In literary terms, the distinction between a romance and a love story is arguably subjective and open for interpretation--perhaps rooted in literary snobbery--but as someone who appreciates both genres, this is how I discern the two.


Scene from Pride and Prejudice one of the more famous romance novels Characters
As in many types of stories, characters are central to both love stories and romances. We need to be intrigued by and invested in them in order to fully appreciate their relationship. Characters in a romance may feel idealized in some way. They might have some type of flaw--but even this flaw is likely to be a strength in disguise. Love stories tend to have more deeply and authentically flawed characters. Regardless of the setting and time period they're placed in, they're universally relatable to readers. They're not superheroes.

Plot
For a romance, the relationship is the plot, and point, of the story. Ideally, there will be other entertaining events and subplots going on, but the central tension is based around the question: How will they get together? In a love story, there is a different story point and goal to be achieved--something besides love is at stake. The romantic relationship is a vehicle and/or complication to this story focus. Other relationships may be equally important to the main character. His or her growth and change is central, but the romantic relationship is part of that experience, not all of it.

Ending
This is probably the clearest division between the two. Romance stories guarantee the "Happily Ever After" ending. The two lovers need to end up together, and with an implied golden future, together. In love stories, the two characters often are together and committed early in the story line but external (and sometimes internal) circumstances will drive them apart to the point where they may or may not be a couple in the end.

Regardless of which category a book falls into, let's heed the advice of author and celebrity librarian, Nancy Pearl. "I believe reading is about experiencing joy, and that we learn something about ourselves, and the world, with every book we read, whether a romance, biography, mass-market thriller, or a literary novel. ...We may agree, or we may not, on what's a good book; readers differ all the time on the quality of a book. When it comes to reading, the only opinion that should matter is our own."


This article by Sarah Tomp first ran as the beyond the book topic for Nancy Pearl's George and Lizzie

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