Guess what, fellow genre nerds? This week is Contemporary!
So what is Contemporary? It’s real life. Well…fictional real life. According to Wikipedia, the paragon of informational resources, it’s “a story that is true to life.” Which is obnoxiously vague. So I define Contemporary Fiction as lies. Really believable lies.
But, obviously, there are more parameters than just “realistic.” The story has to take place in the present—or present-ish. Just not the distant past or predicting the future (that’s where the “contemporary” comes in). There’s also no magic, no mythic creatures, no aliens, no mighty immortals, no superpowers. and no deus ex machinas. It’s real real.
But, you know, still fictional.
So, subgenre time.
Listen, Contemporary is a big genre. And a lot of novels take place in the present. So the books that fall into Contemporary seemingly exist in this nebulous, ever changing category with uncertain borders. So there aren’t really “subgenres” per se. Contemporary novels can certainly co-op elements from other genres to a certain degree (such as mystery, romance, thriller, etc.), but those elements never take over the story—they just accent it.
At its core, Contemporary plots are character driven. They’re 300-page-long human interest stories. Yes, there may be a (small) mystery to solve, or other people to fall in love with (or just have unrequited crushes on), but at the core is the main character.
Now, with that schpiel over, let’s get to the tropes:
- Gruff older character + precocious child—a.k.a. the worst buddy cop movie of all time. Seriously, what is it about grumpy old people who want to befriend obnoxiously lovable children? Why is that age disparity so popular? And how do those stories not include more pudding packs? Those ages are the target market for pudding.
- Everything sucks—and the world is like my coffee, dark and bitter. Seriously, we get it, reality is kind of the worst sometimes. But if your character only sees the worst, then you’re stuck with a one-note story. And even emo songs have range, your story should too.
- This story is a metaphor—look, don’t get me wrong, I love metaphors as much as the next reader. But if the whole point of your story is to be a giant, extended metaphor, then we’ve got a problem. Metaphors are embellishment, and without the base of a plot, there’s nothing to hold them up. It’s like gravy—delicious, but you can’t eat it on its own, it needs to be on something.
- Isn’t it ironic—
But what makes Contemporary so great? It’s not the grand escapism of genre fiction. It’s quieter, subtler.
Almost…insidious… The way it sneaks up on you and buries you in feels. You try to fight it. You try to escape it. But you can’t. It’s just too powerful.
rhythm feels is gonna get you.
But this is all my stupid, jokey way of saying that, when it comes to Contemporary, you’re in it for the people. As a reader, you’re there for a relationship with the characters. You’re all in—you want to fall in love, get heartbroken, and fall in love again. You open a book and want to find friends, loves, family, faves.
It’s intangible company.
Despite how bleak it gets, it’s comforting to be surrounded by people (even fictional characters) who share your same thoughts and emotions. Even when you’re technically alone, with a book, you’re not alone.
Want to know more about Contemporary fiction? Here’s a random list of faves:
- The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
- The DUFF by Kody Keplinger
- Our Brothers at the Bottom of the Bottom of the Sea by Jonathan David Kranz
- Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
- The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
- Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
- Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
- The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
- Sway by Kat Spears
- 2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino
- The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
- Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
- Holes by Louis Sachar
- From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
- Teen Idol by Meg Cabot
- Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
- Tangerine by Edward Bloor