Are you a fantasy reader who enjoys pairing the characters off in romantic relationships? Do you sometimes wish a fantasy novel would spend more time on the characters, go a little deeper into what makes them tick? If so, fantasy romance is the genre for you.
When I started writing my own fantasy novels, I found myself beginning not with situations but with characters. I spent a lot of time on worldbuilding, but I didn’t create my characters for the purpose of revealing the world. Rather, I created my world for the purpose of revealing the characters. My first novel (never published) was about two men on an adventure. They were a mage and a thief, essentially, and I put them in constant conflict with each other.
Someone beta-read the novel and was confused. “It reads like a buddy movie,” he said. Yes, it was supposed to! The reader seemed to think a fantasy novel couldn’t spend so much time on the characters and their relationship. Maybe that novel didn’t work, but I knew that writing about characters and relationships was what I wanted to do.
I’d been reading science fiction and fantasy since childhood. I discovered the romance genre later in life, and when I did, I realized this was what I’d been missing. Here were the character-driven books I’d been looking for. This was the genre I was meant to write. But I didn’t want to give up my fantasy worlds and magic and dragons. So I started writing romances that took place in fantasy worlds.
Fantasy romance novels sit astride two genres. They are romance novels, fulfilling all the requirements of the romance genre. And they are fantasy novels, fulfilling all the requirements of the fantasy genre. I aim for a 50/50 split between romantic content and fantasy adventure content.
At this point I don’t even know how to write a novel that’s not fantasy romance. Having two intertwined storylines gives me so much narrative freedom, as well as advantages in pacing. We’ve just had a big action scene as part of the adventure storyline? It’s time for a quieter scene focused on the romance. My romantic couple just had a big fight and they’re not speaking to each other? Get them together with new developments in the adventure storyline that force them into contact.
Adding magic to a romantic relationship can be all kinds of fun. I had a great time writing the playful love scenes in one novel, in which the man had the power to turn invisible. Magic can also serve as an equalizer for female characters. I enjoy writing powerful, magically gifted heroines.
When I started writing fantasy romance, I thought I was the only person doing it. I’d never read a novel in this hybrid genre in my life—although several novels shelved in the fantasy section might have qualified (one by Ellen Kushner, several by Barbara Hambly).
But I was wrong. I wasn’t the only one. It’s a lesser known genre, but a few fantasy romance authors have been published by Penguin, and self-publishing has really flung open the doors for fantasy romance, adding many talented authors to the mix. We’re an emerging genre, and we’re building steam. The world is full of readers who grew up reading fantasy novels and also love romance. Those are the readers we’re writing for.