What is contemporary fiction?

Welcome to the site on launch day!

It is my pleasure to kick off our weekly blog post on issues related to contemporary fiction reading and writing. Which, of course, has to begin with a definition of what contemporary fiction actually is. And that is what I’m going to be discussing today.

So what is contemporary fiction? There are numerous definitions and, as we like to think of ourselves as an inclusive lot here at Britfic, we seem to cover the whole range.

9781910692707  Dotsr  Too Charming

There’s contemporary fiction as a ‘genre’, normally encompassing ‘the leftovers’ of anything that doesn’t fall into a nice, neat category. But we don’t like to think of ourselves as leftovers and, indeed, our authors hail from a range of ‘genres’, including romance, crime, and fantasy.


Then there’s contemporary fiction defined as anything set in the present or very recent past. The present, however, very quickly slides to obsolescence and this then (rightly) begs the question of ‘when does contemporary fiction become historical fiction?’ Again, this is open for debate, and is one of the many topics we hope to be discussing on our YouTube channel over the coming months.

TiesthatBind  Beltane  AIIWAR

The other issue with a ‘present or very recent past’ definition is whether contemporary relates to setting, technology, or lifestyle. Not all of our novels are set in 2016, and not all of our novels are set in the current ‘era’ of smartphones and social media (but Britfic are on Facebook and Twitter). Does this not make us contemporary?


And then there is the definition, which is the one I prefer, that defines contemporary fiction on the basis of contemporary themes, and is more flexible in terms of setting. This allows for books set a decade or so ago, while still enveloping a broad spectrum of genres.


So how do you define contemporary fiction?


Enjoy the party – and don’t forget to follow our website (via email or WordPress) to be entered into the giveaway.


This post is brought to you by Christina Philippou.


13 thoughts on “What is contemporary fiction?

  1. I’ve struggled with this. My last two novels were written since 2013, so in one sense are contemporary. But both are set in the year 2000. Is that old enough to be historical? When does the date of writing take precedence over the date of the novel’s action? What if a novel covers the present and the past: is it half historical, half contemporary? I have no answers except to conclude that all categories break down in the liminal regions, though that makes me all the more determined to explore them. If you come up with any definite answers I’d love to know!

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    1. If your writing about two distinctively different timescapes – one set in the Contemporary world & one set in the Historical past you’ve created a ‘time slip’ novel. There is also an alternative method called ‘time shift’ where there is a shifting of time in the story but is not strictly ‘slipping’ in full. I love reading these sorts of stories. A prime example of a time slip are the novels by Christina Courtenay (for BritFic) and the novel A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner (for American end of the ledger). You’ll find these stories on my blog as I happily devoured them and loved the aesthetics of their genre preferences!

      To be counted as ‘historical’ and not straight-up contemporary, you have to dig back a bit as circa 2000 is considered a millennial story ergo not a #HistFic but rather either to be placed in #ContemporaryRomance and/or #WomensFiction depending on the classification. You could be simply a Contemporary Fiction novelist too, if Rom or relationship bits are excluded.

      I believe Historical novels start mid-century (i.e. 1950s and further back) but in regards to The Classics Club (of which I am a member), the set point is reader specific because you can pick modern stories as “Modern Classics” rather than “Classical” stories. I go between both options, myself which is why my list is quite long! lol However, in the world of SFF, it is generally circa 1979 and before to be considered ‘Classic Science Fiction & Fantasy”. So it truly depends on your genre and the style of story your telling.


  2. I’m doing a MA in creative writing at York St John University and we were asked this question by our tutor last week. We were also asked to read a very dense philosophy essay on ‘What is the contemporary?’ which concluded that to be contemporary you need to be sufficiently detached from your own age to be able to observe it objectively. I just wish I’d had your post available to read last weekend when I was researching this!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. For me, I consider a few factors as I break-down genre and/or literary category classifications – especially if the story is ‘Contemporary’ for me it’s about the modern world and therein is dealing with issues pertinent to our world right in the here & now. However, I tend to back this up to the decades I’ve been alive and thereby follow a similar marker to what is considered Classic SFF. (as mentioned in my earlier comment) I do believe the advise to become detached from your own years of life to properly reinitialise an original thought on behalf of the story’s core of intent might be a good idea but it’s not always practical. Afterall, even Jane Austen wrote about her ‘contemporary world’ and her novels are thus far continuously enjoyed by all who find her works. I think it’s quite relevant and person specific to how they interpret the designation as a whole.


  3. This is just as a tough a question as `What is art?’ Maybe the answer is fiction that defines modern times, deals with themes and issues that are somehow rooted in the post 2000 era? Could be conflicts in the Middle East or Afghanistan, could be internet stalking, body shaming, City fraudsters, online dating nightmares or a whole host of other possible plot anchors.

    But then, I wouldn’t rule out a `flashback’ type of story that revealed how the hero/heroine got to the place where the dilemma is, via the traumatic events of the 20th century past. The only thing I would say defines contemporary fiction is the background scenery, the accessories of modern life like mobiles, emails, electric vehicles and other assorted gadgetry.

    Perhaps the objects; buildings, cars, airports etc. often define our times in sharper focus than the actions and dialogue of the characters, because for me, human nature doesn’t really change that much, irrespective of the date.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’ve definitely followed my vein of thought – my comments are not yet moderated but I’ve been responding to this thread. 🙂 I definitely agree – you have to recognise the Contemporary world (i.e. by all mannerisms that make it ‘known’ to us who are presently alive) but also, to have thematic and concepts that fit well inside the world in which we’re living, too. Centuries and decades can be defined singularly by what everyone from an outside point of reference can readily accept as “their living reality” thereby, if a story can resonate with a wide spectrum of readers and each in turn says “this is our Contemporary world” because it’s adaptive to being recognised by them (irregardless of where they live) than you’ve succeeded and found your niche.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, every good story rings true, strikes a chord and catches the essence of its time and place. Always think graham greene’s portrayal of London in the 30s-50s is really evocative: shabby hotels, class divided offices, cheap cinemas and dodgy cafés full of bookies, poor bedraggled runaway girls and world weary coppers.

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