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.