Oct 5, 2007

Standing Up for Chick Lit

OK, I'm really mad. I checked a book out of the library yesterday. Normally, I don't just choose a book without reading author reccomendations, etcetera, but I needed something new. This book looked, from the pink cover and scrapbook title, to be chick-lit, and I was reassured by the legitimate publishing label (bantam trade paperback). I love to read, and I read a wide range of material, anything from the Princess Diaries to Hemingway and really old classics such as Ivanhoe. And I'm the kind of person who picks up a book, and finishes it even if she isn't initially engaged in the plot/dialogue/style of the author. I just love to read.

But I draw the line every once in a rare while. I do not, for instance, read explicitly sexual books. Ever. A passing reference as part of a storyline, I can accept. A P-G-13 scene, I will skim through and continue where the plot picks up. But anything overtly sexual, anything that would bear a "R" rating if it were seen on the big screen, I do not participate in. And I hardly ever come across anything like that, either, because my tastes do not run to that area of fiction. The Harlequins I enjoy are from the 50's and 60's, when they were still bright and cheery and innocent and hilariously fifties-housewife-ish.

This book was trash. The woman who wrote it wanted to sell porn, and she sold it under the name of chick lit. The problem I have with this is: chick lit is not porn. It is usually a light, humorous story based around the lives of women; their troubles and the ways they resolve them, their jokey interpretation of relationships and being a woman in modern society. This I LOVE. This is girl power, this is laughing to make troubles seem less awful, this is woman at her best. In my own opinion, that is. NOt really serious, maybe not classifiable as real literature, but worth something nonetheless.

So, Ms. Kauffman, I will here outline the differences between the Modern Harlequin and Chick Lit. Just in case you ever attempt a foray into the writing world again, and I sense that you will. Unfortunately.


#1: If you want to write a chick lit book and not harlequin, you cannot dwell on the gorgeous appearance of your main character. In REAL literature, gorgeousness is not essential to the plot of the book. A quality writer can make her character attractive without describing dusky tresses, curvaceous body, and without resorting to scenes reminiscent of a pin-up calendar. For instance, in the Shopaholic series, all we know about Rebecca Bloomwood is that she doesn't have blond hair, she's of average height and possibly is slim with normal-sized feet. And we don't get this in one big description avalanche at the beginning of the story.

#2: You cannot promise an interesting plot and then fail to deliver. And I'll tell you right now, spending one chapter on the plot with little to no description, and revisiting it only occasionally throughout the rest of the novel, whenever the whim happens to take you, is failing to deliver. The plot has to be in EVERY MOMENT of the book. You cannot throw over the plot in favor of more glowing description of hero and heroine, and their relationship, no matter how innocent. Yes, this can come into play, but it ought to be a part of the PLOT, or at least somehow vaguely related.

#3: Speaking of said relationship between hero and heroine, it ought to not be an easy accomplishment. Meaning, they ought to have a hard time getting together. It should happen at the end, or perhaps should start at the beginning with a tension-building interruption somewhere in the middle so that the reader does not become bored with the relationship. Sex will keep the interest of (some) readers, but will turn off others. And it's a fairly cheap trick, and it sends the wrong message. Sex can NEVER replace a plot.

#4: Speaking of the Hero, if you make him physically stunning, witty and charming, always polite and pleasant to be around, and the head of a large company or inheritor of a family estate, he won't be real to your readers. You can do maybe one, maybe TWO of these things, but he Must Have A Flaw. Or at least a few quirky traits that distinguish him as an individual. Or else he will be like Ken Doll, or like those life-size cutouts of Han Solo that some college girls like to keep in their apartments. Of course, if you whole point is pornography, this isn't any real problem... who wants to get involved in the emotional journey of a porn star? But we're talking about writing chick lit, not modern Harlequins.

#5: Clothing does not need to be described in great detail, unless it is essential to the plot. (See, shopoholic series). It is hardly ever essential to the plot.

#6: If you're going to include sexuality of any kind in your plot, don't involve us as readers in such a way that it would make us uncomfortable. Anything I wouldn't want to see through my neighbor's window, please don't describe. A good way to lose ALL sympathy for any character you have written is to write him or her doing things that make the reader uncomfortable/disugst them.

OK, Rant Over.

You'd better be reading this, Ms. Kauffman. Because if you continue to dirty the name of chick lit, as a potential author of the same genre, I will have a personal account to settle with you.


Janell said...

I entirely agree with your distinction of what makes chick lit/fluff and what makes porn.

I do enjoy the first Shopaholic book =) The second was too much like the first to hold my interest.

Lucy Stern said...

Well said, my dear, well said.

I have been going over to suzie q's blog and reading about her Great grandmother and her writing is awesome. She describes the life of her grandmother in the late 1800's to early 1900's with great detail. I have learned so much from her. It makes me think about the pioneers and what life might have been like for them. Go take a look at her blog.

NoSurfGirl said...

which one is suzie q's?

??? Give me a link, lucy! I'd love to read it.

jayne bowers said...

Great points. Sometimes I wonder, however, if some gals (chicks?) read the type of literature you're referring to because they desperately need to escape their narrow, boring lives. I'm not taking up for it by any means..."just sayin." Also, you're a notch above many of the readers (probably all) who read this author's fiction so your taste is naturally more refined.

I just finished Blessings by Anna Quindlen, a great read...and probably more chick lit than gender neutral.

P.S. Love your Blog background.
P.P.S. My blog is MarlaJayne at WordPress, but in order to leave a post here I'm using my password for our psychology blog, Shrink Rapping. It's on blogspot.

NoSurfGirl said...

I agree with you, Jayne... I know that lots of women read this type of fiction because of what they don't have, or because they feel a need for excitement, and seek it in that way.
I guess my objection is, then don't call it chick lit, or market it as such. I'm such a snob!! :(:( But thanks for saying my taste is refined... despite the fact that i read chick lit. Lol.