Thursday, April 28, 2011

Is it Chick Lit? Or Romantic Comedy?

First of all, I loved, loved, loved Erynn's post this week about the horrors of public speaking. That is also something I wasn't exactly thinking about when I was writing my first manuscript.

Everyone who knows me, even a little bit, knows that I'm not exactly shy in the least. In fact, I've been accused more than once of a being a "chatty Cathy." My seventh grade English teacher even took it a gruesome step further, once declaring that I had "diarrhea of the mouth." Ick. But as much as I love to talk, there's still always been something about getting in front of a big crowd of people (even if it was just making an announcement in church) that downright terrified me.

So naturally, when it came time to promote my book, I found myself very, very nervous whenever I knew I'd be talking in front of a crowd. I couldn't eat beforehand, and I desperately needed coffee to ward off that sick feeling in my stomach. But most of the time, that pre-speaking caramel macchiato only made it worse (hello acid reflux).

Strangely enough, though, a funny thing always happened after I was introduced and actually started speaking into that microphone—suddenly, my nerves went away. It was all the anticipation, the knowing that I was going to speak in front of a crowd, that ultimately freaked me out.

I spoke at a writer's event one evening and like a good author, I had this whole elaborate thing written down about market trends and what people should keep in mind if they're hoping to get published, only to ditch the entire thing once I reached the podium. For whatever reason, it simply didn't feel right (not exactly the time to be changing your mind, but I went for it anyway), so I ended up telling my story about my crazy road to becoming a journalist and author instead. And it was a big hit...

So I guess the lesson there (just like with your writing) is to always go with your gut. Funny enough, that's the perfect segue into what I was actually going to talk about today. A loyal Scribble Chicks reader e-mailed me this week and asked if there was a difference between chick lit and what I call my work...namely, a romantic comedy in book form.

Well, as promised, here's my secret, Tonya—not really.

Like all good things, the term "chick lit" had a pretty great run before everyone deemed it "so yesterday." I guess like anything else, people had their fill of pink books with shoe-obsessed protagonists. And while I'll always maintain that happy endings with smart female protagonists will never go out of style (hello Jane Austen), I quickly realized that when my books released that I needed to intentionally create a little distance between them and the word "chick lit."

For whatever reason, when your book was classified as such, people had a hard time thinking of it as anything but a sugary trifle, the proverbial "beach read." Of course, I have no problem with either because sometimes, you just want to freely enjoy your reading without thinking too much. But since I'd put so much thought into the characters, the conflict, the storyline for my novels, I didn't want to market my work as "chick lit" when it had so many negative connotations.

So what could I call my work that would have more mass material? Suddenly, I started thinking about all those romantic comedies that I review on a regular basis. For a good long while, there had been so many that fell way short of anything that I'd watch over and over again. The storylines were so tired. The dialogue so banal. And then it clicked. What I was really writing is a romantic comedy that I happened to enjoy—a rom-com with a little food for thought.

Hmmm, I seemed to be on to something there.

After that lightbulb moment, I officially stopped calling my work "chick lit" and referred to it as romantic comedy instead because really, it was just that. There was plenty of romance but it was funny to boot (or at least I thought so). But at the end of the day, it wasn't just that either. I think the best romantic comedies say a little something more, too.

In Harry Met Sally we ultimately learn that friendship is integral to any successful relationship and that sex is shallow without actual living, breathing commitment. In Runaway Bride, we learn that we have to figure out who we really are, not merely adopt the likes and dislikes of whoever we're dating because it's easier that way. And in Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers, I hoped to leave readers with the message that we should never settle—whether it's in our career dreams, our friendships, or even more importantly, with whom we choose to spend the rest of our lives with.

I guess what I'm saying is, whenever you're thinking about what you're writing, don't be afraid to think outside the marketing box, too. With so many novels clamoring for people's attention these days, it's crucial to make sure your work stands apart. But instead of ditching the genre you love writing in just because it's considered passé, why not reimagine it instead?

After all, if you try and tailor what you love writing to whatever's trendy at the moment, it may not be the impression you really want to make anyway. Plus, there's a good chance it'll be out of fashion before it even hits the shelf. A better track is to write what you love and give it your very best, and I believe there will always be someone who'll want to read. You just may have to get clever with what you actually call it...


  1. I think you described exactly what I want to write! A lot of chick lit doesn't have much depth to it but I tend to like it :) but have always strived to have a message in it! So rom-com it is. Thanks

  2. Thanks Betsy! Don't you love moments of clarity!

    Do you think you can learn about novel writing from watching movies? I've been thinking about that today, Christa, how you said you remembered all the movies that pan out satisfactorily so it makes me wonder if thats a good springboard for ideas?
    Take a movie blurb (like the one sentence thing they have) you thought you'd like but didn't & make it how you see it should be! Is that plagiarism?

  3. I think we can learn so much about storytelling in movies, particularly in terms of foreshadowing and what details matter and which don't. The best movies are great guides dialogue-wise and for establishing characters' unique mannerisms and matters of speaking. And using a movie as a springboard for your own idea is never plagiarism as long as you truly come up with your own angle and don't rip off the dialogue. Ideas can't be copyrighted, after all. Just make sure what happens next is you and all you.

  4. I bet reading free scripts online would help with dialogue too

  5. I agree, movies teach us a lot about writing and pacing and overall story telling. You can't waste dialogue in a movie any more than you can waste it in a novel (due to word count, etc.) so it helps us learn to condense, say only what matters, etc. Watching movies can also help us as writers better describe certain looks and movements and scenery...lots of benefits there! :)