The Romance Genre 3/4: Characteristics of Commercial Romance

After reviewing the reasons behind the success of the romantic genre and the history of romance publishing it’s time to learn about the two major genres of the romance novel: Commercial Romance and Literary Romance. In this post I explain about Commercial Romance. The next and last post in this series will focus on Literary Romance.

Commercial Romance

The Commercial Romance (also called Popular Romance) focuses on love stories and uses everyday language. From a literary point of view this is not a very sophisticated genre; the stories follow a very basic and well-formulated plot structure. It is similar to the accepted structure of movie scripts, which Christopher Vogler describes in his book The Writer's Journey, but with some small tweaks to fit with the medium. You can read more about this story structure here. The main function of Commercial Romance is to give the reader an emotionally satisfying experience. There are several sub genres that fall under the umbrella of Commercial Romance, such as historical romance, romantic suspense, erotic romance, and paranormal romance.

Commercial Romance is a dynamic field: the stories, characters, and relationships described continuously change as they reflect current human behavior. Romance novels have a short shelf life as the stories become outdated over time with natural occurring social changes. Here are several examples that will demonstrate the evolution in the Commercial Romance genre:

·     Heroine sexual experience: the heroine in the old romances had no sexual experience. The contemporary romantic heroine has sexual experience.
·     Heroine occupation: the old romantic heroine had more traditional feminine occupations such as teaching, nursing, and secretarial. Today the romantic heroine has high caliber professions, she is strong and independent – to reflect the modern woman.
·    Hero occupation: the old romantic heroes were larger than life men – usually rich businessmen, doctors and sheikhs. The occupations of the modern romantic hero range from soldiers, policemen, lawyers, IT entrepreneurs, doctors, and also rich businessmen. 
·    Hero characteristics: The old romantic hero could only exist as an alpha male. Among the modern romantic heroes there are many who are beta males.
·      Sexuality in the story: Up until the mid 70s romances ended with the first kiss. From then on, as women enjoy more sexual freedom in society, romances started to include sex scenes in the stories. Nowadays it’s common to use sex at the beginning of the story as a conflict catalyst.
·      Relationship dynamics: In old romance heroines were more submissive. The modern heroine is stronger, independent, and opinionated and her relationship with the hero is on more equal terms.

In order to be able to craft love stories that are relevant for our time, and of course - sell, Commercial Romance writers need to be up to date with current social development, gender roles, contemporary relationship dynamics, psychological theories about love and attraction, and readers demand. Commercial Romance is part of Pop Art. While it does not enjoy the prestige of literary fiction, it certainly has its own merits.

If you live in the Seattle area and are interested in writing romance check out one of my romance writing classes at Bellevue College: