Tim Reynolds on Writing Romance and Its Subgenres

How about a date for the day after Valentine’s Day? Come join The Writer’s Edge on Thursday, February 15 at 10 p.m. Eastern Time for a live panel of romance writers ready to answer your questions about writing romance, subgenres, the reader experience, and so much more! Here’s a sneak peak at our topics—Tim Reynolds was kind enough to answer some of our questions ahead of time.

What romance subgenre(s) do you write and why did you choose to write it/them?
I suppose the technical term is “Paranormal Romance”, since Anastasia in my novel Waking Anastasia is a ghost, but really, it’s more like a romantic ghost story. There’s not as much emphasis on the romance as there is on the paranormal or even the historical aspects. I actually prefer to call my novel a Story about Love, because the male hero is dealing with love on many many levels, including love of his mother, love of Ana, love of the city he has just moved to, and love of himself, as he tries to fix his fractured life. Of course, it reads like a paranormal romance, so I’m happy to accept that label, too.
One typical subplot in other genres is to involve some level of romance. Would you say that romance is the most universal genre since it commonly appears in so many other genres?
I think romance is the most universal SUB-genre. I think that any story worth it’s weight should have an element of romance it in, because people are romantic beasts, for the most part…at least the ones in touch with their emotions are. Even my new novel about a horrific serial killer has a romantic element when the straight hero is in the company of his married gay best friends. Showing their love for each other balances out the destruction being done elsewhere in the story.
What would you say is the hardest thing about writing romance or your subgenre in particular?
The hardest thing for me is making sure that the happy ending is logical and that it follows realistically from all of the ups and downs of the story. I don’t just want readers to nod and smile at the end, I want them to think “Of course that’s how it ends. Nothing else makes sense.” Good romances should be written like good mysteries. The clues are all there, the red herrings are in place, and the outcome might be in doubt for awhile, but when the end arrives, it’s the only possible conclusion. Plotting, for me, is the hardest part.
What do you think a romance book HAS to have, and if that thing (or those things) aren’t present, it shouldn’t be called romance?
Having read the Harlequin Guidelines, I know what their formula requires, and to be honest, they’re right. The underlying emotional thread of the story needs to be the romance, even if the story is about wildlife poachers in the Arctic or a conman pretending to start a boys’ marching band in a small town. Every scene has to have some element to move the romance forward or backward, no matter what the plot of the story is. Oh, and the happily-ever-after ending.
If a writer wanted to start writing romance in general, what advice would you give them that you wish you’d had when you first started?
Read. Read a little bit of everything the library has in the romance section, and read the classics by the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, et al. Heck, read Gone With the Wind. Then read the newest Romance Bestsellers to see what publishers are buying and readers are reading. Then read the related sub genre. If you want your romance to be within a police department, read some police procedural novels, read how-to books on crime solving. The biggest crime (pun intended) any writer can commit is to not respect their readers enough to get the details right. My latest short story involved two VERY well known historical men and dozens of books have been written about them, so readers are quite familiar with the men and their times. In a Romance novel we are asking readers to believe in happy endings, so getting the surrounding details correct allows them to suspend their disbelief completely and gladly come along for the emotional ride.
Of course, you can’t write romance without having loved and lost at least once yourself, so I recommend that, too. Unfortunately I had my share of experience in that even back then, so no one needed to recommend it.
One of the reasons romance is such a popular genre is that readers can experience a happily ever after or an ideal situation that they can’t necessarily have themselves. It can also give them an escape when they’re feeling hopeless. How do you think romance improves readers’ lives?
If the novel is a true Romance, with a guaranteed happy ending, then the reader is allowed to absolutely invest their emotions into the entire story, to close the distance and just be absorbed. Nicholas Sparks’ readers can’t do that, because he has taught them that if you invest 100% in his characters, then he will tear your heart out and stomp on it at the end. With his books, readers invest maybe 75-80%, keeping a little distance for emotional safety. I think emotionally investing 100% in a fictional romantic journey allows readers to truly escape like no other genre allows. That’s also why they are so addictive. There’s a healthy happy endorphin rush that comes from that kind of involvement with a story. Happiness is good. We may not know happily-ever-after like the characters, but for the time we are immersed in their world, we are a little happier, a little more hopeful.
When I looked up “romance novels” on Google, the first result was Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and the second or sometimes third result was Fifty Shades of Gray. Those are such total opposites—what do you think of those results and what do the results mean about the state of modern romance readers?
Since Romance is about escapism, then both of those examples are perfect. Pride and Prejudice is escapism into another time, when the social conventions and behaviours were so different that they allow complete escape from our often confusing current world. Most of the women I know who have read Fifty Shades don’t see it as a romance set in the world of BDSM, though, but rather as a dysfunctional relationship set in a world of abuse and control. I think that modern readers who enjoy Fifty Shades enjoy it because it allows them to fantasize about relinquishing control. Romance readers live full lives with careers/jobs, children, households, education, etc. That’s a lot of balls to juggle day in and day out, 24/7. Stories like Fifty Shades where the heroine has her control taken away in a safe-ish situation, allows readers to imagine a world where they don’t always have to be in charge, be responsible all the time. It’s sort of the life thirty-year-old man-boys have living in their parent’s basement, except reading it is a healthy fantasy, while living it is dysfunctionally immature.
According to bookstr.com, the romance & erotica publishing industry is worth $1.44 billion dollars! How do you feel about being lumped in with erotica? Is that expected nowadays or do you think the genres should really stay separate.
I once tried to write erotica because a male writer friend of mine has found huge success in the field, but I failed miserably. It turns out that I know love but not steam. The problem with lumping them together comes from the readers’ expectations. I don’t know anyone who reads romance looking for an erotic story nor anyone who reads erotica for the romantic ending. The question is, are the publishers of Romance and Erotica publishing both, or are they separate? If each publisher (and I don’t mean the Big Three Houses) is off in their own corner with their own genre, then it’s NOT a single industry, it’s two, and lumping them together doesn’t make sense. It’s like lumping dinosaur-erotica in with science fiction. Um, no. Separate, please.


Tim Reynolds is a Canadian twistorian, bending and twisting history into fictional shapes for sheer entertainment. His humorous non-fiction column in SEARCH Magazine is just as entertaining, but is based strictly on his bizarre, event-filled life.

His latest novel is the award-nominated Waking Anastasia from Tyche Books. It’s a romantic tale of death, laughter, and love…in that order.

Long-Listed: 2017 Alberta Readers’ Choice Award
Finalist: 2016 Baen Fantasy Adventure Award

A Winner: Kobo Writing Life’s Jeffrey Archer Short Story Challenge

Two Honourable Mentions: Writers of the Future Contest
​Honourable Mention: Illustrators of the Future Contest
Winner: The First Great Canadian Fable Contest


Twitter: @tgmreynolds