Fans of genre fiction – including Regency romances – have expectations. To be a successful Regency romance author, you should be aware of those expectations and meet them as much as you can.
Author Shawn Coyne (The Story Grid) describes two kinds of expectations: conventions and obligatory scenes.
Here’s my own, informal list of Regency romance expectations.
Conventions in Regency romances may include:
- An aristocratic hero. He can be rich or poor, but he must be well-educated and at least aware of society’s expectations of the aristocracy, even if he doesn’t respect them. In most cases, he has an inherited title. In other words, he’s a duke, marquess, earl, viscount, or baron. (Today’s “Lords” also include appointed lords, such as some who sit in Parliament.)
- A heroine – usually somewhat headstrong – who’s either artistocratic, or has been educated to blend seamlessly into the ton.*
- Stock characters including a second romantic interest for the hero. She’s usually flighty, a gold-digger, or merely using the hero for other purposes. She may be a mistress he’s fond of, but without romantic entanglement. (If the heroine has an alternate romantic interest, he’s soon shown to be unsuited to her, often in appalling ways. By the end of the story, he’s likely to be exposed as a villain, or remove himself to a distant county.)
- At least one social setting that is familiar to readers, such as a ball, a posting house (if they’re stranded for some reason, often weather), or a country estate (and house party).
- Gambling between gentlemen. Often, it’s a bet that begins as something frivolous, but has an impact on the plot. Or, the heroine may be financial difficulty due to a father who’s lost everything through gambling. (Example: The Daughters of Mannerling series.) Also, an antagonistic woman may host card parties (for other women) and cheat to humiliate, blackmail, or ensnare her victims.
- Social rules too numerous to list here. (I recommend Gayle Buck’s How to Write and Market The Regency Romance, or Emily Hendrickson’s The Regency Reference Book. Preferably both.)
*Ton is a Regency word, short for bon ton. Literally, it’s French for “good taste.” In Regency romances, the ton is the fashionable world, generally the realm of the aristocracy and those who socialize with them.
More Conventions: Intimacy
- “Sweet” (aka clean) Regency romances have absolutely no sexually explicit scenes. The couple may covertly hold hands, and indulge in a few stolen kisses and brief embraces in private settings. However, in many “sweet” stories, the first kiss coincides with the marriage proposal.
- Many “somewhat spicy” Regency romances suggest sexual intimacy without explicit descriptions past passionate kisses and exploratory caresses.
- In traditional Regency romances, even “spicy” stories keep explicit sexual encounters to a minimum. They’re clearly secondary to the romance. (That is, a “spicy” regency romance is not erotica set in Regency England.)
- A surprising meeting between the hero and heroine. If they’ve never met before, they either hate each other on sight, or there’s a startling flash of attraction between them, or both. If they knew each other in the past, their respective (internal) emotions are usually turbulent, mixing dislike (or even raging hatred), intense attraction, and perhaps wistful regrets.
- Either the hero or heroine does something to annoy the other one, and the latter uses this as a springboard for resentment or outright disdain. In most books, this happens repeatedly. (Example: Darcy’s unfortunate snub when meeting Elizabeth Bennet results in her growing animosity towards him… while also finding him increasingly attractive.)
- The difficult relative or friend.
- The “save the cat” scene, where hero or heroine does something kind and usually unguarded, that causes the other person (hero or heroine) to look at that person in a new light. (Unlike traditional “save the cat” story beats, a Regency romance “save the cat” may appear late in the book.)
- A happy ending. Unlike most romance subgenres, Regency romances rarely have a “happy for now” (HFN) ending.
- Optional, but commonplace: The rescue scene. At some point, the hero will rescue the heroine from a difficult situation, or vice versa. The difficulty could be anything from a social faux pas to a runaway horse. In some stories, this is the scene that allows them to trust each other (or trust each other again), at least a little.
As a Regency romance fan, do those expectations match yours? Can you add more of your own?
Leave a comment. I’m interested in your opinions.