Guest Post by Donna Fasano
A note from BigAl:
A few weeks ago, I reviewed "Taking Love in Stride," a romance novel by Donna Fasano. In that review I talked about my history of reading chick lit and thinking it was romance. A few comments indicated I wasn't the only one who got these genres confused. I even got an email from the proprietor of a book related website who said she was uncertain. So, I decided to go to an expert for a definition.
Donna Fasano, whose book prompted this discussion, has had more than thirty different novels published and sold more than 3.5 million books thus far in her career. Writing for Harlequin, most of these are in the Romance genre, however there are two exceptions. "Where's Stanley," which is currently out-of-print, was published by Harlequin Next, a short-lived chick lit label. In 2009 she self-published a second chick lit novel, "The Merry-Go-Round."
Donna hasn't survived as a writer this long without being a sharp cookie and proposed a deal. I'd already reviewed two of her books here, "Taking Love in Stride," which started this conversation, and another romance novel, "Mountain Laurel." If I'd agree to repost here the review of "The Merry-Go-Round" I'd posted previously on Amazon (something I've done with a few of my older Amazon reviews) then she'd do this guest post. Can you guess what book will be reviewed tomorrow? Here is what Donna has to say:
In a recent book review, Al expressed a bit of confusion when it came to romance fiction and chick lit. My first thought was to write a witty, sharp-tongued essay meant to set him straight. However, I quickly realized that my normal inclination toward the flip and funny might come off as disrespectful to the very genres I have spent many (many!) years reading and writing. Then I decided this could be my chance to laud an entire category of literature that is so often trampled to death by people who, by design or mere ignorance, deem these books anything from inconsequential to downright harmful. But after a couple of hours spent reading what the so-called experts have to say, I lifted my gaze from one particular article written by a 'feminist theorist' and decided I cannot influence every naysayer in the world (not in a 500-word blog post, anyway); besides, that's not what was asked of me.
So in the clearest, most succinct language I can muster, here is my take on what sets apart chick lit and romance fiction:
Romance novels are books that feature a relationship arc which results in a positive ending, often described as 'happily ever after' (HEA). This relationship is the main focus of the story—one woman, one man, and their hurdle-ridden journey toward finding true and lasting love. In addition to this relationship arc, a romance will also contain one or more subplots (a.k.a. plot devices, the themes of which are various and sundry) that help to bring about the female protagonist's individual character growth.
Chick lit books focus on a female protagonist and her personal (and usually foible-filled) journey toward self-understanding and self-acceptance. In these books, the plot devices are the story. Whether the protagonist ends up with a man is not as relevant as the learning process she experiences through various situations that culminate in her resolving her issues, be they emotional, professional, etc. Chick lit is as famous for its upbeat, emotionally satisfying ending as romance fiction is for its HEA.
In my opinion, the focus is the defining element. The other components available to fiction writers (plot, conflict, characterization, etc.) can be molded to fit both of these 'sister' genres in similar if not identical ways.
Please note that the above descriptions are, at best, bare-boned. However individual writers choose to take these narrative skeletons and use them to flesh out their stories, fans of both chick lit and romance can (and do!) expect strong characters with whom they can relate and connect, and story lines that are thought-provoking as well as highly entertaining. I also feel urged to add that romance and chick lit are only two genres under the umbrella called women's fiction, a category of mass-market publishing that is diverse to the extreme. Other genres include but are not limited to, hen lit (a.k.a. matron or 'mum' lit), historical romance, paranormal romance, bonkbuster, inspirational romance, romantic comedy, erotica, western romance, and romantic suspense, and there is much 'line crossing' that takes place among these various genres.
Now that I've offered my opinion regarding the difference between romance fiction and chick lit, I'm eager to see a dialogue about how other authors and readers define these genres.