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Friday, 30 November 2012

Contemporary Romance defined

by
Elizabeth Jasper Writer

Contemporary ~ adj.   1. living, occurring, or originating at the same time.  2. Belonging to, or occurring in the present > modern in style or design.

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Romance ~ noun.   1. A pleasurable feeling of excitement and wonder associated with love > a love affair, especially a relatively brief and light-hearted one. > a book or film dealing with love in a sentimental or idealized way.  2. a quality of feeling of mystery, excitement and remoteness from everyday life.  3. A medieval tale dealing with a hero of chivalry, of the kind common in the Romance languages.  4. Music, a short informal piece. ~ verb. 1. Be involved in an amorous relationship with (someone).  2. Seek the attention or custom of, especially by use of flattery.  3. romanticize. (OCED, 11th Edition, Revised)

From the point of view of a writer, the ‘contemporary’ part of the genre title is straightforward.  If you, or someone you know, or know of, who has lived through the events or period described, then that is contemporary.  So, when I wrote a story about a girl growing up in the 1960s, it could be described as contemporary because I, along with many other people, can remember the 1960s and the events that took place back then. As the girl in the story was only eleven, there was no question of there being any ‘romance’ in there whatsoever. 

Romance, though, is a particularly difficult term for the writer to quantify.  When does a story become a romance?  Is it when the protagonists exchange warm glances, or when they first kiss, or when they achieve their (ahem!) happy ending?  How much romantic content is necessary in a book for it to be described as a romance? How much does romance have to do with sex? Does a focus on the sexual aspects of a relationship mean a book cannot be described as a romance? When does a book move beyond being described as a sexy romance into the realms of erotic fiction? How does Chick-Lit fit in to contemporary romance? Or, is it a question of a reader instinctively knowing what contemporary romance is when she reads it?

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I’m currently writing a sequel to the 1960s story, and it does have some romantic aspects. Teenage girls and boys are discovering one another throughout the story and by the end they have boyfriends and girlfriends.  How can I describe this story?  YA Romance, Coming of Age Romance, or just YA or Coming of Age? When my mum’s best friend devours Mills & Boom Romances by the dozen, it would appear to be straightforward, but Mills & Boon have ‘levels’ of romance, from innocent, romantic relationships to quite steamy ones. Then there is the infamous ’Fifty Shades of Grey’.  Romance, or erotica?  If a relationship is examined in depth within a book, does that qualify as romance, even if the relationship is abusive but the protagonists love one another?

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So many questions, and the answers will be different from every reader’s or writer’s point of view depending on their personal experiences and preferences.  So, how can a writer judge whether or not their work is a romance?  Answers on a postcard…

Elizabeth Jasper









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