Thursday, July 26, 2012

Why Contemporary?

Something I've noticed about myself this year, as I continue to read book after book, is that more and more of what I do read is straight contemporary. Of the books I've read this year, maybe 1/4 of them, if that, have been non-contemps. It's not that I dislike paranormal, or dystopian, it's just that the ones I gravitate towards more are contemp. My issue is picking up a non-contemp book. I still have a pretty good idea of whether I'm going to enjoy it based on the summary, and basically all the non-contemps I've read so far this year have been great. I was totally into them once I started them, and yes, there were several that I was extremely excited to read and pretty much dropped everything to start it once I got the book.

But even my own writing is straight contemporary. And not the cute, fluffy romancey kind. Mine are the emotional, dark, painful ones. In talking to a good friend last night about my writing, and about the book I drafted in May while I queried, that I'm going to start revising soon, I started thinking, again, why do I love this stuff so much?

Beyond the obvious, that I just do... for me, it's really how affecting those "harder" contemps can be. There is nothing better, to me, than going through an entire emotional battle while I read. On a bad day, when I'm fed up with things, and tried, and frustrated, or just plain exhausted, there is something invigorating about being locked in someone else's pain and frustration. Not that I am glad they are suffering, plus when it's done right, I'm suffering right there with them. But it's such a good reminder that those things that seem so huge in my life, maybe aren't.

More than that, though, is that feeling, when you put a hard and emotional book down at the end, of being changed. Of having the way you view things changed. Of seeing a character's life, from their side, rather than the outside. Finding out what's really going on in that house down the street, or understanding why that guy spends all his time getting stoned and messing around. I'm not saying that is every character, or every situation, but there have been countless books that have honestly affected me, and even changed me, however subtly.

And as a writer, that's what I want. I want people to walk away from my books gutted and broken, but pieced back together in some way. I want them to think differently of something, however seemingly minor before. I realize that's a tall order to feel, but it's one I'm striving for all the same.

I love connecting to a character so strongly, I lose track of time. I forget what's going on around me (until, you know, Toby pees on my carpet to get my attention...). I love being angry at the other characters who wrong them, cheering when good things happen, and having so many questions about them in my head of things that aren't in the book. The books that leave me aching, that leave me breathless, are the ones that, a year later, I still remember. Not just remember that I loved it, but I'll remember details. I'll remember why. And the ones that really get to me, that leave me gutted for days? Those are the ones I reread.

Characters are always the biggest thing in a book for me... and contemporary books are far more intrinsic and character focused than the paranromal and dystopians. In the latter, so many of what's effecting the main character is extrinsic. Yes, there is an internal element too, but it's different. The non-contemps that end up being my favorite either have a very strong character development component, or the book is primarily contemp, with a touch of something else.

So that's why contemporary, for me. Personal taste, sure, but even more than that, it's what those books to do me, and for me. It's seeing these struggles, so many of them actually pretty ordinary when you get down to it, and how different characters react to it. How their lives have played into who they are now, when we meet them.

It's knowing, when I'm done, that no matter the crap that I get thrown, it's not really so bad, and I've been pretty darn lucky in life.


  1. This post = me, pretty much! It's really great to see that somebody connects with contemporary as much as I do, so thank you for posting this!

  2. Contemporary is where I live, too! =)

  3. Love contemporary but paranormal is another love of mine lol
    Cool blog!

  4. I appreciate your insights. I usually write contemporary but I'm working on a fantasy right now and these are the questions I keep asking myself... what is eating at the characters from the inside? How do they change and grow? How will readers relate? Will anything stay with them when the story is over?

    Great questions for any genre.

  5. Wow... this explains why I love gritty contemps so much. I'm just getting into the genre as a whole, but you hit the nail on the head as to why those difficult, emotional stories are the best to read. It really is a sort of release. I can't wait till SlackerBoy is unleashed on the world so I can decide if I like him or his counterpart better! :)

  6. *waves hand* Me too!!!

    I didn't even glance at contemporary for the longest time. I was strickly paranormonal or urban fantasy.

    Now? I CRAVE it. For exactly how you explained. I want to read about how others overcome such dark, emotional obstacles and come out better for it. And it helps me appreciate the life I have been given, knowing that even though this is fiction, many people have gone through much worse then I've ever been dealt. :)