Is there such a thing as a classic romance novel?

I don’t read romance, at all. I don’t think I ever have. Somehow, though, I seem to have a vague idea of how the genre is styled, from cultural osmosis or something.

As part of an idea for a writing project, I think I may want to imitate the style. If I want to do this properly, though, I need to have actually read at least part of one romance novel. My problem is that I can’t think of a single title within the genre to seek out; in my mind they’re all just anonymous covers bearing rural estates, flowers, men in loose shirts, and women in ruffled dresses.

Are there any classics within the genre of romance that I can read? Are there even any famously (or infamously) popular titles? I don’t necessarily want a good character novel that happens to be very romantic; I think what I want is the romance equivalent of a Jerry Bruckheimer Summer Blockbuster Action Movie.

A few classics - The Wolf and the Dove; the Flame and the Flower; Whitney, My Love

Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and Gypsy Lady by Shirley Busbee to go along with the excellent ones Glory mentioned. BTW The Wolf and the Dove and The Flame and the Flower are by Kathleen Woodiweis and Whitney, My Love was written by Judith McNaught.

You want to do a writing project in the “style” of a romance novel, even though you’ve never read one, you don’t intend to read a full one, and you don’t really have any idea what a romance novel entails? It’s pretty obvious that you don’t know anything about the romance genre, not even what you think you know.

If you wanted to write a noir or a horror novel, would you plan to read part of The Maltese Falcon or The Shining and consider yourself at all knowledgeable on what the genre is all about?

Also, single title books are different from category books, and category books vary depending on the imprint. There are certain elements of “classic” romance novels (ie the rape or the forced seduction) that would never fly now, and romance novels can straddle genres from paranormal to suspense to fantasy to thrillers to erotica. There are even gay romance novels, and menage romance novels.

Well, pepperlandgirl, I’m not opposed to the idea of reading a whole romance novel or even several if I discover, to my horror, that I enjoy them. I was stating my minimum requirements for doing my idea above, and I’m working on the assumption that my avoidance of such novels all these years is based on some actual undefined attribute possessed by the books which repels me, and not mere inexperience.

I’m more interested in getting a better sense of the style of prose than having the entire romance novel experience. For example, I enjoy Vonnegut; but his style is so distinct, and so consistent, that you can read one random chapter from almost any of his books and from that alone know what you’ll be getting from the next ten volumes. I think I get my impression of romance novels from their brief satires, and it’s that satirized over-wrought prose that I think I want to imitate in the thoughts of one character.

Glory, Biggirl, thank you very much for your suggestions. I’ll look those up when I next hit the used book store.

I’m quite fond of Barbara Wood’s Domina. Whether it’s considered a classic I don’t know, but I liked it.

If want to read some popular ones, check out Danielle Steel. She had at least one top ten book every year from 1983 through 2001:

I have no idea if the books are any good, but the people that read romance novels must love them.

Two things you may be interested from the same website: an online poll of the top 100 romances and fan parodies of the overly florid language.

Also a couple of caveats that you may or may not want to take into consideration: imitating the over-the-top aspects of the genre - while fun - is somewhat played out and doesn’t take a great deal of skill, so I don’t know how useful it would be as a writing project. And you will find some fans bristle at the idea - it’s one thing to mock the worst of your genre out of affection, but it’s also very common for people unfamiliar to romance novels to hold up said worst of the genre as typical of the genre as an exercise in superiority. I’m not saying that’s your motivation, but putting it out as a reason for why people may react somewhat vehemently to your request.

I wasn’t going to attempt anything as vanilla as a straight style parody. My idea is very vague, but I got it from a mediocre little book of humor called “Treks Not Taken”, a collection of Star Trek: TNG short stories that were each a parody of the style of a famous author. The book irritated me because it heavily overplayed the quirks in the various author’s styles, while in some of the parodies, like the one for Hemingway, the weird combination of style and setting felt like it could have been used to create a genuinely interesting piece. The Dr. Seuss story, especially, was a tremendous let down; doing a straight-faced Star Trek plot in Seuss’s style would have been funny enough, but the author felt they had to also simultaneously mock Seuss and Trek for being what they were.

My vague idea involves writing a story where the prose style is bizarrely inappropriate to the setting, plot, or characters, but everything else is otherwise reasonable. In one version of this the narrator is essentially the antagonist; he’s trying to describe what’s going on such that it makes a certain type of story, but he has no control over the story’s events and the failure of things to happen a certain way makes him look foolish, until he starts sniping at the characters out of bitterness. In another version it’s sort of a Rashomon thing, with various overwrought styles being used for each character’s perspective, to the point that the actual plot events are significantly obscured. The characters themselves wouldn’t be intentionally stereotypical, just the way they were described.

I don’t think classic means the same thing to me that it does to you, if Jerry Bruckheimer makes classic movies. That said, one of the greatest novels of the English language is also firmly in the genre of the romance novel: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen As far as popular, **Kayeby’s ** poll puts it at 22.

A toddler is curious about all he sees
And his smile, freely given, is worth gold to me.
If you read to him stories with jingling rhyme,
His attention span, short, will lengthen with time.
Dr. Seuss recognized this, and wrote in that style,
And though he laughs at it, he learns all the while.
If you read “Horton” to him, he learns loyalty,
And, giggles to one side, builds the man he’ll be.
So, I’ll thank you to kindly go straight down to Hell
If you mock at the stories of Theo Geisel.

The prototype: Jane Eyre

The Boyfriend School. Classic romance structure, and it tells you how to write one as it goes along.

Kathleen Woodiwiss was basically the creator of the historical romance genre, so if you’re looking for longer format romance novels, she’s likely a very good bet.

On the other hand, if you’re interested in shorter Harlequin style romances–and I suspect you may be, since there’s a lot less variation in structure within a given Harlequin series–almost any one will do once you find the series you most want to emulate. Harlequin Romance might be the most generic of the group.

Here are the writer’s guidelines, though, that describe all the series Harlequin has in print, look through them to see which one most matches your preconceptions.

Be fair, Poly–Geissel wasn’t the only poet to write in anepestic tetratmeter (no idea if I spelled that correctly). :slight_smile:

You’ll have to define romance novel–Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre are both considered Romance novels, but not necessarily romance novels…

If you want fun, funny modern romance novels to read, I recommend almost anything by Jennifer Crusie. If you want “rapture in the pasture”–see Flower and Flame etc. If you want bodice rippers, no idea–but you could try the Outlander series by Gabaldon. If you want straight out erotica–try Zane. Not Zane Grey, just Zane.

Outlander isn’t really a bodice ripper series. There are elements of it in the first book, but it’s really not what the books are about.

The Flame and the Flower and Gypsy Lady were released at about exactly the same time. These are the original “bodice rippers” as many bodices are torn in these. Ms Woodiwiss gets remembered more because she followed TFATF with The Wolf and the Dove, Shanna and quite a few others. I don’t think Busbee published anything that reached the popularity of Woodiwiss’ later books.

Also, they don’t write historicals like this any more. Gone are the long, detail rich sagas to be replaced by much, MUCH shorter and less epic style.
I did not recommend any series romances (Harliquen and Silhouette are the only ones publishing them these days-- and they’re the same company now) because there are no ‘classic’ series romances. Unless you count the Doctor/Nurse stories that started Mills Boon (Harlequin) all those years ago.

Man, don’t get me started on series romances. I eat them up like Skittles. When they are good, they are a fun 3 or 4 hour read. When they are bad, they are absolutely horrible.

P.S. I used to have a website all about series romance. It’s in my profile. Haven’t updated in, oh, years. However, there is a short report on the history of series romance that I wrote still there.

I understand what you mean by there not being classics in the series stuff.

I feel like the OP is looking not so much for classic but cliche, that Series might be an easier place to start. I used to read them in the library after school in high school (not the school library, the public one that was in the parking lot) precisely because if I finished reading it in the hour or two before my mother got there to pick me up, that was fine, but if I didn’t, it didn’t matter, because I already knew how it ended. :wink:

With historicals and other non-series, I know how it ends, but I’m often interested in how it gets from here to there. Whereas with series, I can tell from the cover copy.

Try this one: Brazen, by Susan Johnson. Seems to embody a lot of conventions of the genre in a totally over-the-top way. It’s set in late-Victorian Britain. The hero is a real stud – a multi-millionaire entrepreneur and a globetrotting adventurer, who sails the seas with a harem/crew of beautiful women from all over the world whose lives he has saved or whom he has somehow helped out of jams in the course of his travels. But when he meets the heroine (an equally wealthy aristocrat shackled to an insanely dangerous husband), she’s the only one for him!

What ARE you looking for…

There are the “Classics” like P&P and Jane Eyre.

There are the historical bodice rippers.

There are the modern Harlequins.

There are the “Literary Romances” (Possession, by A.S. Byatt).

There is the Christian sub-genre - and within that subgenre there are historical and modern romances.

You can get everything from “throbbing manhood” and “raped by a pirate who turns out to be her long lost love” to just the slightest hint of sexual tension.

Do you read SF? Think about Romance as a similar genre - somewhere between H.G. Wells and Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, and Dune, and Star Trek novels is the typical book for the genre.