Fantasy vs. Contemporary

After spending a few years playing around with the idea of writing fantasy (and then writing several fantasy manuscripts that I wound up shelving) I decided to go all in with contemporary YA.

I knew by the first outline that I was a stronger writer in contemporary YA, I’m going to credit (blame?) my first career, the decade I spent in journalism. How often do we hear about or witness something in real life that’s so weird we think, “this is stranger than fiction?” So often I encounter something so totally odd that it occurs to me that if I wrote it in a novel, nobody would believe it.

There are pros and cons, however, to both contemporary YA and fantasy. At least for me.

In fantasy, you get the joy and pain of world-building. On one hand, it’s so much fun. The world is literally yours, and you make the rules. I always think about Douglas Adams writing himself into a corner with Hitchhikers Guide. Everyone’s facing their death but he has half a book left to write so… bam. Invent the Infinite Probability Drive and turn those guided nuclear missiles into a sperm whale and a bowl of petunias.

The drawback to that is that you have to double down on explanation and be really, really good at it. Think about Rowling and Tolkien. The way they artfully explained their worlds within the narrative sets them apart, and makes their works timeless.

In contemporary, you’re basically smacked with elements of storytelling every time you open up a browser. There’s no lack of interesting people (or better yet, non-interesting people) doing interesting things. But the con there is that you have to be very diligent and sensitive about your writing and research. Not only because you want to write an impactful and accurate book, but because if you write two guided nuclear missiles they’re going to blow up and your characters have to deal with that.

I’m doing so much more research while writing contemporary than I ever did writing fantasy. I’m even taking a graduate school class on some of the themes I explore in my novels. It’s a lot of reading, and a lot of research, and then a lot of conversation to confirm and gain perspective on what I’ve read and researched, and occasionally some money spent on sensitivity readers.

But it’s definitely making me a better writer, and likely a better person. So whether I make my name in contemporary or fantasy or neither, the time is well spent!

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