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Boldly Going Where No One Has Banged Before: A Romance Setting Wish List

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Isabelle Popp

Senior Contributor

Isabelle Popp has written all sorts of things, ranging from astrophysics research articles and math tests to crossword puzzles and poetry. These days she's writing romance. When she's not reading or writing, she's probably knitting or scouring used book stores for vintage gothic romance paperbacks. Originally from New York, she's as surprised as anyone that she lives in Bloomington, Indiana.

A beautiful thing about romance is that there’s something for everybody. Readers can zero in on preferred tropes and levels of explicitness, but they can also find ideal settings. Setting is important to me as a romance reader. I believe there are people who would be happy reading a romance that was set in an empty room if the tension between the characters was hot enough. Let’s be real, I would read that too. But I like window dressing! I like evocative writing that fills out the picture in my mind’s eye. And I’m eager to appreciate the research an author did to situate their story in a particular professional, geographical, or historical context. I bring my whole curious self to my romance reading life, after all.

A recent post here on Book Riot about cozy mystery settings prompted me to think about romance. The range of cozy mysteries is quite delightful. For instance, I’ll never forget coming across a copy of The Gourdmother, a cozy centered on the world of decorative gourd crafts (’tis the season!). But C.J.’s article makes great points about gaps in the offerings.

Romance, well, it’s always filling gaps. (Sorry not sorry.) When I started concocting romance settings that sounded super intriguing to me, I discovered that many of them already exist! I’ll have to read some before I go recommending any of those findings. And some ideas I’ve kept in my pocket, because I am working on my own romance projects, too. But here’s my romance setting wish list. If you decide to write any of these, throw me a little thanks in the acknowledgements, but more importantly, let me know so I can read it! 

More Romances in Varied Historical Settings

The Lotus Palace, a mystery romance set in Tang Dynasty China, is the vivid story of a scholar and a maidservant trying to solve a murder. It’s a book that brings two complex and richly-drawn characters together in a detailed and fascinating historical setting. And I want more! With the scholarly angle alone, imagine what’s possible. I would absolutely devour a romance set in medieval Mali at the University of Timbuktu. Or a story from the Timurid Renaissance that brings Silk Road epicenter Samarkand to life. Sure, there are still fresh stories coming out of Regency and Victorian England, plus some more unusual historical romances are out there. But we historical readers deserve more.

A Romance Set at Disneyland

With the debut of If the Shoe Fits, an officially Disney-sanctioned romance, why not broaden the horizons? There are romances that take place at theme parks, but people have such strong emotional ties to the specificities of Disneyland. Imagine the thigh grips on the Tower of Terror. Picture the smooching that could happen when Space Mountain breaks down and people are stuck in the dark for a bit. And how sweet that smooching would be if our couple was still carrying the scent of churros and Dole Whip.

A Romance Set on a Trivia Game Show

If we’re talking about licensing intellectual property, let’s get Jeopardy! to sign off on it too. Can you imagine the love story that could emerge from a Jeopardy! game? Maybe two people achieve tie scores and appear on air multiple days in a row, capturing the nation’s imagination. Or perhaps two former high school rivals finally face off decades later in the ultimate test of wits. Rivals to lovers, a variation on enemies to lovers, is a delightful trope, after all. Plus everyone who loves nerdy romances would find a lot to appreciate.

A Romance Set on a Deep Sea Submersible

Talk about forced proximity. People who explore the ocean’s depths in search of mysterious life or shipwrecks are inherently fascinating to me. A romance set on such a vessel would so be interesting and fun. One challenge would be the lack of privacy, because the love interests are presumably very monitored by the crew at sea level. I’m imagining our lovebirds finding inventive ways to flirt on the sly or maybe creating some diversions that would give them alone time.

A Romance Set at a Sheep and Wool Festival

Okay, this one is fresh on my mind because I went to the New York Sheep and Wool festival in October, my nearly annual pilgrimage to the heart of all things woolly. There are so many interesting, quirky characters at such an event: sheep farmers, food vendors, yarn purveyors, and dedicated crafters. I would die over a meet cute at a spinning wheel auction. I would swoon for a gruff farmer who rears the absolute softest sheep. Cider doughnuts, fall leaves, squooshy sweaters: this concept has all the autumnal vibes. It needs to be a whole series, in fact.

I really could go on. But what’s on your romance setting wish list? Do some searching, as I did, because your idea might have already been done! If not, it’s probably time to brainstorm tropes and get plotting yourself. I’ll be over here making a mood board for that sheep and wool series.

For more romance, check out this list of books similar to The Heart Principle, six reasons why romance novels (and readers!) are the best, and a 20 of the best enemies-to-lovers fantasy novels.