I’m currently writing a contemporary novel and I’ve been thinking about how different the writing style for contemporary is. I mean, I’ve written a combined 200,000 words for fantasy novels. That’s two and a half books. My head and heart has been completely taken by the fantasy world. When I’m not writing fantasy, I’m at least plotting my next fantasy project.
Switching to contemporary is like throwing on the brakes on a fast moving car. Has it messed with my writing groove? Maybe a tiny bit. But I love this project a lot and I am giving it my heart. Even if it messes with my brain a tiny bit to not have leprechauns walking around Center City Philly.
I’ve had to stop and think through how scenes are flowing together and what my character are experiencing in their – and my – world.
Contemporary writing isn’t all terrible, and it’s not the absolute greatest genre. You’ve probably already guessed that I’ve been compiling lists of pros and cons as I’m writing this project. (It’s kind of wonderful when you’re current project can turn into a really great blog post)
Pro – Some Familiarity with the Setting
The cool thing abut my current project is I’ve lived in Philadelphia for two summers. I know the city. Those parking meters that run out of money and guarantee you a parking ticket? Yeah, I’ve gotten one. Reading Terminal that offers the absolute best food in the city? I love it as much as my characters. Those sweltering summer days that melted everything and left you craving Rita’s Ice, yep, I survived those summers.
And don’t forget the evil traffic. Evil roads. Evil traffic. It simply cannot be forgotten.
I know not every contemporary happens in a city the author is familiar with. But the awesome thing about contemporary is you can visit the setting. And even contemporaries set a few years back or forward, the setting is still super accessible. Most of the time, just a flight away, right?
Con – You Can Never Know the Setting Well Enough
Every scene I write, I doubt. More than I ever did while writing fantasy. Part of my self-doubt, is not knowing the setting well enough. Or at least, what I consider well enough.
Yes, I lived in Philly for two summers. but I’m not a native Philadelphian. I don’t know what the winter is like, or the actual college life, or even the party scene, ha! I don’t even root for the Eagles, because I’m a Cowboys fan. I am definitely not from Philly.
If I make up something, I really, super worry that readers will know it’s not true. I google restaurants like crazy. I spend time reading menus just to know what food my characters should order. It’s crazy! I want to be more familiar. But it’s not like I can drop out of my college to enroll for a semester in Philly.
The frustration of NOT knowing the setting well enough.
I’ve had to realize I will never be familiar enough. There is always going to be someone more familiar with he city than me. My experience doesn’t mean everything to everyone.
Pro – Fact checking is easy
Research and fact checking with contemporary books is so easy. At least compared to research historical or fantasy books. It can be super tricky to find the facts for things that happened before the age of cameras, internet, and even paper.
Now, for my book, if I need to check what classes my girl is talking at Temple U, I just look at the required classes for her major. I can create an entire semester plan just by googling classes. Super easy and fun.
It’s so accessible. I can find out so much from social media about life at college, I mean Instagram is fantastic. And of course, everything’s on Facebook, right?
Me and My list of fact-checking piles.
Con – Fact checking is a nightmare
This kind of goes with my thoughts about my self-doubt and making everything as authentic as possible. There’s just so much you can research and it’s hard to know when to stop. Do I need to know the price of drinks on campus? How many campus dollars do students get each semester? Oh, while I’m reaserching all that, let me look at these 3D tours of the ALL the campus housing options.
When I was researching for a World War II writing project, I though the research was bad. I spent days in a local library reading all I could about Holland, and the occupation. And tulips. But the research felt a tad manageable? Because the books aren’t exactly endless. And the Wikipedia pages eventually have to run out.
But current events research goes on forever? There’s Facebook and Twitter and Wikipedia, and actual webpages for cities and colleges and local news. This last week, I was literally googling for trending Twitter topics from August 2016. It’s never ending.
It feels like every paragraph or so, I’m stopping to check out the research. Can I mention this concert or singer? What movie came out this month? How much were movie tickets in 2016, anyway? AGHGHGHGHGHG.
It is an endless cycle. And knowing when to just stop researching is CRAZY HARD.
Pro – Social media is a fun tool!
Social Media is fun to include in a contemporary novel. And unless your characters live in an internet free bubble they really have to engage in some sort of social media. If does change with the time and age.
Facebook is really for old people, right? But still perfect for stalking. You can know so much about random people in just a few minutes of hunting around. (especially if you’re checking out a potential date, right?)
Writing social media into books can be fun! It’s something I’ve engaged with a lot, and having my characters message each other on instagram and snap chatting is part of their life. I also love trending tags on twitter, and having a character be active on twitter is right up my alley.
Con – Social media is an actual monster
But social media is never just easy. It’s a headache in real life and in books, too. Twitter can be full of trolls that mess with your peace of mind. People can be mean. And way too nosy. Everyone gets creepy dms. Ergh.
Social media is a ton of pressure. What you can say, what kind of pictures to post, worrying about what people think. And the actual time all of it takes.
I think having social media in stories needs to be authentic. Writing social media authentically is challenging. I’m always wondering if I’m being too cheesy or not real enough. And trying to figure out how much social media is too much social media for this story and characters.
Contemporary writing is always engaging. It makes me think about my own, very modern life. I look at my feelings and problems in a different way. And of curse, I’ve been reading a ton more contemporary to get a feel for how well-written other contemporary is done.
Me, every time I recognize a pop culture reference in a contemporary book
It’s funny how some stories emphasize social media, or school, or current events more than others. I love books that mention Hamilton while the idea of actually knowing someone on Tumblr is just weird.
Oh, and I’ve realized the weird things contemporary characters can do that just doesn’t happen in fantasy. Like, watching movies. Or being able to instantly google answers. And even the convenience of cars and popping food in the microwave. All these things I just take for granted and just write on the page so easily in contemporary.
What do you think about writing contemporary?
Do you like stories that include social media? Are you a fan of book settings that are really familiar? Would you like to visit settings from books?
Do you like books that have lots of pop culture references? Especially Hamilton?
What are some of your favorite contemporary books?