Chick Lit: Which Comes First, The Chick Or The Lit?

By: Laurel Osterkamp

How many times has a boyfriend or husband dismissed a movie you wanted to see as just another "chick flick", refusing to go, and dragged you to see an action film instead? It seems that any sort of entertainment that is created specifically by women for women has a stigma attached to it, and is often disregarded as superficial fluff. This is not simply true for movies anymore, but for books as well, with the fairly recent emergence of the genre "chick lit."

These books often have pastel covers with pictures of shoes or cocktails or both, and they usually have a single everywoman-type-heroine, complete with dieting woes and dating insecurities. And while it is true these books frequently follow some familiar conventions, many are receiving an ill-deserved reputation.

The really good chick lit books are by authors who haven't forgotten that lit stands for literature, and they manage to create complex stories with subtle characters and universal themes. And - here's the truly difficult part - they do so while employing the conventions that chick lit readers have come to love and expect.

Achieving this is not easy. One must ask, when writing chick lit, which comes first: the chick, or the lit?

The Chick

So just what do chick lit readers expect when picking up a novel? While this list is in no ways complete, it is a start:

&bullA heroine with a good sense of humor
&bullCharacters who are dealing with real-life problems concerning career choices and/or family issues
&bullFocus on relationships
&bullDescription of settings that are urban or in some way exotic
&bullA story with an element of romance, however, romance does not have to be the focus of the story
&bullEmphasis on other relationships, like with girlfriends

In addition, a lot of chick lit books use conventions that have made the stereotypes about these books true. Listed below are some of the more blatant ones:
&bullA heroine who loves shoes and martinis
&bullA story set in either London or NYC
&bullThe main character works in publishing, PR, or some equally glamorous profession
&bullA plot that is driven by the flakiness and insecurities of the heroine, who is always getting herself into jams due to her foibles.
&bullOutrageous and quirky supporting characters which include family members, childhood friends, and work-buddies
&bullSex scenes that are either hinted at or told in detail
&bullAn elusive guy with a hip name who, for whatever reason, won't commit to a relationship with the main character (at least until the end of the book)

When writing the chick component of chick lit, it is important to include at least a couple of the elements from list "A". However, if you want to make your book easily identifiable as chick lit, go a step further and throw in some elements from list "B" as well.

The Lit

So you've figured out which chick conventions your story is going to include, and it is time to write it. But now comes the more difficult part. How do you turn your story into literature?

First, we need an understanding of just what literature is. I like this definition, found on Yahoo definitions:

Imaginative or creative writing, especially of recognized artistic value: "Literature must be an analysis of experience and a synthesis of the findings into a unity" (Rebecca West).
Let's break the definition down into three parts.

1. Imagination and creativity - In Emily Giffin's Something Borrowed, Rachel is a big-city lawyer who has always been too busy for a relationship. Then she falls for Dex, and must learn to balance love and career. Sounds like standard chick lit, right? Except Giffin does the unexpected by making Dex already engaged to Darcy, Rachel's oldest childhood friend. The fact that Rachel has a full-blown affair with Dex, while lying to Darcy, should make her an unlikable character. But the opposite is true. Through imagination and creativity Giffin creates flawed and complex characters, and an equally complex story that distinguishes itself from other, less imaginative tales.

2.Artistic Value - Many a writing instructor has issued this demand to his/her students - "Show, don't tell!" But what does that mean? Consider this passage:

"It's been so cloudy and overcast, and I'm left feeling depressed and blah. I wish there was some way I could escape the weather and my emotions."

Not bad, huh? But with a little effort, this passage could be a lot better, showing the reader the narrator's situation, rather than telling us about it. Now consider this passage, from What My Mother Doesn't Know, by Sonja Sones:

"Heavy clouds hang low like a thick gray soup boiling overhead. I'm gray through and through. Even my thoughts are gray. If I cut my finger, I'd bleed gray blood."

See the difference? The first passage describes the grayness of the mood. The second passage goes a step further, causing us to recognize a gray feeling of our own through simile, hyperbole, and example.

3.Analysis, Synthesis, and Unity - This simply means putting some thought behind the events in your story, combining the events in a meaningful way, and finding a unity, or theme, by doing so.

For example, Elizabeth Buchan's novel, Everything She Thought She Wanted centers around two very separate women. Sienna is living in modern-day England, pursuing her glamorous and successful career as a fashion consultant. Meanwhile, Barbara exists in 1959, and is having an affair with a much younger man after spending her youth caring for her husband and children. While the two stories told in this novel are quite different, they both center on the sacrifices women are asked to make for their family, and the price of motherhood. By the end, we are led to a meaningful connection between these two women living very different lives, and a unified theme on the complexities of love emerges.

In conclusion, it is possible to write a fun, hip, and commercially successful chick lit novel that is also creative, artistic, and meaningful. Just decide which conventions you want to follow, then put in the time to make your writing a cut above the rest. It may not be easy, but with some effort you just might create the perfect balance between chick and lit!

Book Review
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 

» More on Book Review