A Contemporary Novel is a Different Beast to Write

At a writers workshop a few years ago, I was working with an agent on how to pitch The Admiral’s Wife. Like all writers, I also had a few ideas brewing in my head and asked if she would give me some feedback on which one to pursue. With her agreement, I gave the two-sentence version of three novels and without hesitation, she said “That one.”

Well, ‘that one’ is a novel about identical twins. Twin sisters—one disappears to expose the man who raped her, while the other takes over her life. 

I did what every sensible author would do in the face of such clear advice and almost immediately began the first draft. That was October 2019.

A year later, the first draft went off to two early readers – my son and my husband. Both were encouraging – and yes, quite prepared to be critical. I was particularly interested in my son’s feedback since I felt he would have more in common with my two main characters.

After another revision or two, I sent the novel off to an editor I’d been working with for his feedback. In addition to a detailed page-by-page review, he sent me a summary letter. Here’s some of what that letter said:

My overall impression is that the novel is alive — that is, the characters are complex & compelling, the intricate plot has the twists & turns of “real life,” the settings are keenly observed & rich with detail. All of this adds up to that electric sense of actuality that readers seek out in realist fiction. At the same time, this version feels like a “discovery draft” in which you’re experimenting with the conventions of genres (mysteries & thrillers) & exploring your characters, figuring out what makes them tick. 

Discovery draft. Ouch! I’ve been stuck ever since. So stuck that I almost decided that this would be the novel that remains ‘in the drawer’ as authors used to say when they used typewriters or even longhand.

Early this year, faced with two partially complete novels, I finally made a decision to return to the twins story – working title You Don’t Know Me – and re-conceive the plot. [This title will have to change as it’s already in use for several novels.]

With my historical novels, I’ve used history for inspiration. But that doesn’t work with a contemporary novel. And the story is intended to be a thriller – not a genre that I know particularly well. In addition, my twins are characters in their late twenties. I’m way beyond (!!) my late twenties, so I don’t have the lived experience to give me that intrinsic understanding of Gen Z: their language, their thinking, their understanding of the world, their views on relationships, their adept use of social media and technology in general. Beyond that, there’s research into the location I’ve chosen and a particular industry that’s relevant to the novel as well as research on the topic of the American state election process.

All this means that I have to do a different sort of research and digging around for ideas than I’ve done in the past. And I need to work hard to understand the norms of a thriller.

So this novel is definitely a different beast to write with a very different type of research involved! I’ll let you know how it goes.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel is THE ADMIRAL’S WIFE, a dual timeline set in Hong Kong. Mary’s other novels, PARIS IN RUINS, TIME AND REGRET, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

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Meet M.K.Tod

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

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2 Responses

  1. thanks for your lived experience. it is more valuable than intellectual thoughts, as someone who also struggles with all of the issues you have written about. thanks

  2. Mary. You’re brave to take on that project. That must mean you really believe in it! That would be bridge too far for me, but I bet you find out some interesting things…think of it as Anthropology!

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