What Is Contemporary Fiction?

Jacob Queen

The term contemporary fiction describes stories set in modern times that don’t bring in any elements of fantasy. It is technically a kind of realistic fiction, and the term "contemporary" is used specifically to distinguish it from realistic fiction with a historical setting, which is also generally common and fairly popular. Contemporary fiction is normally focused on giving people a window into some corner of everyday experience and showing them what it would be like to walk in someone else’s shoes. Some of the stories may be politically-motivated or designed to raise social awareness, while others exist purely for the purposes of entertainment.

In general, contemporary fiction strives toward realism and often explores modern-day social issues.
In general, contemporary fiction strives toward realism and often explores modern-day social issues.

When authors create contemporary fiction, there is generally a focus on making everything as realistic as possible. This often means avoiding any exaggeration, even including those that might be convenient for the purposes of satisfying the audience. Many fans who enjoy contemporary fiction relish this focus on realism and may even punish stories that drift too far afield into unlikely scenarios.

Dramatic elements are often part of contemporary fiction.
Dramatic elements are often part of contemporary fiction.

Another common focus for authors who specialize in this type of fiction is social relevance. For example, they often make stories that focus specifically on issues like race relations, sexism, crime, or poverty. These authors often hope that the experience of reading a story may give the reader a better understanding of these issues than he would get from a nonfiction account dealing with the same kind of subject matter, which could potentially help the person develop more sympathy or a better understanding. Genre fiction stories also often do this, but usually it is much less direct than the way it is handled in contemporary realistic fiction.

Sometimes fans of contemporary fiction actually have a specific dislike for genre fiction. Some of these people may find it easier to identify with stories that seem more realistic, and others may dislike the tendency towards predictability or formulaic plot lines that may sometimes present themselves in genre stories. Certain literary critics also tend to favor contemporary fiction over genres in much the same way that movie critics often favor serious dramas over genre films. On the other end of the spectrum, many fans of entertainment-oriented genre stories have no interest in reading contemporary fiction under any circumstances. Some of those people may find the general dependence on absolute realism to be too restrictive, while others are simply uninterested in any kind of fiction that doesn’t have an escapist quality.

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Discussion Comments


It takes a while for the literary cannon to get worked out. Lots of writers that are popular for decades are completely forgotten one hundred years later. So who do you guys think the best and most important writers of contemporary fiction are? What are the books from today that our great grandchildren will be reading?


By and large contemporary fiction refers only to the time the work was written and the place that it is set. But I think there are certain stylistic elements that distinguish it as well.

Many contemporary authors employee post modern techniques which make the reader aware of the author's presence. They often break down the fourth wall as they say.

Many also use non linear forms of story telling to slowly reveal a story.


One of my favorite writers of contemporary fiction in Johnathan Franzen. The first book I read was The Corrections and I loved it. It was one of the most deeply observed and nuanced portraits of modern life and family that I have ever read.

I went on to read his first book The Twenty Seventh City. It is set in St. Louis where I live and offers the kind of sprawling urban overview that usually is only directed at New York or London or LA. It was really cool to be able to read a novel about the place that you live that encompasses the history, the politics, the architecture and the character of your city.

A few months back I read his most recent book Freedom and it is probably my favorite one yet. Through a very limited cast of characters he is able to explore the entire history of the first decade of the 2000s. Any one trying to make sense of the recent past owes it to themselves to read this book.

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