Guest Post: The World of Contemporary Fiction

Believe it or not, this blog has reached 500 posts and 15,000 comments in its short lifespan.  To celebrate, I’ve asked the author of the 15,000 comment, the wonderful Amanda, to write a blog post for us about her genre, contemporary fiction.  Enjoy.

Hi! I’m Amanda. I’m a relatively new and inexperienced blogger, but I’ve finally established my topics–writing and sort of philosophical stuff. So when Liam asked me if I’d write about my genre for him, I did so…after quite a bit of deliberation and procrastination, that is. So I now bring you my thoughts about/explanation of the contemporary fiction genre!

First of all, I noticed something. Many of the young writers I’ve met write fantasy. In fact, I can only think of a few I know who write contemporary life me or historical, sci-fi, etc. I’m not sure why, but I do know some people don’t understand contemporary. Keeping this in mind, I’ll do a little myth-busting for you.

The main thing I’ve been asked a lot when I tell another writer that I work primarily in contemporary is, “But isn’t that boring?” At first when I got this question, I kind of stared at the inquirer before replying, “Why would it be?” Since then, I’ve gotten a similar answer many times to I no longer ask. It seems that for some reason, people find the modern, “real” world boring and unspecial. Some may have a few exceptions to this–that’s when I’ll get asked about who my main characters are. I suppose if I was writing about some child prodigy or spy or something similar, it’d be “exciting.” But usually, no, I write about seemingly ordinary people who live lives that have plenty of obvious similarities to ours. Since many people find their lives boring, they tend to assume a story like that would be boring as well. Makes sense, right? Actually…no.

Some guy once said a story was life with the boring parts taken out. The contemporary genre is absolutely no exception–at least, it shouldn’t be, and it won’t be if the story’s any good. Sure, there probably won’t be wars going on all the time in contemporary, with people falling down dead every other page…but that certainly doesn’t make it boring. Honestly, though, it’s really a matter of opinion and preference. I prefer the type of conflict between “ordinary” people to the type involving weapons. Mental, rather than physical, you could say. But as long as there’s good conflict (and of course all the other things that make a story good), your story isn’t going to be boring.

There are a few things specific to the genre that could be downsides or are just good to be aware of. One is unintentional “dating” of the story. Contemporary basically means present day, but it’ll still be called contemporary in 25 years. What tends to happen, then, with this genre is you’ll end up with something that was obviously written around 2010, not 2035. It’s like reading a book written in the 1960s which the author set in “present day.” It’s obvious to us that it’s not exactly current anymore, and some people won’t like the book as much because of that.

Another: when people pick up a book of this genre, they expect it to deal with current issues in some way or another. They don’t necessarily expect the issue to be the focus of the story, but they expect something to be in there somewhere. It’s kind of what makes the story…relatable, I guess. Readers are familiar with current issues in the world, so when it’s a current story dealing with current concerns in society, it feels comfortable and familiar to them. This is especially helpful if your character is faced with something the reader is faced with. It helps them to sympathize with and relate to the character in a very big and rather obvious way, whereas a character from a historical fiction novel battling a smallpox epidemic could be a bit less obvious to relate to. I say less obvious because the reader has to go deeper: “Oh, I remember how I felt when my grandfather had cancer.” While this works just fine, too, I’m simply saying it’s often more direct like that in contemporary. Instead of smallpox, it really would be cancer. That’s something to be aware of as a writer in this genre, and it could also be a benefit.

Something else that could be good or bad, depending on the writer? You don’t have to make up quite as much, provided you’re willing to research if necessary, and if you do have to research it should be pretty easy to find what you need. For example, you don’t have to make up a city, though you can if you wish. You don’t have to make up TV stations, newspapers, streets, hospitals, and so on. You don’t have to make up a system of government–and I’m pretty certain you can’t do that in contemporary, actually! So you see how it could be more research than, say, fantasy…but if you think about it, you probably already know a huge amount of what you’d need for the story. And as I mentioned before, while you don’t have to make up a city, you also don’t have to use Boston and do all that research on it for setting.

Before I end this, I’d like to answer another frequent question. “Why contemporary?” For me, the answer is pretty simple. I have a passion for people and their problems. I write stories that deal with “real” people and real problems. I try to help people either by letting them connect with the characters deeply and see how they deal with things, maybe being encouraged, or by showing those not in a similar situation what it’s like so they can understand those who are. That’s pretty much it! Thanks to Liam for letting me talk on his awesome-filled blog and for being patient with me…if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please leave a message after the beep. Messages should be directed to the comment form below or on my blog, Everyday Adventures (http://alifeonmission.wordpress.com).

BEEP!

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5 thoughts on “Guest Post: The World of Contemporary Fiction

  1. You certainly do not sound like you are an inexperienced blogger! I like contemporary most of the times, since I can actually relate to those people. It’s not like I disable a mind-controlling machine everyday, do I? (OK fine, I can disable my computer, but still….)

  2. Hehe, recently I found myself thinking that “contemporary” was boring, just like you said. My reasoning for not reading/writing it was “I have enough reality in my life, why would I want to write about more?” So I stuck with fantasy, which has…less reality. Sorta. 😛

    Thanks for the post, though! Whereas I haven’t read much contemporary still, I do know that it’s anything but boring. 🙂

  3. Wowee, this is brilliant Amanda! I write both contemporary AND fantasy, but blast me if I’ve ever come up with something as brilliant as this to justify the former as being just as exciting as the latter! Brilliant work, really great.

    On another note: I think it’s also important to remember that key elements of great stories are always the same no matter the genre. No story, fantasy, sci-fi, romance, historical or whatever, is going to get very far unless it has a strong narrative, engaging characters, an interesting plot, and decent stakes, is it? Those are the foundations – the shape of the house on top is merely a matter of the reader’s taste.

  4. Excellent post, Amanda! I echo what Tori said above: you do not sound inexperienced. This was far better than my earliest blog posts (my first blog post ever was actually a guest post for this very blog).

    The first couple stories I ever wrote were (bad) contemporary mysteries. I’m playing with a couple other genres at the moment, but someday I’ll get back to my contemporaries. As bad as they were, I’d like to work with those characters again.

    I’ve only just realized the potential power of writing stories that deal with “real” people with real problems (I feel kinda silly that it took so long), and that is something I plan on playing with in future stories, though in whatever genre I write in.

    And Liam: congrats on your stats! That’s great.

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