Me: Ah! The beauty of the contemporary novel.
Aurelia: What?! I thought we were in firm agreement that fantasy and historical fiction are your favorite genres.
Me: They are, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some serious advantages to writing modern realistic fiction.
She growls behind her teeth.
Aurelia: Like what?
Me: Like description.
Aurelia: Hold on! That is not fair. Just the other day you were saying what a struggle it was to decide how to describe a realistic riverbank for a modern novel without actually choosing a real riverbank.
Me: That’s true. But generally the description in a modern novel is so much easier because you don’t need nearly as much. And when you do, you can usually just look in your own desk.
She rolls her eyes and sits down on a footstool.
Me: Well if my character is a fifth grade boy and I have him sit down at his desk, the average reader already has an image. He or she doesn’t need me to go into vivid detail about the type of screws in the desk.
Aurelia: And you feel like describing screws when you put a desk in a historical novel?
Me: Maybe not. But I’d better research the type of desks that were around then, just in case I slip up. And how am I supposed to figure out what might be inside the desk? Quill pens, ink; those seem likely, but that’s nothing compared to the wealth of possibilities my student might have in a contemporary novel: glue sticks, number 2 pencils, sharpeners with annoying motors, miniature plastic skateboards with wheels, radically altered paper clips—
Aurelia: I’m sure students a hundred years ago had plenty of ways of distracting their teachers too!
Me: I’m sure they did. But I have to research them. And if I’m writing fantasy, I have to invent them. Which, don’t get me wrong, I love to do. Just not necessarily for every little thing or at 4:30 p.m. when I reach that scene or on a day when I’m in a bad mood. And this is when it comes in really handy to be writing a contemporary novel. Because you can just open your own mental desk, pull out all those random details from personal experience, and toss them into your scene.
Aurelia: Only if you’re trying to make a mess.
Me: Which is perfect for the average desk of a fifth grader. All hail the contemporary novel!
She opens my desk and flings about a hundred post-its at me.