Women’s fiction has been around for a long time. During that time, it has changed a little, but not much. According to Wikipedia, women’s fiction is an umbrella term for women centered books that focus on women’s life experiences that are marketed to female readers, and includes many mainstream novels. According to Rebecca Vnuk, an expert on women’s fiction, it generally a “novel that explores the lives of female protagonists, focusing on all kinds of relationships, be it lovers, spouses, parents, children, friends, or members of a community.”
Unfortunately, for reasons I don’t fully understand, women’s fiction has decreased in popularity, and yes, you can read into that decreases in sales. Romance Writers of America has stopped including the category in its acceptable genres for the RITA Award. The RWA Women’s Fiction chapter went practically defunct, although I hear they are making a resurgence.
A new sub-genre is emerging that combines the ever popular romance and the tried and true women’s fiction. Yes, it’s romantic women’s fiction. Both of the women’s fiction novels I’ve written actually fall into that sub-genre and my publisher has agreed to create a separate romantic women’s fiction section on its Soul Mate website. A step in the right direction.
So, what would this new sub-genre consist of? The way I look at it is that it’s kind of romance on steroids. A romance and then some.
The main thrust of romance novels must be boy vs girl. Boy meets girl, there are conflicts that keep them apart, then boy and girl realize they are meant for each other. When you look at it, that’s a pretty narrow guideline. Sometimes an author will throw in a cute child to help draw the couple together or keep them at loggerheads. Other times, a hero/heroine’s parent, usually only one for some reason, is part of the support structure for one of the protagonists. Occasionally, there is a best friend to bounce angst off.
In romantic women’s fiction, the heroes’ families, friends and relatives are often part and parcel of the story. In my newest novel, Uncharted Fate, the father of a young family is suddenly killed. His wife, Anna, grieves but so do his children, albeit in different ways. The son Brian, eight, feels he is responsible for his father’s death. The daughter Mallory, thirteen, who was always Daddy’s Girl, gets into a bad crowd, is picked up for shoplifting, and starts doing drugs. The hero comes into the story as the detective Jeff Thomas, who arrests the daughter and becomes involved in the dysfunctional family.
You can see that there are three threads running through this story. There is Brian’s story, Mallory’s story, and the Anna’s story both in caring for her grieving family and in learning to live again through her involvement with Jeff. It’s far more than mere romance. It’s romance and then some.
To my mind, a story like the one above is richer and more interesting than straight romance. But then perhaps I’m prejudiced. Romantic women’s fiction is more closely aligned to real life because, chances are, a hero or heroine is affected by the persons around him whether he wants to be or not. The romance is key, but the children’s stories are a close second. It’s nearly like an ensemble television series, only with more serious and far-reaching character connections.
Some conflicts with characters are long-term and affect the outcome of the romantic relationship from the get-go. An abusive father, and an alcoholic mother come to mind. They have shaped the hero or heroine in his/her distant past, making the person shy of relationships or abusive to loved ones or whatever.
Other relations with secondary characters are okay until certain events pertaining to the developing love relationship precipitate conflict and change. For instance, in my first book, Windswept, David and Matt are best friends in their law firm and have been since college. When David’s marriage with Caroline is in trouble, Matt makes a move on her. Below is what happens between the (former) friends when David finds out his buddy has always had a thing for his wife.
“David came around his desk and paced the carpet of his office then turned back to face Matt. “You have a lot of nerve–” He grabbed Matt by the lapels of his expensive suit and thought seriously about hitting him.
“Yeah, I have nerve,” Matt retorted, leaping up himself to stand practically nose to nose with his former best friend. “I have the nerve I should have had a long time ago.” The two men backed up until they stood a few feet apart, measuring each other up. Each knew the other as well as he knew himself. Except when it came to something like this because nothing like this had ever come up.
“Why are you telling me this?” asked David, crossing his arms over his chest. “Why not just go about your business seducing my wife behind my back?”
“Because I want to be fair.”
“You think it’s fair for you to be making plans to take my place in my home in my bed with my wife?”
“You’re separated from her.”
“I can take care of that,” Matt replied, raising his eyebrows.
David was getting madder and madder as the conversation went on. Suddenly, he snapped and charged at Matt with an uppercut that landed on his cheekbone, sending Matt flying backward against the door. “You leave yourself out of our affairs,” David shouted. He was shaking and visibly trying to control himself. He knew this was not the time or the place to deal with this, but he was too furious to really care what anyone heard or thought.
“I have been doing, and will continue to do, whatever is best for Caroline,” Matt said as he stood up, his palm covering his rapidly swelling cheek.
“If you sleep with her I’ll kill you!”
As you can see, the outcome of Matt’s feelings for Caroline is bound to affect her feelings about David and their marriage. Suddenly, she has someone who is declaring his long-time love for her, pitted against an angst-filled David working to try and make himself worthy once more of her love. The couple, David and Caroline, are trying to save their marriage and the specter of Matt’s feelings have a profound influence on their struggle.
Not all secondary characters in romantic women’s fiction have such a direct bearing on the love between the man and the woman but they all influence it in some way. Their struggles in the book are, at the very least, pulls on the attention that the protagonist would rather spend on his/her love. At most, they directly impact the growing love in the novel.
I believe these secondary relationships are necessary to romance, as I said earlier. They’re a fuller picture of the environment love is growing in. It’s realistic, it’s accurate, and it’s necessary, to my mind.
Romantic women’s fiction is a sub-genre not a full genre, but I feel the aspects that set it apart from contemporary romance make the books more rich and much stronger.
Bio: My hubby and I moved to Buffalo, NY, to be with our daughters and grandchildren, so you can see that family is very important to us. We spend as much time with our wee grandchildren because we know what a short time they are little. I have written since I was a teen and was, at various times, a reporter, an editor, and an author. I joined RWA with my daughter Cassandra and we have each had great success since then.
In my spare time, we like to travel, especially to warmer climes in the middle of winter, swim in our pool here at home, read and watch hockey. We’re big fans of the Buffalo Sabres. My hubby is a runner and I am a watcher—I watch him run. LOL I will read anything, including a cereal box but I draw the line at phone books.
A young family’s lives are destroyed when the man of the house, Mike, is killed by a crazed criminal on his way home from work. Left virtually penniless, the family flounders under a mortgage suddenly too large, a teenage daughter so traumatized she becomes involved in drugs and stealing, and a younger son who believes it is his fault God took his father. Anna is now the head of a one parent family and must look for a job, with no experience and an irrelevant degree. Out of her element, out of money and without her first love, Anna struggles to cope.
Jeff Thomas is a divorced detective who brings in Anna’s daughter Mallory when she’s caught shoplifting and then finds himself entangled in the family’s trouble. As times goes on, he realizes he’s also falling in love with Anna. Can he take Mike’s place in Anna’s life and in that of her family? Before Jeff has hardly begun to try, a dangerous situation threatens to determine the fate of the woman he’s come to love and Jeff is the one person who can save her.