Romance -vs- Women’s Fiction: The Smackdown

What is romance? What makes a romance a romance? What is Women’s Fiction? This is a point of difference I discuss in my PhD research, and it’s proved a bone of contention for my supervisor. She’s unhappy with the typing that separates fiction along gender lines. “Can’t it simply BE fiction?” she asks. However,, she understands this Imageclassification when it comes to explaining the difference between romance and, well, Women’s Fiction.

If it’s not clear what I’m yammering on about, let me define. We can argue about it you wanna, but for me, and maybe for many of you as well, romance is a love story with a happy ending or optimistic ending. The plot of a romance is driven by a love story between two people, driven by how the love develops, how it hits an obstacle, how that obstacle is overcome and how the love triumphs. That’s a Romance.

Women’s Fiction? Well, besides being an umbrella term that classifies and lumps together any novel written mostly by and for women (including romance, since most romance is written by women for women), Women’s Fiction is also a classification of a TYPE of novel where a female is the protagonist dealing with whatever life throws at her.

Trust me on this. I have it from editor’s and publishing houses that this is how it works.

So, Women’s Fiction? Think of the Bildungsroman, the “relationship novel” whereby the woman’s relationship may be with her husband, kids, mother-in-law, best friends. Think of a story that charts a woman’s voyage or self discovery, or her emotional/physical evolution, or her battle to take on City Hall. There may or may not be an element of a love story in a work of Women’s Fiction, but if it’s there it is only a sliver of the pie. Think of it this way: a love story is not what drives the plot in Women’s Fiction. As for the hallmark happily ever after? In Women’s Fiction there may or may not be a happy or optimistic ending, or a satisfying ending. There could be loose ends. OH DEAR GOD, Loose ends! But not always.

The bottom line, kids,  these are THE important distinctions between romance and Women’s Fiction. Women’s Fiction love may be a slice of pie. Romance is THE WHOLE PIE.

Have I mentioned how much I love pie? Especially cherry pie?

Anyhow, I know where I stand on this. I know what publishers think but I’m curious for your input.