Now that we’ve covered Historical Fiction, I thought we would talk about contemporary settings before moving on to the last part of the series, Secondary Worlds.
What is a contemporary setting? To do answer that, we have to answer the question of what Contemporary Fiction is. And the definition I favor is a story taking place now or in the recent past without fantastical and/or Fantasy elements.
But a contemporary setting isn’t just limited to Contemporary or as it is also known, Realistic Fiction. It can be found in certain sub-genres of Fantasy, in some Literary Fiction stories, Horror, and Mystery/Thriller/Suspense. In short, anything with a recent or present day realistic setting can be said to have a contemporary setting.
Similarities In Research
Since both Historical Fiction and contemporary settings require research, there are some ways in which they’re the same.
The most obvious is that research needs to be done in both cases, no exceptions. Even if it is a topic they are familiar with, a writer should still be checking recent developments in the topic and checking their basic facts. This allows the writer to more easily draw the reader in, to ensnare them and keep them reading the rest.
Less obvious is the benefit to the writer of doing research on and checking things they’ve assumed they know the answer to. Because as contradictory as it seems, checking facts gives the writer more room to play around and better story ideas. More room because they’re more likely find a loophole to exploit, which is especially great for those writing in genres such as Urban Fantasy. Better story ideas because each new or reaffirmed fact can potentially spark a new story or bring to light a facet of the current story which the writer hadn’t thought about.
This means that research for both Historical Fiction and contemporary settings makes for a better, more enjoyable story when done right.
Differences In Research
Similarities aside, there is what I find to be one really obvious difference between researching contemporary settings and researching Historical Fiction.
The research is quicker.
In both, the writer needs to know more than the reader in order to give the impression of an expansive and living world. But there’s a far greater volume to be done when the story is Historical Fiction. Even when a writer hyper focuses on topics relevant to their story, the scope of those topics isn’t so broad most of the time. The only time this is really true is if the character is of a different faith or is from/ live in a different culture from the writer.
A Brief Genre Talk
I mentioned earlier that some subgenres have a contemporary setting for their stories. Even gave you a glimpse at the start of this post. But it seemed silly to not give you more of an idea of what I’m talking about. With that in mind, I’ve picked four genres that use or may use a contemporary setting.
Urban Fantasy, as the name suggest, tends to have a modern, city-based setting. This can be highly involved if the writer isn’t familiar with the city and/or the country the city is located. It also means the writer needs to check the lore for the Fantasy element if it exists and check the technology. Introducing the wrong sort of phone, car and such is important for engaging the reader.
Paranormal Fiction often takes place in an urban setting and has much of the same concerns as Urban Fantasty. However, it may also take place in a small town. The second isn’t common in Urban Fantasy and means a writer not familiar with small-town life will need to research what life is like in a small town.
Non- Historical Horror opens up an entirely new can of rotting flesh for a writer. A Horror writer may need to research the lore of a monster, ways to kill people, and things like serial killer stats. They may even wish to look up historic killers/serial killers for inspiration.
You would think realism wouldn’t matter as much with Non-Historical Horror. But, speaking as a Horror writer and reader, Horror readers like their scares to make sense. If it seems silly, then it isn’t likely to scare them.
Non-Historical Literary Fiction, on the other hand, has both the least involved and most in-depth research of all four example genres. Literary Fiction or Lit Fic may mean the writer needs to look into stats on rape, abuse, the psychology of both the abuser and the abused. Racism, economics, and other such topics may be a factor as well. Never mind a myriad of other topics depending on the premise of their story. It’s a manifold type of research because of the nature of Literary Fiction regardless of setting.
I originally wanted to give you basics questions researching contemporary settings, but that seemed moot. As you can tell, the list of topics a writer may need to research when working with a contemporary setting isn’t consistent across the board. That means there are no defining questions to answer. No template. But if you need one, modifying the questions in the first post in this series may help.
You’ll probably notice a new section at the end of this post. I’m tentatively calling it Reading, Watching, and Listening To. In it, you will find bits off media that I’m focused on at the moment. Some will end up reviewed on the blog, others won’t be and are just things I’m currently enjoying. All will include purchase links in case anyone is interested in them. For those who don’t like it, my Bullet Journal posts won’t be including it in order to give people a bit of a break.
Until next time, I can be found on Facebook and Twitter.
Reading: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Watching: Being 17
Listening To: H.I.M Razorblade Romance
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