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What is Romantasy by Georgia Summers author of The City of Stardust a romantic fantasy novel
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What is Romantasy?

Georgia Summers. Previously Editor at Macmillan and The Novelry Team Member.
Georgia Summers
January 28, 2024
January 28, 2024

If you’re keeping up with science fiction and fantasy, you might have noticed the rise of this buzzy new word ‘romantasy’. You might have seen it mentioned on TikTok, Goodreads, on retailer lists or agent wishlists. You may have spotted bookshops gearing up for the midnight launch of Sarah J. Maas’ latest Crescent City novel, which is set in a futuristic city full of fae, werewolves, angels and demons, or internet fandoms losing their mind over Rebecca Yarros’ second book in the Empyrean series, Iron Flame, or the indie book world going crazy over The Serpent and the Wings of Night, in which the adopted human daughter of a vampire must survive a deadly tournament, where she meets a handsome stranger...

Topping the charts around the globe, romantasy is A Very Big Deal. But what is it?

We’ve got just the person to break it down for us. Our editor Georgia Summers was previously an editor at Tor, an imprint of Macmillan, where she worked closely on a range of science fiction and fantasy books from bestselling brand authors such as Cassandra Clare, Olivie Blake and TJ Klune, to debut authors such as Shelley Parker-Chan and Freya Marske. She was the commissioning editor for international bestseller Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree, as well as the upcoming Daughter of Calamity by Rosalie M. Lin. Additionally, she oversaw reissues of the classic romantasy series Kushiel’s Legacy by Jacqueline Carey, which starts with Kushiel’s Dart.

An author herself, Georgia’s buzzy romantic fantasy book The City of Stardust published this week by Orbit Books to great acclaim. Shelley Parker-Chan described the novel as “enthralling to the last page.” Filled with magic, stardust, and a shockingly dark heart, The City of Stardust is a stunning standalone fantasy perfect for fans of The Ten Thousand Doors of January, The Starless Sea and The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.

In this article, Georgia breaks down the key features of the fantasy romance genre and shares her five top tips to make your story shine.

What is romantasy?

Romantasy, or romantic fantasy, or even fantasy romance, is a sub-genre of fantasy where the romantic element is the driving force of the plot, like Sarah J. Maas’ popular A Court of Thorns and Roses series (often abbreviated to ACOTAR) or Fall of Ruin and Wrath by Jennifer L. Armentrout. Publishers distinguish a romantasy book from fantasy with romance, where the romance serves as a sub-plot instead, or is less crucial to the overall narrative.

Romantasy, or romantic fantasy, or even fantasy romance, is a sub-genre of fantasy where the romantic element is the driving force of the plot.

Romantasy books can encompass other sub-genres. There’s historical romantasy with magicians, as in A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske, or epic romantasy about competing dragon riders like Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros. There’s dark romantasy featuring a morally grey king like Gild by Raven Kennedy, or cosy romantasy with an ornery professor of faeries such as Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett. And like romance, it can explore a diverse range of relationships. You might find characters—and love interests—are vampires, gods from Greek mythology, knights in shining armor or morally grey villains, amid tales of found family and friendship. There are high-stakes, fast-paced romantic adventures and swoon-worthy, slow-burn romance. The romantasy world is your oyster!

Before we get started, it’s worth acknowledging that it can sometimes feel uncomfortable to talk to your editor about the sex scenes in your novel—even though it’s fictional! But editors are used to being matter-of-fact about tricky topics all the time, and our priority is to help guide your book to its very best self. So consider your editorial discussions a safe space to develop your ideas.

So, how do you write a romantasy novel? Here are some tips to help you on your way.


Writing romantasy: five tips to make your story shine

1. Opposites attract

However you begin your romantic fantasy, at some point you’ll have to consider your main characters and how the romance between them might play out. This is what the reader is reading to find out, after all!

Playing with opposites is a great way to develop conflict between your characters, and build the foundation upon which their romance rests. Enemies to lovers is a popular approach, but there are many other opposites to look at. Maybe one character loves rules, and the other character loves to break them. Or perhaps one character believes that violence never solves anything, while the other believes that any problem can be quickly resolved in a fight.

By utilising opposites, you’ll give yourself plenty of space to create tension and drama. Then, later on, you can start to think about what similarities bring your characters together. How will they resolve these differences and unite?


2. Tropes and tribulations

A trope is a common recurring element in stories—and romantasy is full of them. These can be a great way to explore your characters’ relationship and to bring tension into the narrative. Some romantasy tropes include:

  • Just one bed: your characters have to spend the night somewhere, only to discover that there’s just one bed available.
  • Marriage of convenience: your characters get married for a reason that isn’t love—whether it’s to secure a political alliance or something else.
  • Forbidden love: your characters might be forbidden from pursuing a relationship with each other, but that’s not going to stop them falling in love.
  • Perilous proposal: one of your characters declares their love during a particularly dicey situation.
  • Forced proximity: due to external circumstances, your characters are forced to spend time together in close quarters.

However, it’s important to balance more general tropes with specificity. If you rely too heavily on tropes to convey your romance, readers might feel that they’re missing the special element of your novel that makes your romance stand out. 

Consider how you can utilise tropes to highlight your romance, while not losing the elements of specificity and surprise. Perhaps there’s a trope you love, but have always wanted to turn on its head. Or perhaps there’s a trope that you’ve always wanted to do your way.

You might find this blog by our Head of SFF helpful: what is a trope?


3. Let’s get physical (but not too physical)

When it comes to writing romance, less really is more. It can help to consider your romantic moments like a set number of cards in your hands—currency to spend on your reader. Spend too few, and your reader might feel like they’re missing out on the romance they were promised. But spend too many and you might find that you lose some of the excitement that comes from anticipating a romantic moment.

What do these cards look like? That depends on how your characters’ relationship develops. You could have the “first touch” card, “first kiss” card, “romantic confession” card, and more. If you’re not sure, it might be worth asking yourself the following questions:

What action do you want to focus on?

It can be tempting to have a romantic moment where your characters get very physical, with a lot of actions on the menu. However, it’s worth slowing down to consider what you want your reader to focus on. This can range from the first time they touch (clothed or unclothed!), to the first time they kiss and beyond.

Furthermore, what does this singular action mean for those characters? Perhaps for a character who’s used to physical touch, a kiss could be casual comfort, or for a character unused to touch, this could be more nerve-wracking.

Is it sexy, intimate—or both?

Sometimes we can get swept into the physicality of a scene, but don’t forget the importance of emotion. Readers will be invested in the characters’ relationship, as much as they’re reading for the steamy scenes. And a romantic moment doesn’t always have to be sexy to satisfy readers’ expectations. For example, the first touch could be one character healing another’s wounds, or comforting each other in some way.

Of course, an intimate moment can often lead into a sexy one! But it can be helpful to remember that you have multiple tools at your disposal to craft your romance.

How does this change your characters’ view of each other and of themselves?

Like an external narrative arc, your characters’ relationship should drive their development. Similarly, romantic scenes have to play by the same rules as any other: they need to move the plot and your characters’ development forward. If you find that your romantic scenes aren’t working as hard for you as you’d like, consider how your characters change because of them, and how, in turn, that affects the plot.

Regardless of your choices, it’s important to remember that the most satisfying romances are built on anticipation and tension. Spend those cards carefully!


4. Going all the way

Writing sex can be a challenging balance of physicality and emotionality. If you’re hoping to write a “spicy” book—in other words, a novel with explicit sex scenes, and plenty of them, sometimes called “steamy romantasy”—then you might be tempted to focus on the physical action of your scene over your characters’ feelings. But it’s important not to over-stage manage your characters’ actions, as this can bog your reader down in the details, rather than the big picture. Instead let them use their imagination to fill in the gaps.

Try to avoid clichés. Phrases like “throbbing manhood” or “moist heat” can make a sex scene feel more sweaty than sexy! If you’re in need of inspiration, look at the sex scenes in your very favourite romance novels. What do you love about them? What would you do differently?

It’s important to remember that you still have all the writerly tools you might use in a regular scene. Use all your senses to paint a vivid picture, and really ground your reader in the story.


5. Don’t forget the fantasy

Your readers are still fantasy readers, even though they’re reading for a romance-oriented story. They’ll pay attention to your world-building, your plot and your magic—and if something isn’t right, they’ll notice it! Make sure you’re developing your fantasy elements consistently throughout the narrative. 

It’s also worth considering what romance looks like in your fantasy world. Are there any magical aspects you can play with? How can your fantasy elements feed into your romantic ones?

Whether you're writing fantasy with a romance that drives the story, or a fantasy novel with some light romantic elements, these tips will help your story shine and your reader to enjoy a Happily Ever After.

The City of Stardust by Georgia Summers is available now.

For more tips on writing and editing your novel, join us on a creative writing course at The Novelry today. Sign up for courses, coaching and a community from the world’s top-rated writing school.

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Georgia Summers. Previously Editor at Macmillan and The Novelry Team Member.
Georgia Summers

Before joining The Novelry, Georgia Summers was an Editor at Tor, an imprint of Macmillan, home to authors including Cassandra Clare, Olivie Blake, Adrian Tchaikovsky, TJ Klune, Arkady Martine and Travis Baldree.

Members of The Novelry team