Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, November 4, 2017

More on Women's Fiction

Sneak peek at the cover for my 6th Regency Gothic, set on Dartmoor
Pub date - hopefully by the end of November 2017

For previous posts on Women's Fiction, please see
the Mosaic Moments Archives, 6/25/17 and 7/1/17.

In October our local RWA chapter presented a workshop on Women's Fiction, and I found it interesting to hear someone else's description of the differences between Women's Fiction and Romance Fiction. (Many people, alas, have no idea there is a difference!) The speaker told of a time when "Romance" was defined as "Fiction written about women, by women, and intended to be read by women." Well, thank goodness, most of us realize that is no longer true. There are men who write Romance, men who read Romance, and many plots and themes that peer inside men's thoughts and actions, their likes and dislikes.

And there we have the major difference between Women's Fiction and Romance. Women's Fiction really does come close to the definition of "About women, by women, for women." Romance Fiction must have a hero, usually a character prominent from beginning to end. Even in gay romance, there must be a definite romantic pairing, not a long pastiche about the foibles of the "female" side of the relationship.

The speaker at the meeting of Central Florida Romance Writers also defined Women's Fiction as "What comes after Happily Ever After." If you are familiar with the musical Into the Woods, Women's Fiction would be Act II. In the first act, we see all our favorite fairy tale characters and their stories come to a happy conclusion. (The Broadway musical was undoubtedly the precursor to TV's Once Upon a Time.) But in Act II we discover what comes next. And it isn't pretty!

Women's Fiction can also be a story of family (or a whole village), with the emphasis on the female line; i.e., a central female character and her interaction with her female relatives, good and bad. Also with her female friends, acquaintances, adversaries, etc. The men are there, but as more realistic characters than in Romance fiction. We see them with all their idiosyncracies, faults, their glaring wrongness. And they are not major players in the story, just a backdrop against which the female relationships play out.

Illness, death,divorce, childbirth, depression are frequent themes of Women's Fiction—female struggles usually shunned by Romance fiction. (Yes, deaths occur in romantic Mystery and Suspense, but as part of action or murder plots, not part of an anguishing of the soul.)

In Romance fiction—which can be as simple as a Harlequin contemporary or as complex as an Historical Suspense . . . which can also be Mystery, Sci Fi, Paranormal, Fantasy, Young Adult, New Adult, or any of a vast variety of sub-genres, the only absolute requirement is that Happily Ever After ENDS the book. And that's where Women's Fiction BEGINS. In the world of reality.

To complicate matters a bit, there are some authors of Women's Fiction who include a definite romance in each book, including an HEA ending. The difference? The emphasis is on the problems of the women in each story, enough so the romance remains almost peripheral to the main plot.  

Who reads Women's Fiction? A good question. I suspect the readership is almost entirely female. And includes those who like to read about other women who suffer as they have suffered. Or perhaps those who like to read about other people's problems so they can say, "Thank God my life isn't like that."  I do not number myself among them. I like heroes who are heroes, even if their only fights are on the homefront. I do not want to read about unremitting agony, suffering, desperation, and death. Not even on a small, hometown scale. But that's me. I'm a great believer in "To each his own." Certainly, there should be books that cater to every taste. The important point is to recognize which genre you want to write. Recognize the differences and follow the "rules." Do not wander on and on in the world of Females Only and think you are writing Romance.

And now a challenge—one I asked myself as I examined the differences between Women's Fiction and the Romance Fiction market. Why are my Regency Gothic novels, like The Blackthorne Curse, above, not Women's Fiction? 

Gothic novels are written in first person female. Always. That's the basis of the genre. A female, usually alone, attempting to survive in an inimical world. The entire story is told through her eyes. The people she interacts with are frequently female. The eerie twists to the plot usually take precedence over the romance. So why is a Gothic novel a Romance, not Women's Fiction?

Because the ending is definitely Happily Ever After. Gothic heroines suffer death threats, not the pangs of childbirth. They try to figure out who is trying to kill them, not who is back-stabbing them at work. And men play major roles throughout the book, even if they do not have a Point of View. The men can be witty, charming, villainous, surly, stupid, petty, etc., but they stand shoulder to shoulder with the women as participants in the plot. And in the end there is one male who is true blue, a hero who pairs with the poor beleaguered heroine to give us that traditional HEA. 

In short—at least in my not-so-humble opinion—Romance Fiction is for women who really like men, as friends as well as lovers. Women who think there's enough trouble in this world without having to read about the angst of daily living. We want Happily Ever After, and let's avoid the reality of what comes after. We live that; we don't need to read about it. And yes, we use the world of HEA as an escape from our problems.

Women's Fiction is for females who prefer socializing with women, discussing female-oriented topics, and facing the ugly realities of the world, often while keeping men relegated to bread-winning and bed. And yes, that is a deliberately provocative statement written by someone who is not a fan of Women's Fiction. And I invite rebuttal from those who find WF rewarding. 

If you are a "reader" rather than an author, you're fortunate. You can choose to read both Romance and Women's Fiction. For writers, it's a tougher call. Know your genre. Know what makes it tick. Know your readership. Write to the emotions they want and expect. And yes, of course, there's leeway for a bit of experimentation. (As mentioned in my July post about Nora Roberts's Come Sundown.)

I leave you with the happy thought that next week I am avoiding controversies by presenting recipes.

~ * ~
For a link to Blair Bancroft's web site, click here. 

For "inside" information about The Blackthorne Curse, click here. 

Thanks for stopping by,




  1. I'm with you on not wanting to read depressing books. I'm fine with difficulties and struggles, as long as they are met with courage and righteousness. I can take tragic events as long as they are part of a heroic scenario, and yes, Happily Ever After. And After. I did NOT like "Into the Woods."

    I do find it odd, however, to see childbirth listed along with illness, death, divorce, and depression.

  2. I included childbirth as it is usually avoided in Romance Fiction; also because in Women's Fiction the emphasis is almost always on the agony of childbirth, not the miracle of it.