Thursday, November 12, 2015

What Makes a Contemporary Stand Out?

There are a lot of similarities to contemporary books, especially in contemporary romance. I've seen this in YA as well as NA (I haven't read enough adult books to say the same). I read a lot of similar storylines, which can happen when you read a lot of books from one genre--or just read a lot in general. (So, really, this post can apply to any genre, but I'm applying it to the one I've noticed it the most in.) Contemporary is still my favorite genre, though.

But Kaitlin, you may say, you just said you read a lot of similar storylines. Doesn't that get old?

If I read 10 similar ones in a row, then yeah. I would be eager to read something much different. In other cases, no. There are ways that make books stand out from a see of other ones.

What Makes a Contemporary Stand Out?
I look for a special element that sets a book apart from another--something that makes it more memorable and gives it more individuality. Below are some things that seem to make contemporaries stand out the most to me (they don't have to have all of these):

Something a Little Different
This can be SO MANY THINGS. It can be a combination of shorter chapters with handrawn-looking images and emails like in Everything, Everything. It can be focuses on different occupations or hobbies, or on different methods characters deal with what's happening in their lives.

It can be a new idea or twist to a concept, like with what made Confess stand out to me so much. It was an NA romance with characters that wanted to be together, but were confronted with bump after bump in their journey. The story wasn't something super different, but the way art and confessions were tied together was (for me, at least). People submitted anonymous confessions to Owen and made paintings for certain ones. It gave a strong focus on confessions, truth, and secrets and just made the book more enjoyable to read.

Books with something a little different can be refreshing, which can make them stand out more!

Character Development
How is the character developed? What are their hopes and desires? Their habits? What objects or memories have a significant role in their journey? What I look for with this is not just how much development goes into the character, but how that is conveyed to the reader.

My best example of this right now is from the book that inspired this post. Sadie in The Lies About Truth had a stuffed bird named Big that plays a sizeable role in her journey. But he's not stuffed with regular old stuffing. Sadie took some of that out and replaced it with scraps of paper--notes about secret events, about friends, about her thoughts, etc. It was like a diary! There were memories and a lot of meaning attached to that bird for her, and the things that happened with it helped me understand her character and the changes she went through. It seemed like one of the essential pieces of her character development.

The Smallest Details
The first thing that comes to mind is Oreos. You may have just thought of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, which would make a lot of sense because there's such a strong tie between the cookies and the book. I found the Oreos to be a pretty small detail compared to so many other things, but it was such a special element to the story that it helped make the book stand out even more. 

Small details can be anything from favorite foods to a character's hat to red nail polish to a piece of jewelry to even the location of a date. These are details that can seem so small, but can have a huge impact on how the story impacts you.

Inside Jokes/Repeated Phrases/etc.
You know those things that are brought up time and time again between a couple or by the main character? It'll be brought up at one moment, then another, and soon you're going "awww, I love it when they do/say that!" It can be a sweet thing book couples do or something a phrase that is brought up a couple times throughout the book. I don't have any great examples for this post, but these help make the book stand out as I'm reading it. 
Benefits to These Special Elements
  • I connect to the book more when I find its special elements.
  • They make books more memorable, which makes it more likely that I'll recommend them.
  • Their presence makes it more likely that I'll enjoy what I'm reading.
  • They keep me engaged in what is going on.
  • They can make a book truly GREAT. Special elements separates the good stories from the great ones.
Let's Compare This To People
We have similar skeletons. There are definitely differences from person to person, but not enough to easily tell us apart and give us an identity. Add in the skin, organs, facial features, personality, habits, emotions, and all the rest, it's much easier to tell we're each a unique individual. Books are the same way! Each story has the potential to let that individuality shine. Sometimes, it doesn't happen. Sometimes, something is conveyed to a reader. Or it may be conveyed to one reader, but not another. I can think that a book stands out from all the rest, but someone else may think it's something else they've read before.

What Do You Think?
Do you look for similar things where you read contemporaries? Do you look for them in other genres too?

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