I’m not very good at explaining the difference between the two to be honest. I’ve done some Googling on it and I’ve pulled a quote from Nicholas Sparks’ website as he answers this question:
“Though both have romantic elements, the sub-genres have different requirements. Love stories must use universal characters and settings. Romance novels are not bound by this requirement and characters can be rich, famous, or people who lived centuries ago, and the settings can be exotic. Love stories can differ in theme, romance novels have a general theme—”the taming of a man.” And finally, romance novels usually have happy endings while love stories are not bound by this requirement. Love stories usually end tragically or, at best, on a bittersweet note.”
To be quite honest, after MORE Googling I feel like it’s a bit of a gray area and kind of open for a bit of interpretation. So I decided to get opinions from people in one of the Facebook groups I belong to. Naturally, romance has to be a major key in any romance or love story. But in a romance story, we focus more on the journey they take to be together and how they change along the way.
Additionally, secondary characters, while present, aren’t major parts of the story. They support the main characters and they don’t have their own story apart from the main characters. Plus, romance stories have a happily ever after (HEA) in the end. Whether the main characters get married or engaged, readers can still tell they will be together, at least for the time being.
Love stories don’t have to have a HEA, but the main characters can be together, even if one of them changes (for better or worse). A lot of fiction writers write love stories with multiple characters and storylines in the same book.
While there will always be differing opinions about romance stories vs love stories, I think this is a pretty good explanation. Comments and questions are always welcome!