Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Defining Women's Fiction

I am often asked, usually after I have passed on a project, what is women's fiction? When I opened Greyhaus back in 2003, I felt I really had to take some time to truly define this genre, because frankly, if I couldn't define it, how could I acquire it. This is a truly amazing genre and one that deserves great attention, but I do believe this genre is a bit blurry to a lot of writers out there.

When I define and categorize a genre, I do my best to return to some basics. In this case, it happens to be that standard chart we are all familiar with about the construction of a story:

I refer back to this a lot and have done so here on the blog in the past. The key here is to identify what that central theme is that is running through your story. This is not so much about the plot of the story, but what holds the story together. For women's fiction, it is a very unique and character based idea.

When I define women's fiction, I often say it "focuses on the female journey". I know this is a bit of an abstract idea, but let's start with that. The idea is to really get into the head of the female psyche. To understand what it is to be a women and to be a female.

When it comes to the plot, it is the reader's opportunity to see the events that go on in an everyday life through the female lens. It is for this reason that, too often, women's fiction gets mislabeled simply because the protagonist is a female. For the most part, women's fiction does have a female protagonist because, it is simply the easiest way for the reader to use that female lens. But, just because your protagonist is a female does not mean it moves into the women's fiction genre.

When I listen to an author pitch a story to me, or I read a synopsis in a proposal that claims to be a women's fiction, I pay attention to the things that are being said. If the author is spending time focusing in on what the protagonist is learning, on how she changes and adapts through the story, and how she interacts with the world around her, then we are likely in the women's fiction genre. If, however, the author spends the time talking on the plot, the other characters and we seem to be looking externally, then the odds are we are not talking about women's fiction.

Authors will also try to classify women's fiction in a couple of other ways that I truly do believe miss the mark.

One of the first is simply the fact that the story doesn't fit another category. The women's fiction genre is not a miscellaneous bin that holds the stories that don't fit in other places.

The second is when the author has eliminated the romance from the story. "Well there is not hero and heroine combination so therefore it must be women's fiction." Women's fiction may or may not have a romance. Again, the focus has to be what the central theme is in the story.

The third is that the author has eliminated the sex scenes because clearly, that makes something a romance. Again, this is a myth. The sex scenes are simply that - scenes. These are elements of the plot and nothing more. Return again to the central focus of the story.

The final myth is that the story is something that women would read. This is often how Nicholas Sparks gets clumped into the women's fiction genre. Who the story appeals to is not something that makes a story women's fiction. The idea is what we are looking at and following in the story arc.

Women's fiction is really a genre that is about introspection. It is a story that allows the reader to see inside the mind of the female in general. But it is even a bit more. The journey the character in the book takes creates a vehicle for the reader to also take an introspective journey. It is that sense of understanding the self after watching the characters in the book take their journey. We should leave the novel "learning something about our own place in the world."

Hope that helps on a Wednesday.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for clarifying what women's fiction is and what it is not.