Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Chasing Our Tails...

...looking for a Clean? Sweet? Inspirational? Romance Novel

            The world of romance books is very confusing and there are a lot of disgruntled readers out there. They are asking, “How can I find a romance I’ll enjoy?” The biggest concern is whether the romance will contain explicit sex scenes or offensive language. The problem is: everyone has their own level of acceptability.
            If you Google “clean romance vs. sweet romance”, hardly anything comes up to discuss the difference. I couldn’t find one site that explains it well. Because the term “clean” means a lot of different things to different people, it only adds to the confusion.  On Good Reads Clean Romance forum, there are several discussions about whether certain books should be considered as a clean read. The opinions are as numerous as leaves in a forest. Even using the term “clean” read is offensive to some because that implies everything else is “dirty”.
            Most everyone agrees the definition of a romance novel means the book focuses on a developing romantic relationship and must have an optimistic ending.
            Wikipedia includes the following sub-genres:
  • Contemporary romance - set after World War II
  • Historical romance - set before World War II. This sub-genre includes a wide variety of other sub-genres, including Regency romance.
  • Romantic suspense involves an intrigue or mystery for the protagonists to solve. By the end of the novel, the mystery is resolved and the interaction between the hero and heroine has evolved into a solid relationship.
  • Paranormal romance blends the real with the fantastic fictional. The fantastic elements may be woven into an alternate version of our own world in an urban fantasy involving vampires, demons, and/or werewolves, or they may be more "normal" manifestations of the paranormal—humans with psychic abilities, witches, or ghosts.
  • Science fiction romance is a romance novel that takes place in a story that would otherwise be classified as a science fiction story.
  • Fantasy Romance is a sub-genre of fantasy fiction, describing a fantasy story using many of the elements and conventions of the romance genre. (That’s clear as mud. J)
  • Time-travel romances are a version of the classic "fish out of water" story. In most, the heroine is from the present day and travels into the past to meet the hero. In a smaller subset of these novels, the hero, who lives in the past, travels forward into his future to meet the heroine.
  • Inspirational romance combines explicitly Christian themes with the development of a romantic relationship. These novels typically do not include gratuitous violence or swearing, and the central courtship is chaste. Sex, if it is present at all, occurs after marriage and is not explicitly detailed. The novels in this genre also focus on the hero or heroine's faith, turning the love story into a triangle: the man, the woman and also their relationship with God.
  • Erotic romance is a blend of romance and erotica. Erotic romance novels are characterized by strong sexual content, but can contain elements of any of the other romance sub-genres. Erotic romance novels tend to use more frank language. These novels also usually include more sex scenes, often focusing more on the sex act. Pornography concentrates on the sex acts, and does not include well-developed characters or a plot like erotic romances do.

            That’s pretty much it. On Wikipedia, which was updated on May 9, 2012, clean romance and sweet romance aren't even listed as a sub-genre of romance novels. So, according to what little information I have gathered from other sources, their definitions might be considered as below:
  • Clean romance must have an optimistic ending, only contain sex between a married couple, if any, contain no “graphic” language (however they may contain some language), and does not include some sort of faith crisis as in inspirational romance.
  • Sweet romance focuses on the romantic relationship between the hero and heroine, does not include bedroom (sex) scenes, does not contain any offensive language and also includes an optimistic ending.

            So give it to me straight. I’d like to hear what everyone thinks—readers, writers, agents, publishers—about the real definition of “clean” vs. “sweet” romance. How can readers know what they’ll be getting?  Should the publishing industry set more standardized definitions, and should they be printed on romance books?

Cindy A. Christiansen
Sweet Romance, Comedy, Suspense…and Dogs!
Fly into a good book today at:  http://www.dragonflyromance.com


  1. I hadn't really considered the differences, Cindy. But I see the point now. For myself personally, sweet --meaning no bad language or bedroom scenes-- is all I write and care to read.

    I mean, we're constantly assaulted with all this other stuff day in and day out from television, internet, advertising...I need some peace of mind! LOL

  2. I agree, Miss Mae. How do you think the issue should be clarified, though, so readers know what they are getting?

  3. I prefer either "clean" or "sweet" romance novels. When I do read a novel with, um, "explicit" scenes, I skip those parts. They make me feel like a peeping tom.

  4. I agree with Judith Anne. When did romance become synonymous with sex? Is this why readers have flocked to young adult fiction? Do books need a rating system like the movies?

  5. I have heard that women are reading young adult romances for that very reason. However, the few I've read really didn't interest me. Although I'm LDS, I really don't enjoy inspirational romances either. I really think there should be some sort of rating system.

    Although my publisher has a rating system on their website, it would help if it was marked on the book. If I see an R rating on a DVD, I know I probably won't like it. I think some industry standards would help.

  6. Thanks for the comments, Judith Anne and Barbara.

  7. That is the very question I asked before how do we know what is what. Your post gives me a good idea of the differences. But how do a reader know what they are getting?
    I signed my posts and articles with: Anna del C. Dye for clean tales of Elfs & Romance.
    I hope to make my name mean clean tales to all the parents and kids looking for my safe kind of books.
    Great post Cindy.


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