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Conflict - Like any other genre a good romance novel has to have some type of conflict. Many of the sub-genres in romance will say there has to be more inner conflict between the characters than there is outer conflict. Inner conflict is a conflict a character or characters have within themselves, for example the hero wondering if he really is the best person for the heroin.Outer conflict is a conflict outside of the main characters; i.e. a bad guy trying to take over the world or kill one, if not both of, the main characters. Many sub-genres of romance enjoy equal parts of inner and outer conflict.
Happily Ever After - For a long time people thought that a romance novel must have a happily ever after (HEA) for the main characters. While this is still the norm you do often see the happy for now (HFN) endings. These types of endings normally lead into a series of stories about one or more characters in the world that the author created.
The Love Story - At the heart of a romance novel is of course the love story. The love story should be entangled with the plot of the story. If you can take away the love story and still have a good book then chances are it isn't a true romance, but just has heavy romance influence. Which is fine, because a good book is a good book.
There are many different elements thrown in throughout the sub-genres that can label a novel a romance. In my view as long as the love story is strong, the plot is good and it makes me not want to put it down, then it's a romance novel worth reading.
So what do you think makes a romance novel a romance?