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What is the Difference Between Romance and Women's Fiction?

Updated on June 10, 2013

What is Romance?

Romance has evolved in many ways over the years but one thing remains true: its novels always have some concern over the romantic love between two or more people. Furthermore, it always rewards the good people and penalizes the wrong doers. Although similar to women's fiction, the two genres are considered to be separate.

In the United States alone, romance novels take up the majority of sales for paperbacks, with buyers purchasing, at times, three books a month to keep up with their addiction. Despite its obvious popularity, it is still heavily criticized and dismissed by many readers as "trashy" or even the lowest class of literature because of its usually predictable plots, sexual scenes, and emotionally satisfying and optimistic endings.

What is Women's Fiction?

While you will never hear someone refer to a book as a piece of "men's fiction," you may have heard the term "women's fiction" plenty of times. Women's fiction is a very general term referring to a books that target female audiences and strive to empower its readers. Women's fiction can also be referred to as "chick lit."

According to Wikipedia, the Romance Writers of America defines women's fiction as, "a commercial novel about a woman on the brink of life change and personal growth. Her journey details emotional reflection and action that transforms her and her relationships with others, and includes a hopeful/upbeat ending with regard to her romantic relationship."

According to RWA.org, Women make up 91% of romance book buyers, and men make up 9%.
According to RWA.org, Women make up 91% of romance book buyers, and men make up 9%. | Source

Romance and Women's Fiction

Do you read romance novels or women's fiction?

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Differences Between Women's Fiction and Romance

So, what is the difference between women's fiction and romance? While both genre's audiences tend to be female and their story lines are guaranteed to have a little romance, there are a few major differences between the two. For example, while romance tends to focus a lot on the heroine's relationship with its hero, a chick lit (or women's fiction) novel tends to pay equal attention to the heroine's relationships with family and friends alongside her new/future beau.

In addition, there are quite a few basic rules that romance novels strictly adhere to, while women's fiction is allowed a little more leniency with how the story is told, its ending, etc. Here are three very basic rules for the romance novel:

1. The "happily ever after" ending

If you follow every rule for a romance novel and neglect to give it that optimistic, happy ending, it is not considered romance by its most devoted fans. Instead, it is called a "relationship novel." I had no idea such a thing existed before researching for this article, but I assume that's basically when it would fall into the category of women's fiction rather than romance.

2. No love triangles

As interesting as they may be to any good story and as surprising as this rule may seem, love triangles are not technically allowed in romance fiction. Why? Well, if they were, then someone would not get their "happily ever after" ending. All romances focus on a couple coming together and falling in love. A third person in that simple picture just means heartbreak.

3. Let the heroine be the focus

Perhaps it's just part of the whole "targeting female readers" aspect of the romance novel but they are almost always told from the heroine's perspective. Another reason can be attributed to the fact that a female storyteller is a lot more likely to provide readers with a more emotional connection for their readers than a male would.

Unlike romance novels, women's fiction can do pretty much whatever it wants. The only focus that it has is on the emotional growth of a women and especially women's empowerment. Instead of focusing entirely on romance, women's fiction branches out to center on a woman and her issues, telling her story and leaving the reader with a new lesson or a feeling of empowerment. Romance, on the other hand, is more focused to satisfying some emotions and sexual desires for its readers.

Women's fiction may not seem like it's meant for male readers but there are plenty of men writers and fans of this genre.
Women's fiction may not seem like it's meant for male readers but there are plenty of men writers and fans of this genre. | Source

Women's Fiction Versus Romance

I must say that, although female, I am not an avid reader of either genres. I was first introduced to the romance realm while in college. There, for a class on publishing, were were forced to take our first steps into the romance novel and share with the class each of our thoughts. Why? Well, since romance is such a powerful force in the reading world, it was important for us studying publishing to get an idea of what it was through experience, rather than just discuss its popularity. Only a handful of us had ever read one before and just a few of those actually enjoyed reading them at all.

It was only after college, while reading books of my own choice at my leisure, that I finally got my hands on a book that fell within the realm of women's fiction. Although neither genre would be my pit stop in rampage in a bookstore on a shopping spree, both genres have their place in the literature world.

Between the two, it seems that women's fiction is more in depth and less predictable than the romance novel. Both still share some similarities, other than their intended audience. For example, both work to satisfy a woman's secret fantasy, whether it is to fall in love with a prince or travel to a whole other country. Second, they somehow aim to relate to the reader's lives somehow, whether it be a character flaw or a conflict the heroine must face. Third, they both are, surprisingly, written by men as well as women.

In the end, the central difference between romance and women's fiction is that romance purely focuses on a romantic relationship between two characters that always ends happily. It is a fantasy world and is written purely to entertain its female readers. Women's fiction, on the other hand, is all about the female journey. Books within the genre aim to empower women and provide them with a story that may help them cope with a situation or make them better understand what it means to be a woman.

The question as to what is the difference between women's fiction and romance seems simple but so many lines can be blurred that often it is difficult to separate the two. Some readers may not appreciate labels on different books but I think it is important to separate the two.

© 2013 Lisa

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    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 

      5 years ago from Taos, NM

      Very interesting and informative, Lisa. I never stopped to consciously think of the two categories, but now that you have written this, I see and read both. I like to read both of these when I have just read a very intensive novel or a classic and want to relax and just read a novel for fun. I think all these types of novels have a place in the writing world. Thanks for defining this and for sharing your knowledge.

    • CroftRoan profile image

      Kate Rolands 

      5 years ago

      I'm glad someone understands the difference. I'm a huge fan of women's fiction but romance novels don't hold my attention because of their focus on the relationship between the heroine and hero. In general I don't care about it as anything more than a development point and I have read romance novels where the heroine relies too much on her man, making her weak for most of the story.

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