For the longest time, the reasons I couldn’t make a contemporary story work were several-fold: I read a lot of historical, I was more engaged with historicals, and I often didn’t feel like I fit in to contemporary American life. Also, all of my contemporary stories felt like they all eventually turned into weird Mary Sue-like stories about myself or about people I know. They never stood on their own.
Well, having decided and planned (as in, character profiles, “research,” and going to so many Broadway shows in my time) out my new idea of a contemporary romance series of four stories set in and around the Broadway world, I had a load of fun putting together the characters and their premises. And while the first story’s outline–which I’m more than halfway through–hasn’t neceesarily been easy to figure out, all of that thought, the deletions, the stops and starts now will make it far easier to actually write the complete story when I have the outlines in the best shape they can be.
So, what do I love about having a contemporary cast of characters? I don’t have to research them to death. I don’t need to think about their dialogue too much (and yes, I have plenty of dialogue in the outline; I love writing dialogue). I don’t need to think about if their actions feel “historically accurate.” I don’t have to do a ton of historical research to build a character who might be a former slave, poor person, aristocrat, suffragette. I don’t need to read 800-page tomes on the sugar trade or on the decline of the British aristocracy. I just need to build these characters until I can picture them doing whatever it is they do–whether it’s acting, singing, wardrobe work, or not related to show biz at all–in New York City.
I also love being able to have a truly diverse cast of characters, because while Broadway still needs work in terms of telling diverse stories by diverse people and having non-white people in positions of power and behind the scenes–it’s New York City. Being a native, I can tell you that everyone lives here. We have a lot of races, orientations, socio-economic tiers, languages, religions, and cultures. Of course, that’s true of many locations and all people have existed throughout history. I love learning about and reading about various experiences and events in historical fiction, especially through a marginalized person’s lens, but there is a certain amount of relief in knowing that, in a contemporary, I don’t have to explain anyone’s existence.
It’s a lot easier when “research” involves talking to living contemporary people. I have an Indian-American character in the third story of this series idea. One of my best friends happens to be Indian-American. When I was trying to name this character, she was the one who gently told me, “Umm…please don’t name him Raj” and “Yes, he’d celebrate Diwali.”
Also, just as an added bonus: it’s also fun when “cultural research” involves eating out at various restaurants.
In addition, because this idea takes place in my home city, I’ve been throwing my super savvy and lovely friends the occasional question like, “Well, what neighborhood would this character live in?” and “Name my fictional theater!” I think they’ve been interested in the little bits and pieces I need to create a character and their world.
I say “their world,” because while yes, it’s contemporary, it’s contemporary New York without mention of more recent Broadway productions (in order to not date the thing too much. Hamilton, however, will be mentioned) or super specific real-life locations (because I don’t hang out on the West Side all that much and everything changes quickly in the city) or current events (i.e., freezing cold New Year’s Eve, terrorist threats and acts, or the current person in the White House who has giant gold letters on a rather ugly building in Midtown).
Overall, though, I’m finding a lot freedom in thinking about and outlining people who could exist now. I’m finding inspiration in the interactions and possible interactions between characters through whatever their relationship is. I’m finding inspiration by reading and embracing more of the romance reader side of myself.