Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Question from a Writer - What is my story? How do I label it?

...My Beta had a hard time deciding on what genre her story was. It came off to me as a Thriller/Suspense, but originally labeled I think it was Commercial Fiction or Women's Fiction. In the end, she decided with Thriller/Suspense and it was no surprise that she is into Thrillers for her favorite genre.

Speaking of all the genre makes me wonder--an agent herself told me (in a query) that if your female character is married it makes it a Woman's fiction. Is that true?

To answer this question, you have to identify what your central story arc is. For most writers, if I ask them what their story is about, all they can do is tell me the plot. This is not the questions we are looking for here. We're really focusing on the central idea or theme. Not the whole story.

When it comes to the issue of women's fiction, I honestly think the answer the agent gave you was flat-out wrong. Marriage has nothing to do with women's fiction. I have tried to sum up the definition of women's fiction in this way:

The focus of women's fiction is to put to the forefront the idea of what it is to be a woman. The story focuses on the "female journey" and giving the reader a chance to identify with her own place in the world and her own life as a woman. These stories can be humerous or sad. There can be marriage and HEA's or simply leave us thinking. These stories are character focused, but not so much a focus on a single character but the universal character of the female. In literary criticism, we would often refer to this person as "everyman" but in this case we can say "everywoman."

Commercial fiction and literary fiction tend to focus on the story and the characters are there for the ride. They can be great characters that we love and can relate to, but in the end, it is the story that takes the forefront. For myself, I then separate commercial and literary in terms of the level of language. As a literature major, literary fiction would be those stories that might move later into the "canon" of literature. Commercial fiction, however, might not make that cut.

Hope that helps.


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