From Alpha Hero to HEA: A Harlequin Romance Glossary

We all know the romance genre has conventions and guidelines that set it apart from other types of stories. And with those guidelines comes a vocabulary. Here at Romance HQ, we use that vocabulary every day, and sometimes we take it for granted. So we came up with a partial list of definitions so you, too, can become an expert in the language of love (or at least writing about it)!

This glossary is a work-in-progress; if you don’t see a particular term here, let us know in the comments below!

SYTYCW Romance Glossary_final

Romance Glossary

Alpha Hero: Strong, assertive hero who is in charge and oozes power. He knows he wants the heroine and will do anything to be with her.  Think the CEO who’s in charge of everything in the boardroom—and out of it.

Aspirational:  Describes a story that sweeps us away, and that readers will aspire to. Whether it’s exotic locations, rich alpha heroes or a glamorous lifestyle, we’re looking for the stuff of daydreams!

Black moment: This is the moment near the end of your story where all your hero and heroine’s issues come to a head, and the reader is left wondering how on earth they will ever find their happy ever after.

HEA: An abbreviation for Happy Ever After.

Happy for Now: An increasingly common ending in certain romance novels, where the hero and heroine overcome their obstacles in order to be together, but they don’t necessarily get married or work out every kink in their relationship.

Head-hopping: When the point-of-view bounces from the hero to the heroine’s thoughts without an obvious break in the story/scene. Quick POV switches can be difficult for readers to keep up with and create inconsistency.

Hook: A scenario, plot device or other element that draws a reader into a story. A hook can be anything from character type (cowboy hero!) to setting (elephant research centre in Kenya!) to inciting event (heroine’s inn burns down!) or any other new, interesting or compelling aspect of the story.

Internal conflict: The emotional issues which stem from your characters’ backstories and create barriers to their relationship in the front story.

Inciting moment: The scene or situation that throws your hero and heroine together and gets those sparks flying!

Miniseries: Two or more books within the same Harlequin series or imprint that are connected by setting, characters or other common elements. Also known as connection or continuity.

Obstacle: What keeps the hero and heroine apart even as they’re falling in love. Obstacles can be internal or external, and a successful romance novel will rely on both.

POV: Abbreviation of point-of-view. Is the story/scene being told in first-person or third-person? Are we in the hero or heroine’s head?

Sensuality level: How sexy your story is—whether the bedroom door is open, closed, non-existent (bedroom? what bedroom?) or somewhere in between.

“Show don’t tell” : Revealing your characters’ personalities by showing how they react emotionally to different situations and introducing them to the readers gradually, rather than merely stating how they’re feeling in any given moment.

Series: One of the twelve categories or lines at Harlequin. Each series has a reader promise—i.e.,  mystery with romance, clean romance—a regular publishing schedule and a word count. Different editors work on different series, and when you submit to Harlequin, you’ll want to target one of the series specifically, be it Presents, Historicals, Heartwarming, etc.

Stakes: What the hero and heroine each stand to lose in loving each other. Stakes can be emotional (a single dad who’s worried about his kids’ well-being if he starts a relationship with the heroine) or more concrete (a secretary who could lose her job if she falls for the CEO), though the best romances combine both types.

Trope: A trope is a time-tested scenario or plot device that appears again and again. Secret babies or heroine-in-jeopardy are examples of romance tropes. We also love to see twists on classic tropes in Series (i.e., the heroine rancher vs. the city boy hero, instead of the reverse).

Voice: The distinct way(s) an author communicates with a reader. Writers can control many elements of their voice, from sentence structure to imagery to verb tense to the tone or intent of a particular scene. But just as everyone has a unique speaking voice, every writer’s voice will have some instinctual, intrinsic elements that are hers alone.

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(Updated from previously posted version)

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  1. D. S. Hutton

    Hello, Harlequin readers and writers! I’m happy to see you guys using a glossary today! I remember using my glossary of literary terms at, California State University, Los Angeles! I am a creative writer, and, am working on ten book titles of my own right now! I’ve been working with, Writer’s Digest, which helped a lot, and, I had been attending the, Hollywood Writing Group, at my public library on Sunset Boulevard! I use composition books, notebooks, and, colorful journals to write my stories, and, notes, and, am hopeful that my work will be prosperous! Well, since I have an interest in romance, I thought I’d use a quote on romance from, The New Testament of my, Holy Bible, it is, Romans 8:15, and is about adoption! I believe that adoption has it’s place in my family, I have a sister, and, brother who are adopted, so, I’ve thought of them ever since I knew they were my adopted brothers, and, sisters! It was all legal, and, done through courts and agencies, so, it is documented there! The adoption is romantic, and, so as a writer, I’d use this subject to elaborate on, adoption! My Holy Bible states that this word, adoption, is covered by a larger topic, the phrase, Life in the Spirit! So, in a loving relationship, I guess we can look forward to adopting others into our lives, as a romantic and spiritual act! I suppose it makes us courageous, and, gives us the opportunity to know who our fathers are, actually! Well, all you who are inspired to write, I believe it will pay off for you, the way you would like it to! That is my hope for the students in the English departments at school, who found that English was one of their favorite subjects! If math was too hard, English worked just fine! Thank you writers and teachers at Harlequin Romance, you are there when I am curious about women’s writing on love affairs! How does it actually work for you? I just started to read the first three chapters of a historical romance called, The Orchid Hunter, by Jill Marie Landis, a Jove book! I can’t wait to finish this book! I am also into, And Mistress Makes Three, by, Francis Ray, it is one I discovered in the last ten years, they call her a Queen of Romance! So, I’ve gotten a chance to read other romantic writers, but, actually, not too many, Harlequin Romances! So, Harlequin, I hoping to read more of your work in the future! You were inspiring me as a creative writer, and, still are!✍‍⚘

  2. Here is a romance term that I need the official definition for:
    Declaration of love/commitment(etc) to true love:
    I have heard that this is normally what many readers call the expression of true feelings for Hero/heroine.
    However, in many novels and movies, the precious words are not given only to the love interest. They are told, gossiped, and expressed to friends, neighbors, and parents first.
    If, these private words are only for “the King’s ears” (First Knight)
    Why are many not allowed to express them in private? In my opinion, the rules are abandoned in this one instance. The exception would be a family gathering for an engagement.
    Please officially define this term.
    Thank you