I’ve been exploring Women’s Fiction, and one of the things that I’ve discovered is that it doesn’t follow any particular format. Each WF book has a common theme: women’s problems and how they overcome them. It also has a common story arc: the woman has an issue that deeply affects her, which she handles (or hides from) in different ineffective ways until she finally confronts the problem and deals with it, which makes her stronger and more able to move on.
It’s a formula, of course, but as James Scott Bell announced in the course I attended, the reason successful writers adhere to formulas is because–let’s say it all together, kids–they work.
So the formula of the novel is the same across all WF novels, but the format? It’s as different as the authors who write in the genre. I posted on AuthorCulture about the difference in format between Romance and Romantic Women’s Fiction–particularly the difference in POV placement and interaction with the main character. In Romance, the novel virtually always begins with the heroine’s POV, is limited to two POV characters max–the hero and the heroine, and each POV has equal time and depth. Each character’s primary thoughts are of the other.
In RWF, the novel virtually always begins in the heroine’s POV, but the hero’s POV is introduced later, gets less attention and is less in depth. The heroine doesn’t spend as much time concentrating on him, but the hero focuses primarily on her, and is often waiting in the wings for her to come to grips with whatever issue she’s facing so she can move forward with him.
But not all WF involves romantic relationships. Mother-daughter, sister-sibling, wife-husband–each of these relationships and more can be examined in Women’s Fiction, and with these, POV number and placement apparently has no rules. From what I can tell, you can have as many or as few POV characters as it takes to tell the story. First person, third person, past tense, present tense, or a mix of them all can be employed to get the story across.
For instance, in Elvis Takes a Backseat, a novel about a woman who had to face her husband’s death and some residual anger resulting from it, Leanna Ellis wrote the entire novel in first person, present tense. But in Lookin’ Back, Texas, about a married woman who had to deal with a major issue in her past, Leanna used two POV characters: Suzanne, the heroine, is in first person, present tense, and Drew, the POV character representing the “issue in her past,” is in third person, past tense.
The Memory of Water, a literary WF by Karen White, is entirely different. The book studies two sisters’ relationship which was broken by a single event. It focuses on their separate memories and reactions to that event, and how those reactions affect others in their lives. Each character involved in this story has first-person POV time–the sisters, and one’s son and ex-husband. The two sisters, Marnie and Diana, tell their stories of life since the event, and they tell their impression of each other. By virtue of the fact they’re both emotionally damaged to some degree, neither POV is totally reliable as a source of information. Quinn, Diana’s ex-husband is more so and fills in some blanks, but the answers to most of the blanks are locked away in the sisters’ memories. The fourth character, Gil, Diana’s son, triggers the present events when he comes home from a sailing jaunt with his mother and is so traumatized, he doesn’t speak again. To heal her sister’s son, the main character, Marnie must reopen old memories and wounds, and force herself and her sister to deal with the event that affected the rest of their lives.
I could say that Literary Women’s Fiction uses more POVs than other WF novels, but then I’d have to look at While I was Gone, by Sue Miller, also literary, but limited to the heroine’s POV, as is To Be Sung Underwater, a novel by Tom McNeil which begins with a prologue in a masculine POV that isn’t presented again for the rest of the book.
So other than what I would consider “rules” for Romantic Women’s Fiction, which are necessary to differentiate it from straight Romance, anything goes where POV is concerned for Women’s Fiction. Whatever it takes to tell the story.