A big part of writing is managing audience expectations, especially as it pertains to the genre. I.e., if a story is pitched as an action-adventure story, people expect a story of fight scenes and explosions; if it's pitched as a comedy they expect it to actually be funny; if it's pitched as a romance they expect to see true love and happily ever after. If the author pitches their story as one genre and it ends up spiraling into another...well, the audience feels betrayed and often throws the book across the room.

I'm writing a story that isn't quite a paranormal romance but is close enough to it to be similar and have the question listed above. I would say the work probably falls more on the urban fantasy side of the divide, but the romance is a significant part of the story and isn't merely a subplot that can be removed without affecting the story. Indeed, if I had to give a pitch to get people interested in the series it would focus on that relationship as the most interesting part of the story and why the reader should care about it.

However, I have a problem in that despite their relationship being an important component of the plot, the two romantic leads don't actually meet until halfway through the first entry in the series. This is because I have to establish the context of who the characters are and the world they live within (broader conflict, etc.) to explain why the two are drawn to one another and why the reader should care about their relationship (it's an enemies-to-lovers romance akin to the Underworld movie series).

My concern is that the series is going to attract a bunch of people who feel like they were promised an urban fantasy series that primarily focuses on action and battle, only to get turned off when the star-crossed lovers' romance kicks in and the reader feel they've been given false advertising. I know what a romantic plot tumor or "spiraling into romance" is, but I would go so far as to say it's not that the story gets bogged down by the romantic subplot as the romance and the character interaction it provokes is the "good stuff" I was trying to get to in the first place. But it takes time to get there because the world has to establish its own setting and because of its weird take on the supernatural can't crib off of popular culture to make it easy (i.e., readers instantly understand werewolves, vampires, witchcraft, or aliens, but the dynamics of a totally new supernatural gimmick and how it affects the setting are unfamiliar to them).

My question is how do I signal to the readers to expect a significant romance as a part of this story? I'm not sure how paranormal romance signals genre expectations to readers compared to regular romance; I've seen how regular romance stories do it (e.g., most Hallmark movies) but it doesn't seem to translate well to a paranormal romance or otherwise fantasy setting. I looked up how popular paranormal romance novels like Twilight or Mercy Thompson and the description seems to be all about raw sexuality, passion, and eroticism which is...not what this story is about. How can I signal to my audience to "expect romance here", especially if the characters don't even know the other exists for the first half of the novel?

3 Answers 3


People read the descriptions:

I think you have less of a problem than you think. If the description of the story says it's got romance, but it's listed as urban fantasy, then people will expect urban fantasy with a romance between the two characters on the jacket. People reading Twilight aren't expecting a romance that just happens to be between werewolves and vampires, they're expecting a rich, imaginative world where a romance takes place.

I had a similar problem where I wrote a longish sci fi novel where the major romantic story didn't happen until half way through. The MC's previous romantic attachment was unrequited and ended tragically in the first half. Someone finally suggested the whole thing could be split into two separate novels, with the first having the world creation/character development/plot establishment, and the sequel being centered on the romance. It actually worked well - the second book became unique and different, not simply "Book one, 2.0." I was forced to do a lot more development in the first book to make it stand alone, and as a result, it was stronger too.

If people read your first story, and fall in love with the characters, they'll want them to be happy. It may mean that you need to restructure the flow of things, however, since it will look odd if the first novel seemingly has two MC's that don't follow the same storyline. Focus the first on one character, then in the second, alternate between the two (reinforcing the original MC, but quickly building up the love interest) to get the two characters in sync (or at least, that's how I would do it).

So don't stress too much about a slight mix of story elements. But consider the possibility that the two halves of the story might be stronger as two separate legs, holding up the body of the work. And if you are a new author, odds are you have an insanely long vision of your story that will need to be trimmed down or split anyway.


"The description seems to be all about raw sexuality, passion, and eroticism which is...not what this story is about."

I'm going to confirm what your market research is telling you: your story does not sound like it belongs in the Romance genre, paranormal or otherwise.

It sounds like you have a world where a certain specific combination of magic objects (colored gemstones, for instance) should not come together or bad stuff will happen. Thanks to literary foreshadowing, certain people know in advance that it will be bad – a prophesy from an ancient order of mystical acolytes maybe, or it happened once before, long long ago – anyway there is lore and world-building involved and for generations the faithful have dedicated their lives to preventing this bad thing from ever happening.

Naturally, your story is about what happens when those magic objects come together.

This is a stock Fantasy Genre conflict

Your story is more interesting than 'stock' because your colored gemstones are characters who have agency and hormones – it sounds like a lot of fun, but this is still a stock Fantasy conflict that will very likely play out according to the rules and logic of the genre.

You may be a little too close to your own work to see it that way, and I am reducing your synopsis to make it more obvious, but consider the following:

Murder mysteries are more than a detective and an unsolved homicide. There is a structure to the genre that is uniquely formed around the solving of a murder. The core conflict is the mystery itself. The story concludes when the mystery is solved.

Horror genre is not about werwolves and vampires, those old tropes have lost the ability to scare us, and have been recast as stand-ins for abusive boyfriends (toxic elements that were always there, they've just been domesticated). Horror has only one rule: to scare. A horror story is constructed around that one purpose. Too-familiar tropes actually work against this.

Likewise comedy has one purpose so the conflicts and resolution of any comedic story serves that purpose. Logic and reality can take a back seat. The ending should be funny, the beginning and middle too, or it's just not a comedy.

Structure and conflict in Romance genre

The structure of a Romance (with a capital R) is built around the conflicts inherent to relationships, but amped up to horny-11. In reductive terms, the core structure of every Romance (capital R) is whether the couple will 'work out' their issues, expressed by encountering stock Romance conflicts.

Stock Romance conflicts include: financial power games, psychological manipulation, autonomy and independence, objectification and force, unresolved sexual hang-ups, seduction and revenge, FOMO, and most importantly, rivalry.

Romance endings are often a plateau rather than a resolution. Couples find a kind of equilibrium where they learn trust and keep their worst instincts in check, or break apart to avoid volatility, but they are not 'cured' of the traits that made them rich and sexy in the first place.

Your Fantasy novel has a power couple in it, but are these the type of Romance conflicts that motivate the characters and drive the story? If they work out their toxic relationship issues, does it save the world?

How to insert Romance conflicts earlier in the novel

You don't have to fit neatly inside a genre box, but if you want to firmly lean into the Romance genre you will need conflicts that are appropriate, and they will need to be present from the start.

how do I signal to the readers to expect significant romance as a part of this story? I'm not sure how paranormal romance signals genre expectations to readers compared to regular romance; I've seen how regular romance stories do it (e.g., most Hallmark movies) but it doesn't seem to translate well to a paranormal romance or otherwise fantasy setting.

This is not a Hallmark or a rom-com. You are building a Fantasy world. If you want something included, world-build it in.

  • Does your world include the stock acolyte/jedi/knights and do they sometimes struggle to remain 'pure'?
  • If this all happened before, how steamy are those ancient texts? Wouldn't the forbidden details be a temptation? (it's a 2-fer, sexytime and world-building)
  • Is there a force in this world (secret society) trying to trigger the apocalypse? What happens at their annual meetings? Do they act out what they believe the apocalypse will look like?
  • Who is our protagonist? What is their inciting incident, or their field of expertise? What do they experience early-on that makes them uniquely qualified to guide us through this story? What are their personal stakes? How are they conflicted with their ideals?
  • Assuming your power couple are chosen ones, how innate is their sexuality? Are they indulging in power games way beyond their years? Is there some taint of horny evil that effects the caretakers?
  • If "life, uh, finds a way", are there maybe flare-ups of paranormal horniness being expressed as a sign of the coming end-of-days? What is the experience of the characters who try to warn everyone? Does society treat them like sidewalk preachers or televangelists? Is there a schism within society that echoes the themes this couple will encounter?

Not that kind of Romance

If I had to give a pitch to get people interested in the series it would focus on that relationship as the most interesting part of the story and why the reader should care about it.

Maybe the goal is more about 'star-crossed lovers' from opposite sides of the train tracks. Their families are a different religion, but they meet cute at a party and before you know it there is blood in the streets. Society is cruel but love will save the day.

This is not Romance genre (capital R) it is a Love Story, specifically idealized love, innocent and uncorrupted torn apart by society – doesn't mean it isn't brutal – Romeo and Juliet come to bad ends, but so do the couple in Orwell's 1984. No one would call that a 'romance', though.

You might re-consider how you pitch your series. It's not Romance erotic games for adults, it's more West-Side Story Chronicles, or specific influence meets other specific influence.

Nevertheless you have the same question: How to introduce that conflict earlier in the story.

The conflicts frame the couple together against societal pressures and outside forces that drive them apart, therefore you will need to signal this conflict early using characters who exist.

Assuming established 'houses' like Capulet/vampires and Montague/werwolves, find characters who are conflicted, who've strayed and been punished or avoided near-misses, put the lore in action by establishing the rules before you break them.

Macrocosm-microcosm works well with world-building so find small every-day examples to show how certain loves are forbidden, and how society has suffered by polarizing the divide.

On the Fantasy/magic spectrum, find ways to show the dangers of bringing volatile elements together, but again use living characters not just lore dumps. This should apply to your series as a whole. Hints of all those later conflicts need seed-examples in your world-building stage. You are setting up foils which will be undone by your lovers, but the reader needs some emotions and memories associated with those foils to care about them later.

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    What you're saying in the "Not that kind of romance" section is exactly what's going on with the story. It's more West Side Story or Romeo and Juliet than Anita Blake. And that's why it's a bit hard, the conflict is the romance, but the conflict leads to fighting and shenanigans rather than focusing on will they or won't they. But I need to say "yes, there romance is important" to make it clear to the readers to expect more than punching and explosions. But broadly this is a very useful answer. Jul 19, 2021 at 20:20

Just because they can't romance each other doesn't mean they can't romance.

Have the book open with one of the characters on a failed date, or discussing their romantic difficulties with a friend. You know the characters will end up together, but they don't know that.

Be careful, though. If the alternative romantic option is too likeable then readers will prefer them over the real option.

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