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One Last Stop: Utilizing Historical Contrast

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One Last Stop by Casey McQuistonEver wanted to read a story about a lesbian from the 70's trapped on a modern-day subway train?

This novel has been getting all the buzz, hitting every bestseller list known to man, flush with 5-star reviews, and positively exploding the internet with fanart, fanfiction, and legions of excited—you guessed it!—fans. McQuiston has acheived with two books the level of star-power that most authors never reach in their lifetime.

Which, to any aspiring novelist, begs the question of: how?

Flush from the success of her first book, Red, White & Royal Blue, McQuiston's sophomore novel branches into supernatural territory. When protagonist 23-year-old August stumbles upon a charming stranger on the subway and falls in love, she'll soon find out that Jane has actually been stuck on that same subway train for nearly 40 years. Together they'll have to conquer the space-time continuum to set Jane free and maybe reach their happily ever after.

On the surface, this is a fairly straightforward high-concept romance. It's Kate & Leopold redone in the era of LGBT acceptance and angsty millenials. Written by an author with a pre-existing fanbase, it was destined to be a success.

But after reading it, I realize there's a thing this book does that elevates it from simple entertainment into something that digs beneath the surface and really makes the reader stop and consider more than just the story.

Historical contrast.

In this novel, McQuiston shows with thoughtful clarity how much the world has changed since the 1970's. The reality Jane left behind is painfully different and bleaker than the one August lives in today. Where August has the freedom to question her sexuality, explore her identity, and be free and safe in her self-expression, Jane grew up in a world where such things were socially unthinkable, maybe even deadly. This disparity serves as the foundation of a story that centers around queer characters and social misfits, crafting an atmosphere of celebration and enthusiaasm. How glorious, this book seems to shout, that we now allow people to be themselves!

The effect is an uplifting and personal read that resonates well beyond the romance in its pages.

If you're writing a novel with any kind of historial element, then perhaps consider what kind of contrast you can create with the reality your readers live in (e.g. the modern world). How can you illuminate the difference, in ways both good and bad. This is not only a way to give your story more theme and depth, but also craft a narrative that echoes in the reader's own mind. Make them picture themselves in the time and place you're describing. Make the story personal, and that'll make it last and linger.

And maybe hit some bestseller lists as well.

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