Thursday 25 September 2014

Contemporary or Historical Romance?

Over the years I've read a lot of contemporary romance fiction as well as historical romances. Though I never thought I would actually try writing a contemporary romance, I am persisting.

My ideas always present themselves in an historical context, and the majority of them would not work in a contemporary setting, but with the current story it was the reverse.

Meanwhile my historical novella is sitting in first draft form waiting for me to continue the revision notes, while I continue with this contemporary romance.

Set aside the fact that they are about a couple falling in love whichever type you write; my experiences have certainly highlighted the differences.

Writing about the past you have a lot of aspects to absorb, and keep in mind.

I find I have to cut out the outside world completely to get my head into my characters in the past. It truly is going 'into the zone'. So much so that the phone ringing, or letters being put through the postbox are alarming; as my brain can't work fast enough to adjust and put me back into the present with all the normal everyday sounds.

Writing about the past you have to take into account the way society- generally- worked. The limitations and risks women faced. Manners and dress codes were more defined, and preparing and cooking food was time-consuming. Even war and politics played a part.

Yes, we still have the war and politics today, the main difference is technology and that we're part of a global community too, compared to the past when today's allies were once the enemy, and Britain 'ruled the waves'.

The internet has made a lot of research material available, which is good for both writers of historical and contemporary romance.

So what advantages are there to writing contemporary romances?

Our heroines are no longer limited to pre-defined roles in life. If you want her to be an Engineer, or a Detective she can be, and you may even know one or two personally; or at least know how to find out more about their jobs from your research.

Women have jobs, they own their own homes, have their own money and control their own lives- generally. 

We are living in the now so we have a lot of influences, but we also have a lot of accrued knowledge that we can use while we write. Our only limitation is our imaginations- and what publishers and readers want. :)

While the last fifty years is history, personally I consider it a midway point. I was a child in the 60's, but I can still remember aspects of it. Some memories can be triggered by a simple comment on Facebook, or by an object that was very familiar.

If you want to write a story set in the latter half of the 20th century then you can ask questions of people who lived through those times, and there's a lot of documentary evidence from television. 

Digital channels will often be re-running shows and dramas written and filmed in the 70's and 80's. Just like today the cars, the looks and clothes influenced the young men and women of the time, and can be a useful reference point.

Social documentaries were the reality shows of their day.

When the original series of Charley's Angels came out, many young women went for Farrah Fawcett Majors' distinctive hairstyle in the mid to late 1970's.

If you write about now, you don't have to concentrate to the same degree on the attitudes and morality of your characters.

To say it's not important would be wrong, because it does matter to both the reader and the writer. But the boundaries are no longer as tight as they once were, a hundred years ago.

Even though some aspects of modern life may not sit comfortably with every reader, as writers we each decide what aspects of life, as it concerns our characters, to use.

Life today, like life in the past, is certainly not roses all the way.

Comparing writing a romance set in the past, and one set now, I'd say contemporary has the edge on how long it takes to write, but writing an historical romance has something else.

When I attended the talk by Lindsey Davis at The Pump Room in Bath, during my trip in May, she said, "writing about the past has levels to it." I'd agree with that-whether you're writing crime, romance or a straight historical.

I'm enjoying the freedoms of writing for the now, but I appreciate the depths of the past...


Wendy's Writing said...

My historical stories for The People's Friend take twice as long as the contemporary ones... and yet I keep writing them! Both my serials are historical too - I must just be a sucker for punishment.

Carolb said...

Thanks for dropping by, Wendy.

Obviously we're both suckers for punishment. :)

liz young said...

The hardest part of writing an historical romance - and in some ways the most fun - is the research. Even such minor details as when apples ripen in Kent need to be correct.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Enjoyed your thought-provoking post, Carol. I enjoy reading and writing historical and contemporary fiction but I tend to write historicals in the periods I most know about as I only research what I have to!

Teresa Ashby said...

I used to love writing historical stories, mainly for the research. I used to spend ages in the library, sketching pictures of the clothes worn etc. I kept all my notes in folders and still have them somewhere.
I used to do my hair in a Farrah - two big rollers in the front then once it was dry throw your head forward and brush your hair the wrong way and throw it all back and leave it! Great fun :-) x

Cat said...

Hmm interesting.

Carolb said...

You're so right, Lizy. And it is fun because you often find useful little anecdotes, or other things that will trigger ideas. :)

Carolb said...

Thanks, Rosemary.

You make an interesting point- when you concentrate on a particular time period certain aspects and events become easier to recall, and it makes additional but necessary research quicker. :)

Carolb said...

I started my love of reading and eventually writing historicals because of my reading choices in the main library- the bit for adults and avid teenage readers- where the historical romances were much more appealing than the contemporary ones.

Teresa, I always wondered how the Farrah was achieved, and I'm sure it looked impressive. :-)

Carolb said...

You never know what you will discover, Cat. :)

Teresa Ashby said...

My mum called it the dragged through a hedge look - I didn't look anything like Farrah that's for sure and it went flat in no time :-)

Carolb said...

That's the problem with a lot of hairstyles, fine at the start, but a disappointment within a few hours. :))

Helen Laycock said...

Getting the detail wrong is what will trip up some writers, but getting it right is what will bring the setting to life, enriching the story with interesting and historically accurate touches. That research is soooo important!

It seems that you have immersed yourself in your period of interest, Carol, what with all your visits and research - and, no doubt, your writing will be the better for it.

Personally, I feel safer limiting my writing to the 21st century!

Carolb said...

I hope so, Helen. It's finding that balance between knowing enough, and not inadvertently turning it into a history lecture. :)

Admittedly I am enjoying writing my contemporary romance at the moment, but I don't think there will be as many of them as the historical ones. :D

Maxi said...

You are so right. I'm currently dipping my toe in the water of a novel set during or perhaps a little after the WWII. I don't have grandparents to ask and my parents were mere babes so it's going to take a good amount of research - not that I mind that. It's amazing the changes that have taken place, even in just the last few decades, especially when it comes to technology. Looking at the mobile phones the size of house bricks in the 80s, who ever thought pretty much everyone would be carrying one that fits into the palm of your hand a (relatively) short time later! I always think this sort of thing is fascinating.

As you mentioned, some of the channels are repeating programmes from previous decades - another good source is to watch things that, although made now, are set in a different time. Usually the sources are accurate, and they can also be good at helping you get into the 'feel' of the era you're writing. Off hand, the series such as 'Life on Mars' would be good for the 70s, and its follow up 'Ashes to Ashes' set in the 1980s.

Good luck with all your eras!

Carolb said...

Thanks, Maxi.

You're examples show how much is available for the writer to absorb. As you say the technological changes have been immense, and that has changed people and circumstances too.
We didn't have a phone put in until the mid-80's, so if we needed to make a telephone call we had to walk down the road to the phone box and make sure we had change for the phone! :)