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Rules of Romance

When it comes to a classic Romance novel, nothing has really changed since Pride & Prejudice. If you analyse it, it’s literally the template for every single genre Romance ever written since:

  • Alpha male hero who is in some way the “best” of all other males in the book (richer, taller, better looking, more masculine)
  • Female heroine who is spirited and intelligent, but of lower status in some way than the hero. You do get inversions of this, but they’re rare. When Mills & Boon switched from “Doctor Nurse” romances to “Medical” romances – as women are also doctors these days – nearly every heroine is only an entry-level or junior doctor, and every hero is a world-renowned specialist at the top of his game. The heroine needs to be vicariously relatable to by the reader
  • Attraction at first sight: the first moment both see one another, even if they don’t realise it/try to deny it
  • Hero has an element of mystery: he is reserved, he has a past, he does not gush emotionally, he’s always in control of every scene, except…
  • …the only thing that “topples” the hero is love – it makes him change/develop as a character – this near-uncontrollable love/lust/passion for the heroine is something he does control for the main part, but “despite himself” it breaks through on a few occasions
  • There is always another attractive man who likes the female but he is “lighter”/less gravitas than the hero, though otherwise (apparently) eligible
  • There is always another (predatory) female: usually more sexually experienced/rapacious woman who hovers around the hero: he will never show any genuine interest in her whatsoever
  • There will be an obstacle – but it will not be something that ruins the perfectness of the hero or the heroine (eg he cheats, or commits a crime, or is irredeemably cruel or violent in a way that a reader can’t forgive) – this obstacle means they have to resist their love/are separated, hence you have tension and a plot
  • There will be a flawless, perfect, unambiguously happy ending

To sum up:

  1. The hero must be the ultimate prize
  2. The heroine must be “everywoman”
  3. There must be some kind of obstacle to their love
  4. HEA

I can think of very few romances I’ve read, and I’ve read hundreds across all genres, that don’t pretty much fit this pattern.