstance.
- Prose Quality
There is a lot of variation in the quality of writing in this subgenre – some of them are entertaining and well-written, and others kind of plod along – it is all dependent on the individual author. Since this genre is pretty formulaic, the impact of the writer’s writing skills are pretty significant in the enjoyment of the story.
Related Romance Subgenres
Many: There are several subgenres for the contemporary romance genre which include humorous romance, romance suspense, love in the workplace, vacation romance, baby love romance, medicine/law romance, glamour romance, royal romance, single mom (or dad) romance, millionaire/billionaire romance, “, “kidnapped as a child” romance, husband for hire” romance and contemporary cowboy/western romance.
Contemporary Romance isn't for you if
You like a flair for the dramatic, mysteries, time-travel/the supernatural, and historical references and settings (there are rarely any castles in this genre unless the story features an actual prince or princess).
Contemporary Romance is totally for you if
you like a happy ending, seeing how relationships develop, and looking for an easy beach-read.
- 1 H.R.H. (2007)
By Danielle Steele. She has written dozens of contemporary romance novels – one of the better ones is H.R.H. (2007) which features a princess who just wants to led a regular life outside of the castle, but is forced to give up those dreams of a regular life when duty calls.
- 2 The Promise (1979)
By Danielle Steele. Is another great contemporary romance novel where a cruel twist threatens to keep a pair of lovers apart and moves them to opposite ends of the country, until fate intervenes to reunite them. Personal note: This is the first romance novel I ever read!
- 3 The Notebook (2004)
By Nicholas Sparks. Is a classic contemporary romance set in North Carolina with themes of love lost and found. This story is somewhat unique in that it is written with a focus on the point of view of the male character.
- 4 Nobody’s Baby but Mine (1997)
By Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Focuses on a smart, modern heroine who wants a baby without the man. She seeks and finds a “muscle head” to father the child, but he ends up having more brains (and more appeal) than she was expecting.
- 5 When Lightning Strikes Twice (2012)
By Barbara Boswell. What’s better than a great contemporary romance novel? Two of them! This novel features the stories of two competing law firms and two separate couples searching for love amidst courtroom battles.
- 6 Change of Heart (2014)
By Jude Deveraux. Features a short story that was originally published as part of a compilation with two other authors. It was the story of a boy and girl who work together to find a husband for the boy’s mother. The first half of this novel republishes that story. The second half occurs about 15 years later and focuses on the children, who were separated shortly after the first book ended, and explores the relationship the two develop as adults.
- 7 Made to Last (2013)
By Melissa Tagg. Has a dash of humor as it features a heroine who has it all, except the husband she made up in an interview years before. The husband-for-hire plot has almost become its own genre, and is definitely on display here in great form!
- 8 Heartbreaker (2016)
By Melody Grace. Is another contemporary romance which focuses on teenage sweethearts who were separated and then reunite as adults. It is made unique since it writes from both perspectives – the hero’s and the heroine’s.
- 9 Me before you (2012)
By Jojo Moyes. Is probably the most-reviewed romance novel on amazon.com, with over 10,600 reviews (73% of them are 5 stars). The novel is about a billionaire playboy who is paralyzed in an accident and the woman who is hired to nurse him back to health. He is moody and she is engaged to someone else, but – of course – they find their way to one another and create a relationship where they are both willing to sacrifice everything for one another.
- 10 Not Quite Dating (2012)
By Catherine Bybee. Is the story of a single mom who is looking for financial security in a life partner. Thinking that the dusty cowboy she encounters one night can provide her and her son with stability, she spurns his advances, never suspecting that he is the heir to a hotel fortune who wants nothing more than to settle down.
Publicly Ranked Version of the List21 items >>
- Emma (Jane Austen)
- Saving Grace (Julie Garwood)
- Persuasion (Jane Austen)
- Katherine (Anya Seton)
- Ravished (Amanda Quick)