What is romance, really? Is it a dramatic gesture, an accumulation of small acts, a mindset that consistently sees the world as a magical place or just a fantasy of unrealistic expectations that no one outside a novel can live up to?

When I was a girl, I used to make lists of words that, to me, were the essence of romance. I liked them as much for their sound and rhythm as I did for the things they represented.

Emerald made the list, but not diamond. Sea, but not ocean. Mustang, but not horse. You probably have your own list, and if you skim through a favorite romance novel, you’ll probably see certain words jump out. Skillfully employed, they tell you right up front that you are reading a romance, not a shoot-em-up thriller.

Silk, rose, lace, midnight, tawny, velvet, willowy, mist.

Genres have their own lexicons that help readers enter the world of their choice quickly and seamlessly.

Names create the same effect. Why is a hero more romantic if his name is Jeremy or Heathcliff, as opposed to Ralph or Harold? How memorable would “Gone With the Wind” have been if author Margaret Mitchell had persisted in calling her heroine Pansy, as she did in her first draft?

Words set the tone. The sound of the words, and the feelings they evoke, do as much to create the atmosphere of romance as do the characters and the story that ultimately brings them together.

What words summon the spell of romance for you?