What’s the difference between contemporary fantasy fiction and a romance novel?
According to certain contemporary fantasy fiction writers’ publications, not very much. If their works were turned into movies, they’d have to be rated R. Or worse.
Sound prudish? Hardly. If anything, it's a matter of not being bored.
In belated warning, this entire post is probably controversial. So by all means, if you’re a contemporary fantasy fiction writer with a differing opinion – or you’re any other kind of writer with a differing opinion – you’re more than welcome to weigh in…
After you’ve read the following Writing Rule.
Fantasy fiction is fantasy fiction. Not romance.
If you want to write a romance novel or erotica, then write a romance novel or erotica, complete with fantastical elements, settings or characters if you’d like. But fantasy fiction is its own genre. So if you’re writing in it, amp up the magic and play down the sex.
Romantic subplots are great with all their steamy smooches and sensual tension. But once you feature more than one hot and heavy scene per book, you’ve crossed the genre line and are falsely advertising.
None of that is meant to trash romance fiction books, romance fiction writing or romance fiction writers. It’s not even a wing-slap in the face to erotica writers, no matter how that isn’t my typical cup of tea and I won’t edit any manuscript that fits the genre bill.
It’s about properly promoting your work.
There is a whole romance/erotica subgenre for fantasy-based passion. Stephanie Rowe writes in it, and I’ve got to say that she’s hysterically entertaining with titles like Must Love Dragons. (Warning: It's Rated R. So read at your own risk.) But she’s not falsely advertising her books in the fantasy section. She writes steamy stuff, and she owns it.
You should give your readers the same level of consideration.
Think it can’t be done? Then, again, you’re writing in the wrong genre. Big-name contemporary fantasy fiction and/or urban fantasy fiction writers like Jim Butcher and Seanan McGuire prove it’s very possible. Their novels are hardly sexless, much less romance-less. Yet those aspects are accessories, not the main focus.
Here’s another warning, because I’m about to make this Writing Rule even more controversial.
Whether it’s a problem with the contemporary fantasy fiction subgenre in general or the fact that it’s dominated by female writers, these books tend to get graphic. Over and over and over again.
To the point where it gets boring, and I now overall avoid buying fantasy fiction written by females.
That’s sad! I’ll be the first person to admit it when who knows how many amazing authors I’ve missed as a result. But I automatically expect them to be trashy. And when I pick up a fantasy fiction book of any subgenre, that’s simply not what I’m looking for.
I’m looking for magical adventures, explorations of myths and copious amounts of pixie dust to fly me away into awesomely unrealistic realms. If they so happen to involve some smoldering character connections, bring ‘em on. Just as long as those interactions don’t steal the show, only the occasional section.
If readers want straight-up romance, they can turn to authors like Lauren Willig. If they want dragons and dragon hunters getting it on, again, Stephanie Rowe is their girl.
But if you claim to be a contemporary fantasy fiction writer, then give them contemporary fantasy fiction, not erotica.
Otherwise, controversial or not, you’re falsely advertising – and losing respect in the authorial process.