I’ve noticed a trend recently that I’d be willing to bet becomes more popular in the future. This applies to fiction in general, but more specifically to the Romance genre. I routinely do market research for my own education, and I’ve noticed more novels being set in unique time periods, that fall somewhere between Historical and Contemporary.
I’m talking about novels set in the 20th century. Perhaps we are now far enough into this century for the past one to seem nostalgic and interesting. Due to technology, life has changed so much in the past fifteen years that anything before that (pre-internet, pre-cell phones) almost seems quaint.
It’s All In the Details
I experienced this dichotomy between the centuries while writing my upcoming series, Higher Elevation. Set in the 1970’s to 1980’s, in a small town near the Colorado Rockies, I was reminded of how different life was back then. Communication was limited, although it didn’t feel that way at the time. You had to be near a home, building, or a pay phone to call anyone, and not everyone had answering machines. If you wanted to find someone, and they weren’t listed in the phone book, you were out of luck.
It was easy (and fun) to weave in pop culture references, because they were a part of everyday life. The politics of the era, the clothes, the music, the movies, and the cars people drove are just a few of the details which affect a story set in the last century. Modern conveniences also vary widely by decade, so a novel set in the 1920’s will be quite different than one set in the 1960’s.
Here are a few examples of popular decades being used for settings of Romance Novels:
1920’s- This was a fascinating era, with flash and intrigue. The changing role of women, the emergence of organized crime, even the popularity of jazz music, all contribute to the romanticism of the time period. Flappers, gangsters, and financial excess are iconic to the Roaring Twenties. This time period is quickly heating up as a backdrop for romance novels.
1930’s – I haven’t seen many romances set in this decade, but there are many general fiction or literary titles. The Great Depression era lends itself to emotional stories of heartbreak and redemption. Still, romances can be written against any backdrop, because love is universal.
1940’s- The World War II era has also been romanticized, and is a fertile backdrop for military-themed romances. Strong heroines are often featured (think Agent Carter types), and spies add to the intrigue. Maybe it’s an echo of the movie Casablanca that makes this decade so inspirational.
1950’s– There have been a few stories popping up set in the ‘fifties, and I think we’ll be seeing more. It was a conservative time, with rigid rules for society, which makes it the perfect backdrop for quirky, rebellious characters, or forbidden romances.
1960’s– An iconic time of rebellion and upheaval, the ‘sixties are a great decade to set a story. Civil rights, war protests, hippies, the Cold War, not to mention sex, drugs and rock and roll. Plenty of fodder for conflict.
1970’s– The disco era was one of flash and not much substance, but the echoes of the previous decade remained. The Cold War was still going on, drugs had become a problem, and young people still rebelled against authority. The New Age movement began to take hold, providing some hope that love still did have the power to change the world.
I haven’t seen many stories set in the 1980’s and ‘90’s…yet. In the decades leading up to the current technological revolution, each step forward was exciting. I mean, when microwaves first came out it was a big deal! Cable television changed everything, and so did the invention of mobile phones. But how people fall in love has never changed, so adding an interesting time period to a story can provide a unique, fresh twist.
I think there is also a nostalgia factor. Readers who grew up in a particular decade may enjoy the details that bring back memories. Younger people might enjoy learning more about a particular era, one that hasn’t been done to death.
I am excited by this new trend of incorporating different settings for novels, television shows and movies. Our near-history has so much to offer, and it has just begun to be tapped.
Which decade of the 20th Century would you enjoy as a setting for a novel?