Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Writing Women's Fiction

In between posting a few chapters here and there of "Saddled with Trouble," I thought that I would also post a workshop that I gave a few months back to the Orange County RWA on Writing Women's Fiction. It's quite long so I am breaking it up over the course of the next week. You can also find this workshop in my book "The Writer's Workshop." Thank You and I hope that you enjoy!


What is women’s fiction, and how do we as writer’s “get it right?”

According to Wikipedia, Women's fiction is an umbrella term for a wide-ranging collection of literary sub-genres that are marketed to female readers, including many mainstream novels, romantic fiction, "chick lit," and other sub genres.

I would say that’s a decent generalization, but women’s fiction is so much more. Women's fiction is all about relationships. Not necessarily romance, but the type of relationships women deal with everyday: family, friends, kids, career. We don't just read about it or write about it, we live it!

Today I want to break it down the best that I can from my point of view, explain how I develop my women’s fiction pieces, and actually how I create my women’s fiction stories differently than I do my mysteries.

One of the differences as far as within publishing that you will find with women’s fiction versus romance is the way published books are shelved at the stores. Because women’s fiction encompasses a wide vas of themes and topics, most of the time you won’t find women’s fiction in a genre category, but rather within the mainstream, which makes it tougher in my opinion to sell women’s fiction.

So what is women’s fiction exactly? Well, it’s fiction that is obviously directed toward women, it’s what I think of as a jump up from chick lit, and I’m not knocking chick lit here because in reality if you’ve read any of my wine mysteries they are really chick lit with a murder mystery plot line. However, chick lit remains on the lighter side of things. These books tend to be campy, usually the heroine is in her twenties to early thirties, she’s single and looking for love, designer names mean something to her or else she makes fun of them depending on her socio-economic background or values, she likes martinis or white wine, Starbucks and usually has a good group of gal pals or gay friends who are all kind of eccentric and humorous—and humor tends to be a big part of the chick lit genre. Whereas, with women’s fiction, I kind of akin it to taking chick lit and growing up. It doesn’t mean your characters don’t like white wine and hot guys, but it’s at a different level. Chick lit I think is typically fun, and women’s fiction although has elements of humor and fun in it at times, and sometimes it doesn’t have it all (that really depends on the writer’s style, which I will talk about shortly) takes characters, their lives, the themes within the story and the sub-plots to deeper levels.

I want to break women’s fiction down to you by theme, characters, and plot—and hopefully give you a new look at how you might approach your women’s fiction pieces.

1. I think as writers when we look at this type of fiction to write it to the best of our ability we’re going to have to dig deep, we’re going to have to soul search, get kind of ugly with ourselves and be truthful about certain areas of our lives. What do I mean by that, and why would I as a writer want to make my fiction about me? The reason is that women’s fiction connects with women in a way that I don’t think any other type of fiction does. So, when you sit down to write this type of book, your goal is to have your reader empathize with your character or main characters. This is the kind of book where you want your character to be the kind of person that your reader wants to be friends with or at least have that character have an about face by the end of the book that sways your reader to her side. Be sure to have a sympathetic not a pathetic main character.

Walk that line especially when doing a coming of age piece on a woman who technically should already be of age. Keep in mind that most of the main characters in women’s fiction are over 30. If she's too strong, the need for the growth disappears. If she's too weak, you run the risk of annoying your readers. When you write this, ask yourself, would you want to be friends with this person. That doesn’t mean you have to like the characters every step of the way. In fact, I think we can all agree that as much as we love our best friends there are moments when they annoy us or down-right piss us off, but then we either forgive them, or realize we were the jerk, or we just let it go because that is what friends do much of the time.

I’m going to use my books as examples here because they are what I know best. So for example in my novel "Happy Hour" one of my main characters is a real control freak because she’s so afraid of doing anything wrong. She just wants to keep everyone happy, which we all know is impossible and she’s in an impossible situation. She has teenage boys, she’s newly married and now has a 6 yr old step-daughter whose mother is a pain in the ass and my characters just really wants a peaceful life. I can tell you that in a blended marriage with step-children and ex-spouses there is not much luck in finding any real peace, but that’s life. So, when this character loses it on one of her friends the reader thinks she’s being a real jerk and she is, but at the same time there are things going on in her life that although there is no excuse for her treatment of her friend, there is an understanding as to how she might react the way she does. She is human and good women’s fiction is all about humanity.

That is the first key to writing women's fiction--it must maintain a theme of humanity throughout for your characters and their situations to be believable.

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