More than any other genre, the wonderful world of romance novels has its own separate lingo. It can be overwhelming for a newcomer, but once you learn the basics, it’s much easier to find the books that will make you smile like an idiot, and avoid the ones that will make you fling them across the room in a rage.
Some fandoms would be content to simply describe themselves as “fans of [blank].” Not so the romance-loving blogosphere, who have coined this delightful term for themselves. If you’re looking to dip your toe into the romance discourse, searching the Romancelandia hashtag on Twitter is a good way to start.
Hero and heroine
The leading man and the leading lady in heterosexual romances. This may also be abbreviated to “H” for hero, and “h” for heroine. These are usually used instead of calling either character a protagonist because most romances focus equally on both halves of a central couple.
Old school romance/bodice ripper
If you’re not a romance reader, a bodice ripper is probably what you think most of the genre is—an innocent virgin, a swaggering he-man, not much subtlety, purple prose aplenty. However, those books fell out of style a few decades ago. If you pick one of them up, you’re probably going to have to deal with an uncomfortable (at the very least) lack of consent, and quite possibly any number of other discomfiting aspects—racism, homophobia, etc. “Old school romance” and “bodice ripper” function as giant you-have-been-warned signs for readers venturing down the backlist of the genre.
Insta-love and insta-lust
A trope that’s fallen somewhat out of fashion but can still be found in most subgenres, insta-love is when the hero and heroine lock eyes across a crowded room and fall madly in love right there on the spot. This works best in either high melodrama historicals or paranormal romances. Most modern authors are content to have their couple fall in insta-lust instead, which is exactly what you think it is.
Desert Island Keeper (DIK) and Keeper Shelf
A Desert Island Keeper is a book so beloved, one would take it to a hypothetical exile on a desert island. Keeper Shelf is the more practical cousin of this term and refers to the metaphorical or literal place where one’s favorite, eternally re-readable books are stored.
If a book is a DIK for you, chances are it also contains one of your Book Boyfriends, the men you wish were real and could date you. Or make out with you. Whatever you’re looking for.
Speaking of men in romance, the alpha male is probably still the most common variant. This is your standard commanding, arrogant, accomplished dude. Think Mr. Darcy before Elizabeth Bennet’s rejection humbled him, and we all learned he was actually an adorable nerd who gets shy around sassy girls.
An alpha male whose bossy and/or stubborn tendencies go too far, causing the reader to imagine kicking him repeatedly instead of being wildly attracted to him.
Contrary to popular belief, most alpha males don’t stay bossy and commanding throughout the entire book. Usually, their lady love humbles them somehow, resulting in The Grovel. This is where the hero metaphorically or literally falls to his knees, begging forgiveness and telling the heroine how much she has changed him for the better. A good grovel may also be required for any character who lied to or tried to manipulate their true love before inevitably falling for them.
A counterpoint to the traditional alpha male hero. Beta males are generally kinder, more nurturing and more open about their emotions and thoughts than a taciturn alpha.
I approach defining this term with trepidation since Romancelandia is still figuring out exactly what it means. A conclusion seems to have been reached that a gamma male is a mix of alpha and beta qualities. Usually strong and commanding, but not arrogant, a gamma male can be seen as the villain at first. He is often independent and may be indifferent to the heroine initially. Literally all of what I just wrote could change tomorrow though, so take this definition with a grain of salt.
Happily Ever After. The finale, the explosion of sparkles and rainbows, the endorphin high every romance hopes to spark in its readers. A good romance novel is nothing without a wonderfully sweeping conclusion, and if a reader says they weren’t sold on the HEA, it probably means they won’t be recommending the book to a friend.
Happy For Now. An ending that either leaves something to be desired or leaves the couple in a decent place while hinting there is more drama to come. A standalone book with a HFN is generally not desirable, although there are some fans that don’t mind. Most romance readers however, prefer a HFN if it comes at the end of a book in an ongoing series, and the author makes it clear the couple’s journey is not over yet.
An author you love and trust so much, you automatically buy their books whenever they come out.
A trope that gets you every single time. For example, some people are suckers for a good friends-to-lovers story, or a workplace romance. Most romance tropes are pretty self-explanatory, but there are a couple worth explaining.
This trope is when circumstances force a couple to spend a lot of time in the same space. So, snowed into a cute cabin in a contemporary, or stuck together on a long carriage ride in a historical.
Marriage of Convenience
When somebody has to get married to avoid scandal, being betrothed to some horrible old lord, get money for an impoverished family, what have you. This is a cherished trope of historical romance because it allows for society-sanctioned sexy times (heirs aren’t going to make themselves!) while the main couple slowly falls in love.
Speaking of historical romance, I would do a whole other list of period-specific terms, (but since a good amount of them will already be known to lovers of biographies or historical fiction, I’m not going to). Ton is one of the most commonly used phrases in historical romance, and one that historical fiction readers might not know. It refers to British high society, and you’ll probably come across this word quite a bit since almost every historical takes place in Ye Olde England. Unfortunately, historical romance is even whiter than contemporary romance, but that is the subject of an entirely different article.
Another historical-specific term, a bluestocking refers to a bookish lady, probably a wallflower, probably on the road to spinsterhood. This was a derogatory term in reality, but since romance loves a smart heroine, the fictional lady in question often wears this epithet with pride.
Too Stupid To Live (TSTL)
One would think this is the direct opposite of bluestocking. But rather than refer to a lack of book smarts, a heroine described as TSTL is a person who wanders into or creates dangerous situations at an annoying rate, and thus makes sympathizing with her rather difficult. This is especially egregious in any Highlander or paranormal romances, where the stakes are often life-and-death.
The Duke of Slut
The ladies over at beloved romance website Smart Bitches, Trashy Books are responsible for this utter masterpiece of a term, which makes me laugh every single time I think about it. The Duke of Slut refers to a type of hero commonly found in historicals—the sexy aristocrat who never met an actress, dancer, courtesan or mildly attractive and consenting woman he didn’t then immediately sleep with.