Women’s fiction is a broad category – too broad, really, since women’s interests are as varied as women themselves. (We don’t have ‘men’s fiction’, after all.)
Teasing out the heart of fiction women may enjoy lies, possibly, in relationship – and these can be romantic, but also historical or contemporary, comic or serious, commercial or literary. A rollercoaster plot alone may seem insubstantial without heart and drama, stemming from character and relational dynamism.
Without reverting to sweeping generalisation (since we all need light and serious fiction), reading women need and often demand similarly thoughtful reading material.
We’ve asked one expert – Julia Hamilton, author of Forbidden Fruits and other acclaimed novels – to have her say on what works, what doesn’t and what literary agents are after.
What exactly is ‘women’s fiction’? And what differentiates it from ‘romance’?
Statistics tell us that women read more than men and they buy more books than men, thus the concerns of women’s lives are very important to today’s market. Women’s fiction includes romance – a big, serious market producing big serious revenues – but women’s fiction, just like the women who read it, has evolved to include subjects and themes that range beyond the constraints of romance. Literary agents will respond especially to work taking old genres and reworking them in new ways.
Women’s fiction is a growing market that includes many facets of other genres: it can be literary, it can be commercial, it can be contemporary or it can be a multi-generational saga, witness the success of Rosamund Pilcher. In all cases, however, the woman is the star of the story and her changes and emotional development are the subject..
The heart of the story may include romance but it is invariably a novel driven by a relationship at the very core of the plot.
Women’s fiction tends to be longer, about 100,000 words or more, but it can be as short as 50,000 words plus. Longer women’s fiction allows the development of multi-layered, multi-charactered subplots. There’ll be more introspection and description and buckets of backstory.
A man may be waiting for the heroine of these novels, but he’s not the centre of events. You have stories of sisters or women’s friendships. Every major publisher knows relationships are all and there is almost always a life-affirming resolution, even if the story is a sad one.
If you’re interested in writing women’s fiction, then you must read it in all its glorious diversity. If you’re not reading it, you probably won’t be writing it. Don’t worry about where the story will take you – just do it.