Thursday, May 10, 2012

What is Women's Fiction?

I was talking with Brie from Romance Around the Corner the other day about authors and books that we enjoyed...  and it gave me an idea for a discussion topic. However, while I was figuring how to introduce that discussion, I ran into a little obstacle. What is the definition of women's fiction? And then, I realized that not everyone had the same definition of women's fiction...

If you look it up on Wikipedia - most reliable source on the internet *sarcasm*, here is what you'll find:
Women's fiction is an umbrella term for books that are marketed to female readers, and includes many mainstream novels, romantic fiction, "chick lit,"and other sub genres.
In a broad sense, I guess yes, that's what women's fiction is. However, when I say women's fiction, I mean the genre... and well if it's women's fiction, can it be romance and chick-lit as well? I figure also that everyone has its own definition of women's fiction - the genre, and I got curious :)

What is Women's Fiction for you? How would you describe the genre?

For me, women's fiction can contain strong romance threads or romantic elements, but it's more about the journey of the heroine than the HEA ending. As a result, I often associate books with older heroines or heroines with grown children to women's fiction. I feel the empty nest syndrome is a perfect platform for women's fiction, because that's when many heroines are starting a new life and searching for their identity. Obviously, it's not limited to those storylines, but I find the identity question is a recurring theme.

Also, I consider books in which there are many women of different ages going through different stages of their lives to be women's fiction. The different friendships, relationships and feeding each other off from their experiences are part of the journey.

For example, Debbie Macomber's Blossom Street series, Susan Wigg's Snowfall at Willow Lake and The Goodbye Quilt, Susan Mallery's  Already Home and Barefoot Summer are women's fiction books for me. In many cases, there is a very fine, thin line between women's fiction and contemporary romance... but  I think the distinction is there.

 Agree, disagree? I'd love to hear what you have to say :) So feel free the comments!


  1. This is such a great question!

    I always thought of Romance, Chick-Lit and Women’s Fiction as three separate entities with overlapping elements. Romance focuses on the love story and the trials and tribulations a couple experiences in their road to the HEA; Chich-Lit is about women struggling with change: job, love life, city, etc. I always find that in Chick-Lit the main character always has a journey, and comedy is a great part of the book; and Women’s Fiction is a more dramatic type of Chick-Lit, with more than one main character, and is more about how different women deal with common issues like divorce, having kids, not having kids, work, etc. Romance may or may not be part of the last two categories, but more often than not there’s at least one romantic interest.

  2. What Brie said. And the how much sex is shown lol.

  3. Yes, I too see romance and chick lit as "separate genres" as well.

    I've always had a love/hate relationship with the term "women's fiction" - but haven't been able to come up with a better alternative :P (Book Club Fiction is as close as I've come!)

    Women's fiction, to me, are dramatic stories with female protagonist(s) and female-oriented conflict. In other words, "issues" that are "relatable" to a female audience/readership. Whether it's empty nest, aging parents, divorce, etc.

    It's a pretty thin definition - because honestly men deal with empty nest, aging parents, divorce etc. as well. But again, differently then women do. So that female protagonist, female perspective thing is pretty key IMHO.

  4. Great question, Nath.

    My answer to your question is close to Wendy's. These are novels that address women's issues -- usually serious subjects. They can be anything from self-defining issues that are basically internal and lead the female protagonist to growth, to external issues that affect women. There's usually a romance involved, but the romance is not usually the focus of the story and the relationship is not necessarily the answer to the female protagonist's conflict. I read quite a bit of women's fiction a while back and enjoyed them to a certain degree. I still like to read it once in while, but only if it's not sold as "romance." If that happens, it usually upsets me. LOL!

    I see "chick lit" differently though. Chick Lit to me is usually full of girlfriends, shopping, and shoes (*g*), and the women are always talking about men, or men seem to be a central focus to the story even if its in conversation or through affairs, but all is seen or narrated from a female's point of view. The male's POV is dismal and usually skewed. I'm not fond of "chick lit" at all!

    I tend to enjoy women's fiction if the male's point of view is used as well as the female's because there's more of a balance to the story. Otherwise, I find these stories pretty much lack balance, and while I can deal with reading one 'chick lit' story told from the 1st POV once in a while, too many of them get on my nerves. ;P

  5. Brie - Thanks :) This question is relevant to my next discussion topic, so stay tuned!

    I pretty much agree with your assessment Brie :) You are right, chick-lit tends to be funnier and the way it is introduced, lighter. While all three genres center around women, the feel you get while reading is very different!

    Mary G - LOL. Romance being more explicit :P

    Wendy - I really think they are separate genres. As I told Brie, the feeling you get while reading is very different with chick-lit being funnier/lighter most of the time.

    LOL about Book Club Fiction. Well, most people involved in Book clubs are women, so it makes sense they would look for something they could relate.

    I think you nailed it when you said "female-oriented conflict." The empty nest syndrome is the one that came to mind most when writing the post ^_^; And while men do go through all these issues as well, not many write books about their emotional journeys... perhaps they should! :P

    Hilcia - Nod nod. I think there's the difference between chick-lit and women's fiction. Not necessarily the age, but the atmosphere and tone of the books. I'm not saying that there aren't any chick-lit dealing with serious issues out there, but chick-lit does tend to utilize a lot of humor as Brie said and so, it's more lighthearted. While women's fiction is more serious.

    And LOL, it sucks a little, because you're always left with wanting more of the romance.

    Is there a lot of women's fiction books with male POVs? I can't think of many...

    1. Nath there are a few that include the male point of view. Barbara Delinski wrote a favorite of mine Looking for Payton Place and the male point of view is there. The famale is more prominent but this gives the story a sense of balance. Lisa Dale uses up to three points of view in her books but they are considered women's fiction with romance and there's certainly a male point of view involved. Thankfully not the dismal type. Those are a couple of examples. I don't have any in chick lit since I try not to read it. Lol what about Kristen Higgins? Her books are chick lit with romance and you pointed out that she just went to a third point of view?

    2. Hilcia - It's been so long since I read Payton Place! And you're right about Lisa Dale, she does use the male POV.

      Yep, Ms Higgins switched to 3rd POV and I think it made her books cross the chick-lit line well into romance :P

  6. Awesome question, Nath!

    I agree with Wendy. I've never really liked the term women's fiction either. Mostly because it seems too constricting. I think that by defining an entire genre by the gender of its writers and readers it really excludes, and limits, its audience by making it seem like the books aren't for or as relatable to a male audience. However, there are some good qualities to defining it as women's fiction as it ensures a market for women authors and makes sure their voices/stories are heard in a traditionally male dominated field. But I still have some issues with the term.

    Anyway, I guess my umbrella definition for women's fiction would be novels written by women where female characters are active agents in moving the story forward.

  7. I agree with Wendy when she says "Women's fiction, to me, are dramatic stories with female protagonist(s) and female-oriented conflict".
    I don't read many books about these themes because they depress me. I only go for them if it's a book club read or if it's something that catches my eye, but this doesn't happen much. For instance, Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible is a great, really amazing book, one that I truly loved, and I consider it women's fiction although many people probably won't add the "women" title because it's such a mainstream story. Then again, definitions can be global, but not everyone sees it the same way. Just think about people's POV's about UF vs PNR. It's tricky too, even when obvious.
    Another example where, for me, something is womens's fiction and many others say it's contemporary romance: Barbara Delinsky's recent books. Her most recent stuff, although with romance, it's just too dramatic for me to enjoy, I can't concentrate on the romance while the poor protagonist is suffering so, women's fiction it is.
    I guess I'd say I have a certain ladder, in terms of intensity in the stories, and that asks for the labels: chick lit -> contemporary romance -> women's fiction
    I tend to look for things in the middle :)

  8. Samantha - Thanks Samantha!

    I don't know what better term would be ^_^; but then again, even if it was labeled as fiction, I'm not sure the male audience would pick it up. Sigh. So hard LOL.

    And that's a nice definition you got there :P

    S. - Women's fiction is not my go-to genre either, but sometimes, when you read romance, it's kind of hard to avoid.

    I agree with you. Barbara Delinksy newer stuff is not romance. I actually think they shelve it in fiction. It's not totally women's fiction in my opinion... although it's hard to tell since I haven't read them. Just the feel they give off.

    LOL, me as well :) Contemporary romance I love! the problem is I guess it's hard to stick to contemporary romance if you want to explore other issues.

  9. I struggle with this definitions myself! I can't tell you how many times I've rearranged tags on my goodreads bookshelves in the last year.. between chick lit, women's fiction, general fiction.. What IS general fiction? Anything NOT romance, chick lit, women's fiction, Sci fi, mystery, or fantasy? I can never make up my mind what to use and I couldn't even tell you how I have it arranged right now.

    Anyway, I'll keep my answer simple and just say "What Wendy said."

  10. Christine - LOL, Christine :)It's hard right? I try to be accurate as well, but sometimes, there's just not a right genre to describe a book ^_^;

    And LOL, yes, "What Wendy said" :)