10 thoughts on writing a contemporary novel

Writing historical fiction has been my ‘thing’ since 2006 when I first began a novel based on the lives of my grandparents. I was so enchanted by the challenge of writing and the research required that I’ve now written four more historical novels. Three are published, one is on submission, and the fifth is in limbo while I decide whether to scrap it or do a significant rewrite.

Novel six – working title You Don’t Know Me – is contemporary. The process of writing it has had its own enchantment. What have I learned?

  • the requirement to transport a reader is time and place becomes a requirement to focus on place. In my case this has involved Boston, New York, a lake house, and the dunes along the Atlantic coast near Plymouth MA.
  • dialogue is easier to write
  • getting into the mindset of a character is easier
  • there’s an opportunity to incorporate some of the political, economic, and social happenings of today. For example, I might be reading the newspaper and see something that becomes relevant to one of my characters.
  • research is still involved, but for this novel it has involved researching the world of journalism and the world of political campaigns
  • there is no need to research the intricacies of long ago fashion, the complexities of transportation, the challenges of food preparation, medical practices and so on
  • you don’t need to constantly check for anachronisms – such as when did espresso become commonplace or when was photography invented
  • a timeline of historical events isn’t required
  • it’s much easier to find photos to help you visualize a setting or situation (the featured photo is  of Harvard Yard)
  • and . . . you can complete a first draft much more quickly

I began writing this novel in late February and finished the first draft today – six and a half months. That’s a record for me!

By the way, superb writing and a focus on story remain essential.

PS … I’m not abandoning historical fiction! Ideas are brewing as we speak.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

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Meet M.K.Tod

Meet M.K.Tod

The historical fiction author behind A Writer of History...

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9 Responses

      1. Hi Chrystyna – this is the note I received from Jeff Walker … “The first commerical espresso machines weren’t manufactured until around 1905 and they were huge, cumbersome affairs. There is really no possibility anyone would be making espresso at home in 1914.” He was giving me some excellent feedback on Lies Told in Silence.

  1. I could not agree more on all points. I’ve written one contemporary (which will eventually get two more added to it) and five historicals and the contemporary was by far easier. But interestingly, I’m still more attracted to my historicals and they sell much better. But I totally understand the need to try something different. Sharing your post on social media.

  2. With the struggles I’ve faced with my latest histfic, I envy you! Anachronisms! Yes! Every few minutes while writing: “Wait, would that even exist then? Did the telephone operator connect him or was there a direct line back in those days?” Congratulations on your record speed. Wishing you much success!

  3. Writing historical fiction is much more fun, in my opinion. I am just completing (I hope) a contemporary novel about how we remember the era known as “the 60s”. Most of the research is from my memory which has its own difficulties. What is surprising is how little has been written about those times.

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