The Coronavirus: The Elephant In The Room

85
809
writers and coronavirus

As a writer, what do you do if your book is set in the present, but the Coronavirus pandemic thwarts your story? Adapt? Ignore? It’s a question on a lot of writers’ minds. We’d like to hear from you.

The Coronavirus has been called a lot of different names: a plague, a scourge, a global pandemic, and more — including names with questionable undertones about its origin. For authors like Holly Watt, whose stories rely on present-day settings, it has another title:

“It is the massive elephant in the room,” said Watt in an interview with The Guardian newspaper. Her book, To the Lions, was the winner of the 2019 CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award and she’s working on another novel due to be published in 2021.

“I’m trying to work out where we might be,” said Watt. “Might there be a vaccine? Will getting on a plane feel wildly anachronistic? Will journalists working from an office seem weird? How interesting can a book actually be when everyone is sitting in their sitting room in their pajamas?

I’ve received notes from BookBaby authors with similar questions and concerns.

“At first, I was going to just ignore the pandemic and continue with my lead character Winona’s glamorous social life like it was 2019 or something. I was encouraged by a fan to incorporate our current situation into the storyline, but it would limit the main character tremendously and I couldn’t imagine a story for her, under the circumstances, that anyone would want to read. But ignoring the virus just to keep the party going felt dodgy and unrealistic. While I appreciate the challenge, I hate for Winona, as well as the rest of us, to have to go through any of this.” — Edwina Owens Elliott

Others, like BookBaby author Wendy Perriam, are asking for advice:

“I’d love some discussion of the tricky problem of what authors do if their novel is set very clearly in 2020, yet they do NOT want to deal with the Coronavirus or even mention it. Back-dating the novel seems unsatisfactory. Bringing it forward means a lot of uncertainty, as we do not yet know whether further waves of the virus will hit us. Yet readers may hate us if a 2020 novel shows restaurants open and life going on as normal. What do other novelists and readers think?”

It’s a great question, and I invite everyone to share your thoughts in the comments section below. What say you?

Book Marketing in the Age of COVID19

Related Posts
Writers’ Stories From Quarantine
The Importance of Setting In Your Story
Dramatic Times Call For A Clear Message
How Disc Makers Is Helping Combat COVID-19
Building Worlds That Captivate Readers

Steven Spatz
Steven Spatz is a writer, marketer, and the President of BookBaby, the nation’s leading self publishing services company. Spatz’s professional writing career began at age 13, paid by the word to bang out little league baseball game stories on an ancient manual typewriter for southern Oregon weekly newspapers. His journalism career continued after graduation from the University of Oregon at several daily newspapers in Oregon. When his family took over a direct marketing food business, Spatz redirected his writing and design skills into producing catalogs. The Pinnacle Orchards catalog was named "Best Food Catalog," received dozens of other national awards, and the business grew into one of the nation’s largest gourmet fruit gift businesses. After the company was sold, Spatz continued his direct marketing career with Fortune 500 companies including Mattel and Hasbro. He joined AVL Digital in 2004 to lead the direct-to-consumer marketing teams for music industry-leading brands Disc Makers, Oasis, and CD Baby. After serving as Chief Marketing Officer, Spatz was tapped to lead the company’s new publishing division in late 2014. In 2019, the AVL Digital Management team purchased the New Jersey brands, including BookBaby. The company is headquartered in Pennsauken, NJ (just outside Philadelphia, PA) and meets the printed book and eBook needs of thousands of self-publishing authors around the globe. Spatz lives in Glenside, PA with his two children, a demented cat, and some well-used bicycles. Steven loves to hear from authors, editors, and publishers in the BookBaby community with tales of publishing trials and triumphs. To tell him your story, write to steven@bookbaby.com.

85 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve already been through this on a smaller scale. I wrote a novel that’s set on the Florida Panhandle and includes a hurricane, named “Bobby.” I’d just about finished the book when Hurricane Michael devastated the area where my characters live. Since the story takes place “in the present,” I revised it to make Michael a part of local history, and something that’s very much on the characters’ minds when another storm rears its head.
    If a story is happening in this moment, right now, it probably needs something similar for the pandemic. If you’re just starting and aiming for publication in a year or so, I’d make things mostly normal and adjust as necessary in the next draft, in hopes of better times. Luckily for me, my WIP is historical fiction that takes place in 1957 and ’58. PS: If you’re curious about Hurricane Bobby and the rest of that story, check out my author site.

  2. I would think either way would work. But, I wouldn’t want to read a book that included the virus “just because”. If it’s part of the storyline, fine. Otherwise, remember that novels are for escaping into. Who wants to escape to this?

    • Exactly, Monica Hess. This question seems to be making the pandemic a problem that doesn’t exist for writers. You are writing fiction (let it be fiction). Fiction helps us escape this pandemic (TV shows, movies, books); we don’t want to read about the virus. Now, if you are writing to instruct, then include it (be real). But leave fiction as fiction, I say.

  3. Unless the story is specifically about the so called pandemic then there wouldn’t be a reason to include the optional measures people are taking to avoid getting sick. Wearing a mask and staying away from others is optional and a choice. We are free people. Respectfully, There are many other viruses, illnesses and situations going on all the time that are never mentioned in stories. Like if a kid goes to a doctor it’s never mentioned that more than 500,000 humans in the USA die each year due to medical mistakes and malpractice and that s/he is in danger. We pretend this isn’t happening. What would be different with this low death rate virus? Every year the mortality rate for children in developing nations is 1-2% nobody talks about that when they write a ‘diverse’ story. I don’t see the reason to mention it unless an author wants to mention it. We need to realize that war, pollution, GMO’s, pesticides and doctors kill millions of people every year. We should be writing about that. I don’t believe anything different needs to be done in regards to this situation. It would remain the authors choice. Social distancing and wearing a mask are not a law they are a choice.

    • I think you are right it is a free choice. I want to air this and see what folk think. Another writers’ site is asking for stories invoking the virus, but they specify that they must NOT in any way shape or form suggest the guidelines/rules are broken or there is any suggestion they may not all be appropriate. I think this is a stifling of free speech. I hasten to add that I would also ban stories/articles advocating phoney cures or such acts of idiocy as vandalism on 5G masts, but this degree of censorship is treating us (as governments do!) like children.
      I also want to state that I ask people not to jump to erroneous conclusions about my politics. I loathe Mr Trump with a passion, am a centrist/centre left, don’t believe in conspiracy theories and (am UK resident) am an ardent Remainer/Rejoiner!

  4. I have a book on the Boko Haram scourge in Nigeria which takes the lives of over one thousand Nigerians monthly the North eastern part of the country bounded by Cmerouns Niger and Chad. Now both the aggressors and their victms are facing the challenges of corona virus. i want to incorporate the experience of many caught up in the multiple jeopardy iixen my book. Any advice?

  5. Wendy, people will still have sex during a pandemic. We may greet with elbow kisses, the new standard greeting in Europe, but hugs are out. Social distance doesn’t mean emotional distance. I suspect conflict will increase because we can’t ‘hug it out,’ but that will only provide more fire for our writing. Bear in mind, a conservative estimate of the ultimate number of COVID 19 infected is expected to reach one billion, or fifteen percent of the total human species. Fueling the spread is mask shaming, mask refusal, and non-believers in the pandemic. When one’s attention span has boiled down to a news cycle it is no surprise. Our characters must live dangerously otherwise the story is a yawn, anyway. I see 2020 novels being given the opportunity to explore intimacy in new ways, ways that challenge us to be better writers!

  6. Include the pandemic if it serves your plot. If it messes with your plot, leave it out.
    That’s why they call it fiction.

  7. Just ignore it. It worked for the President and his worshipers for a while.
    PG Wodehouse successfully ignored the Great War (The World War, part 1) in his brilliant Jeeves and Wooster stories. If he hadn’t, a number of his male characters wouldn’t have worked, having been killed or maimed in that war.

  8. My books usually show a lot of local events, restaurants and local lore. The book I am working on now has become difficult to write because of the unknown future. After a lot of struggling I decided to embrace the current reality, along with the many uncertainties. I’m going to acknowledge the shuttered buildings, the closed schools and restaurants, and have my protagonist wonder what the future will be like ( as we are all doing).

  9. Here’s a selection from my unpublished second novel – context – a demon ruminating about how another demon has blown his chances for promotion in the dark world:

    “He didn’t really want to go into pestilence, that was Artie’s thing, and Devon had had to fill in for Artie when he took a vacation smack in the middle of the Spanish Influenza. Simple, nervous Artie. No wonder he never got ahead, with timing like that. Flu was boring, anyway, nothing subtle about it at all, you concoct a nasty virus in the Lab, toss it into the population, sit back and watch the humans turn on each other, Soul Pickers from both sides divvying the spoils.”

    I wrote that passage quite some time ago. Can’t use it now. Would seem like I was stating the obvious. At the time, I wasn’t.

    Timing is everything in setting down ideas. I’ll be keeping my settings pre-pandemic, if only because that’s the perspective the characters have, and I have enough rework to do on them all without uplifting them to adjust to the crash of events these days. Others may be more adept at commenting on what we’re living through (COVID’s just a small bit of it, really) — I’m for reflection. I won’t make sense of these years until they’re far behind us – and by that time I’m likely to have departed this earth and gone to the next mystery.

    No doubt there will be plenty of folks who will issue the slice-of-life works we’ll need — and some will be masterworks. I’ll be lucky to use the time I have left on this earth to wrestle with the demons we already had before COVID reminded us of our fragility.

  10. I see nothing wrong with setting your novel a little earlier than this year, like 2018 or 2019. In fact, if it can work, especially if you started working on your novel then, it is probably a little better.

  11. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin during the 1849-1852 cholera epidemic that killed many thousands of Americans. It’s the pathos of the story that survives the immediacy of the time. As of this writing the are 140,000 COVID 19 deaths and plenty of pathos for story lines. Perhaps this is the best of times for a writer.

  12. Of course, Covid changes everything, real or fictional. But it also changes nothing. We have to deal with all the same personal issues, just with limited tools. I actually think it’s a great challenge. How would your characters respond? If they go to sleep or give up, then that’s the end of the story, but if they struggle, get up, flop, recover, discover, find a new lover (on Zoom ?) then the story lives.

    Easy for me to say. I’m writing non-fiction.

  13. I wonder, honestly, who wants to read a book about a Pandemic we are all living through? I prefer to escape to books, not live reality within them.

    Personally, I read most genres and I would not welcome a pandemic romance or fiction at this point. Maybe when things have settled down, if they do; or maybe when this pandemic is a memory for most, then a book complete with social distancing and face masks might be in my TBR list. But not now. I won’t buy it, and I wouldn’t care who wrote it (if one of my favorites wrote it, then I’d have to say, sorry, no dice). I know it is tough for some writers, especially those who struggle with words, to find some other topic to write about right now, but reading about the pandemic has got to be almost as depressing as living in it.

  14. What happened to fiction.Something That is a story. There will be time in the future to write about now. I don’t want to plunge into our current problems. I read to escape most of the time. In the future I may want to read an historical novel about now. As a writer I would not write about covid unless it was fantasy. All a dream?!

  15. The essential item in any story is conflict. What greater conflict do we have in 2020 than dealing with the massive changes in society? Mask wearers, anti-maskers; fervent deniers of problems, insisting on congregating as normal vs. those who want everyone to stay home. Long-distance romance is a subject often dealt with, but what about 6-foot (2-metre) romance? Did Rhett infect Scarlett? Then did he run before the contact was traced? Did they both then infect others, thereby causing someone else’s business to go under, and that person decided to wreak revenge on Rhett, and Scarlett had to break quarantine to save him?
    It’s just anotherwar story.

  16. For fiction, I find that even if I make notes on current events, or draft stories, I need to put them away and look at them later, with hindsight. I rarely send anything out for publication that is in the moment. It’s that reflection that gives me the ability to write with the detachment I need. But even in that reflection, I think it would be difficult to write a piece of fiction set in a time that in no way reflects the norms of that time. It would be an anachronism. A Farewell to Arms is a primarily a love story, but it is set in the backdrop of its time, WW1. What was going on in society at the time was a part of the story; it informed everything from setting and plot to the characters’ behaviors. Hemingway published it 10 years after the war was over.
    I would be interested to hear others’ views. Its’ certainly been a topic of discussion in our writers’ group.

  17. I’ve been through this situation twice. I started my novel Offline in Spring 2001and set the story in mid-September 2001. When 9/11 hit, I had a lot to think about. Somewhere near the bottom of that list was Offline. Should I even finish it? Did the story still make sense in this new, uncertain world? I did finish and publish Offline, but I set it in August 2001. I made it a reminder of a world that was gone and a warning of what was to come.

    I started writing Amiga for NaNoWriMo 2016. Then, Trump was elected. I leaned into it and made it a core part of the story. I wrote about how the election and the conflicts affected the characters. As my MC was looking back at her past to deal with her present-day problems, she reflected on how she learned how to cope with previous times of uncertainty. If she could get through challenging times then, she can get through them now. You can read more about my experiences on my website (https://www.matthewarnoldstern.com/current-affairs/nanowrimo-2016-writing-while-the-world-changes.html).

    This pandemic is a world-changing event, and it would be hard not to include it in your story. You can choose to write about the world before it happened, describe what is happening now, or try to predict what things will be like afterwards. Look at it as one more challenge (or opportunity) for your writing.

  18. It’s like writing a novel for the present and not reference a smart phone or a website or google search. The coronavirus pandemic is a marker on time… reference it but unless your story is specifically about the pandemic, don’t dwell on it. But don’t ignore it either or you will be seen as an author who doesn’t really do any deep research. Few authors want be been viewed as a lazy writer.

  19. Personally, I think readers want to escape the realities of where they are and what they’re dealing with in their lives; I see no reason to remind them of what we see every day. We need to sweep them off into a world where the pandemic is not putting pressure on them. It’s just my opinion on the subject, but it’s how I plan to proceed with my writing. I’m offering them an escape from masks, hand sanitizer, social distancing and our modern conviences closed due to government regulations.

  20. In my view the invitation to comment on the virus problem is just that. It is not an invitation to waffle on about one’s latest novel. But vanitas seems to rule nowadays.

  21. The book I am currently working on, entitled “The Last One Left,” is the journal of the last man living on Earth. The protagonist (and only character) is an astronaut who returns from a mission to space to find everyone gone. I had this book in the works before the pandemic hit, and was planning to leave the cause of the absence of people a mystery. It was intended to be a sort of a Robinson Crusoe story focusing on his efforts to survive alone. Since the pandemic, I’ve decided to make that the reason for the absence of people, as a warning of what could happen if we let this get out of control.

  22. I don’t think ignoring, or not even mentioning Covid-19 in a 2020 story is possible. Today, for most of us, every decision, action and interaction is determined by how we might be affected by the virus.
    It would be like writing a story about a Union soldier in 1862, without mentioning the Civil War.

  23. I think that it’s important to make it as real as possible. Since you are writing current day, show your characters limitations, setbacks, or desires for things to get back to normal. Maybe a fantasy setting ( the pandemic is going on, but it’s as if the character is in a different world). Just something that doesn’t put too much focus on the current situation.

  24. Steven Spatz Sounds like a topic for a short story journal and or contest.I think in the long run if COVID is essential to the plot line and characters journey it should be included, otherwise not. The same issue came up with literature written during the AIDS epidemic , and it came down to some stories (and film scripts)were written to specifically illuminate those issues, and if it was used in another piece it just muddied up the rest of the plot line and narrative .

  25. Except for my fantasy projects, I always backdate. I fix most of my stories to a specific time. For example, in one of my current WIP, the protagonist and his grandsons get falling down, sloppy drunk in their anger over Trump’s election. In two other WIP, the entire action occurs between May and December 2018. My last WIP is a medieval-era fantasy with European overtones, but American geography. My most recent published work is set sometime during the Obama administration. The day will come when I will deal with this, but writing with as much anger as such a story would require is not good for my health or my relations with the people around me. There will be hundreds of angry novels written in the next few years. Many of them will be written by better writers than me. The question I will ask as I begin to write that book will be, “What can I add to the body of literature that is worth adding?”

  26. I started writing my book in February and for the past few months I have stopped writing. This whole Pandemic has stopped me in my tracks. I intended only to write about my life, but then the Corona Virus swept through knocking out everything in its way and I paused to recover a bit. I now am at a place where if I continue to write I must include this virus and multiple delays and lock downs if I am going to finish my book.

  27. I’m torn. I am writing a fantasy novel, so I’m wondering if I can rely on “suspension of disbelief” to cover for me. Yet, most of my characters’ stories take place at their homes when they don’t take place in the alternatre ‘in-between’ world, which I will be making magically protected/immune from any virus.

    There are a few times these characters will venture into public places locally, and I will probably add masks…or hope that there is a vaccination. TBD, I guess.

  28. I’m avoiding COVID in my most recent WIP. I feel a lot of times people read fiction to escape reality and not be embroiled in the troubles around them. COVID is nasty. It takes time and energy to stay safe. Personally, I prefer to relieve my readers of this burden for the time it takes to read my book.

  29. For me, I’ve already alluded to something like COVID in my futuristic tale, OUTWORLD. In the book I speak of political leadership that failed to recognize climate change and it’s accompanying problems, including viruses released into the population. I am currently working on a sequel and prequel. What I have learned by living through the last six months is definitely finding it’s way into the prequel.

  30. Unless you’re writing from a historical perspective, nothing will date your novel faster than including references to COVID-19, especially when it comes to things like masks and social distancing. I know it’s difficult to envision, but a day is coming in the near future when COVID-19 will be in the rear view mirror, and people will have tossed their masks in the trash can. If your book takes place in a contemporary time frame, it will have a much longer shelf life if you avoid COVID.

  31. My current series, which I have just finished the last installment of, closes towards the end of 2019 – thank goodness!
    My next book or series has moved away from modern crime fiction to fantasy, so by sheer chance I have escaped the complexities that this will bring. For now.
    However, by the time I have changed my mind, we will – all things being equal- be in 2021 and perhaps, God willing, we have a vaccine.

  32. I just finished a novel starting with a honeymoon in Ireland beginning in August, 2020 . Ireland has the pandemic and closed pubs, etc. just as we have in the states. So I set it back to 2019, as the honeymoon produced “results” (made in Ireland results) in May of 2020 in Wyoming. Almost in a birth notice at the end, I mentioned the pandemic necessitating a home birth. I started the book yrs. ago as #3 in my trilogy and was just finishing it when the pandemic hit. It would have changed the whole story and kept the honeymooners from seeing many sights in Ireland. I can imagine other writers just ignoring it or mentioning it and results once it is behind us. Hopefully, by 2021.

  33. I’ll admit to being a bit out of place responding to this. I’m writing science fiction, so my first three novels took place at the start of the 22nd century, and my latest novel (going into a third draft) is set in the early 23rd century. Yet the problem of setting a story during the time of the Coronavirus is a challenge that intrigues me. Since I don’t know the stories the authors above have written, I can’t give hard-and-fast suggestions on what to do. But maybe I can offer suggestions on how to approach the problem.

    First off, authors seeing this as a problem may be going in the wrong direction. What if you looked at it as if it is a challenge, which in fact, it is. Can the story still exist against the harsh reality we’re facing? Do people still fall in love? Do they cry? Do they get bored? Do they get angry? Of course they do, all of that and more, even while facing Covid-19. Their emotions and desires don’t disappear.

    So how does your story, whatever your story is, fit into the harsh reality we face in 2020? First off, remember Covid-19 didn’t come upon us like an avalanche. We heard of it, but at first, it was easy to think “It doesn’t affect me.” The comment above how readers “do NOT want to deal with the Coronavirus or even mention it” sounds like a certain president we know. That’s the reality of this year. How does your fiction fit around that reality? If the story you have right now is funny, leave it funny. If it’s a mystery, the mystery is still there. On the other hand, If a couple has a favorite restaurant, you may want them to go to that restaurant in one of the early chapters.

    What I don’t think authors should do is love their story so much that they’re not up to the challenge of adjusting it to the reality of 2020, unless they’re willing to change the time period and the setting.

    If your story is finished or nearly finished, read it again, but think creatively of how the impact of 2020’s reality would affect your characters. You may think that could ruin your story. But it’s possible your characters are stronger than you think. And so are your readers.

  34. COVID-19 has changed everything in the contemporary novel, as has BLM. I have recently completed two novels, both started more than a decade ago and even now references to events in the recent past, such as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, seem to date the settings to ten years ago. I have yet to decide how to tackle the anachronisms but probably, up front, chapter 1, line 1, put the date in bold. Or I could scrap a decade’s writing and move on to some other project. Or set the stories in the aftermath of the second world war, or Viet Nam. Decisions, decisions. Who knew writing could be this complicated?

  35. I think most readers of books/ebooks are like the readers of the comic pages: that is, they want to visit a fantasy world where things are whatever the writer or artist say they are!
    The comics showed children still attending school until June, diners going out to movies and restaurants, caterers like Blondie still waiting on customers, and golfers still going golfing.
    If we want to read about communicable disease, we could pick up an old copy of Virus or something.

  36. It’s interesting that this topic is showing up today because I have just started writing my 4th book. It’s set in present day with the characters handling a virus very much like what we are currently experiencing. I am using the masks, social distancing, lines at stores (in the early days), etc.. II am not sure exactly where it is headed and you will have to find out when I am finished and published. Personally, I think that the story can be written including thei pandemic and not have to deal with the future outcome and still be a good story. That’ s about all I want to say for now.

  37. If you’re reading this in New York, or Florida, you probably have a hard time believing there’s places where not much happens, COVID-19-wise. I’m in a county that still has less than 100 confirmed cases since the outbreak, and 0 deaths. One of the members of our painters’ group is a snowbird that winters on Catalina Island, which, last I heard is still COVID-19 free. So, if your story’s in a fictitious town, you could plausibly put it as a place that’s relatively COVID-19 free. I can tell you, if it wasn’t for all the “mask-Nazis” (especially all the chains that are mandating them as I type this) a visitor would be hard-pressed to see evidence of COVID-19 in my town. Likewise, you can be vague about the date, which I personally think makes your novel more “evergreen,” anyway.

  38. The present pandemic is actually a very dark cloud but in every cloud, there’s a silver lining. Finding the silver lining and
    adopting euphemism in the text will make your storyline polite and interesting for your readers and reduce tension.

    My personal opinion is, if a book is set, it should be revised to recognise the current global crisis but not giving the pandemic a strong emphasis rather add the silver lining in the cloud.

  39. I echo Dave’s comment from July 11. If a story has a “now, 2020” setting, COVID-19 needs to have a place in the story to be realistic.

    The characters need to experience symptoms, testing, or even hospitalization, or whatever extreme the author opens his characters into.

    COVID-19 is happening now, worldwide, and to keep the readers interest, it should be addressed in some way, and probably depending where in United States, or the globe, where the story takes place.

    However, the story should maintain author point of view, and storyline.

    • Not necessarily. I could tell you everything I did in the last month, without mentioning COVID-19. If it wasn’t for the nightly infection counts on the news and all the places requiring masks (our city and county don’t have an ordinances, and Evers won’t try to push a state mandate through after the Republicans slapped him down for unlawfully extending the “safer at home” order, but with the US Post Office and most of our retailers being chains that have decided to require them nation-wide, it’s kind of hard to avoid the new state religion), you’d be hard-pressed to notice any difference between this year and last year around town.

  40. I would be tempted to ignore coronavirus or avoid the timeframe altogether.

    But working with it offers ample opportunity for covering up a murder and masks are excellent for concealing or confusing an identity.

  41. In December I was doing the final polish on a current events book: 100 seconds to midnight that discusses the Doomsday clock’s assessment that our civilization is on the brink. Enter Covid-19. Any written piece that speaks to contemporary events can’t ignore the tremendous impacts that this virus has had on our society. It meant going back chapter by chapter to incorporate the concepts of mask wearing and social distancing – two things that greatly affect disaster response especially when it comes to public or multifamily shelters.

    It wasn’t by any means fun, but it wasn’t as difficult as I first imagined it was going to be. I added a rewritten introduction that acknowledges the arrival of the virus and added a section to the first chapter that adds an additional argument about our risk of war, referencing the seven worst pandemics to affect humanity in the last 4000 years. (In each instance the respective plague ultimately collapsed societies and led to a redistribution of military power regionally and in more modern times, globally.

    I feel that the decision to include or ignore is really dictated by the substance and messaging in the book. If I ignored the current pandemic, any reader who delved into the publication would immediately have one of three thoughts: the author was too lazy to update the book, or this is dated and the information inside could be stale, or the author cannot be a subject matter expert in the field and not address these impacts on disaster preparedness in this country.

    Best of luck to all!

  42. Since most novels take place in “the present”, not a specific year, there is no reason to make mention of masks or social distancing or any other current “living slang” (to use a term I just coined) unless your story specifically deals with it (as does my short “The Corona Mutiny Court Trial”) or your purpose is to validate all the crrrent hype and BS.

    For just as the day eventually came when everyone finally admitted that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction after all, despite the government and virtually every TV station and newspaper station (other than the valient Knight-Ridder chain and antiwar dot com) insisting they did and supporting the idea of preemtively attacking a country that had never done anything to us (the definition of evil), the day will eventually come when people realize that this corona virus was no more a threat than the seasonal flu in terms of actually sickness and death (and that all of hysteria over the “skyrocking cases” was simply because of the inaccuracy and volume of swab tests done).

  43. This is “relatively” easy.
    1) Is the accuracy of the setting important to the story? The story/point is what drives this.
    2) Present can mean almost anything and you can push this a year or two in your head without stating a “date” anywhere.
    3) If the story is milieu based on this time (e.g. Trump/political divides/etc.) then you HAVE to include something on COVID, but only in context of what you’re stressing. Then you need to add in Black Lives Matter and a LOT of other things. If it is plot based (most genre fiction), then you don’t need to. It becomes “present day” with that being pretty darn amorphous. Authors USUALLY don’t go into massive detail on, for instance, airline security. If it is based on today for a point, then focus on the point (black lives matter, immigration, political divide, etc.). Leave the Covid-19 focus for a historical novel in a few years :-).

    The use of Gone With the Wind as an example has a lot of flaws, even when pushing a point. You would need to include the REAL cruelty of slavery too, to publish it now. And a whole host of things. The example is so badly out of touch with present day, it loses some of the power of an example. Maybe something like “When Harry Met Sally” in the age of Covid :-).

  44. My book is in the future after something called “The Time of Chaos”. I feel I don’t need to change a thing. :)

  45. If your work is fiction, you have artistic license to use the coronavirus as a ubiquitous backdrop for your story–or not. Remember, it’s fiction. If it’s non-fiction, well, that’s a different story.

  46. It would be rather unrealistic to portray 2020 without the pandemic and its effects. If the writer really wants to leave them out, maybe they could make their story take place in early 2020, before the SIP went into effect.

  47. There has been a major change in social norms due to the worldwide pandemic. Something as simple as a hug or a handshake is not going to be the future greeting norm. Zoom and other online forums will be where a lot of social life can and will happen, not only for work. Large public gatherings will be unusual, and there will be both those who believe there is a virus and those that believe it is a hoax. Fights are already happening about wearing maks and there will be more discord and civil unrest, mostly in America but possible anywhere in the world. Work status and pay rates may change reflecting the fact that the very lowest-paid workers turned out to be necessary to keep the economy operating.

  48. I agree with Dave. If the pandemic has a role to play in the story, then use it. If not, ignore it (like too many are doing anyway). I think the virus circulating in our world holds such an anathema for most they won’t want to read fiction about it, because it’s not entertaining.

  49. I write through an alter-ego. This alter-ego is a child whose sees the world through wide-eyed innocence. Right now, I have been writing a pseudo-historical fantasy sea voyage. It is a story that do not exist in the present-day, here and now. It exists in “another time, another place.” The story is laced with metaphor and dusted with social satire. But even so. As I watched the Twin Cities burn, I noticed some of my secondary characters become angry and take on their own fights against established systems. My characters have started fighting internal darkness. Something I have started to confront in my own daily life with our “stay at home” orders and my state‘s and, specifically, county’s need to ignore the virus. Almost as if the virus itself is not real.
    The virus so far has not made a direct appearance. It will probably be a monster that somehow will be defeated. I can not turn off my optimism even when I personally fight anti-socialistic tendencies and fits of depression. Even when I see the world around me in enrolled in fear, hate, and anger. Face masks and social distancing? Vaccine? I am sure they will make it into my writing at some point. There could be room in my current writing. As my alter-ego spends a lot of time looking at the surrounding world, And as we begin to open our schools in the area, I am sure there just might be A “Mask of Red Death” in my very near future. A story of peer pressure to act against what you are told, a story about denial. The masks, social distancing, vaccines are all part of our here and now. They are amazing fodder. And maybe, my world is so filled with “you” vs. “me,” that all of these things simply get absorbed into the fabric of my stories. Osmosis.

  50. …But Scarlett’s and Clark’s problems are still hanging around us, maybe if we’re lucky the virus will have to say goodby forever soon. I’m lucky. My story takes place in 1961 … lots of funny stuff going on then, remember young girls & boys hitchhiking from all over the states to California … woo! woo! … so much fun.

  51. I don’t think one could write a book that took place in the late 30’s and early 40’s without WWII having some kind of influence on the plot.

  52. “Murder in the Amazon” was being written before the virus struck. It is a story about a reporter investigating business activities in the Amazon Rainforest. He uncovers proof of government payoffs and collusion between a major Brazilian company and China. Together, these forces plan to grab and develop protected land and push out the indigenous people and get rid of them once and for all. The emergence of the pandemic prompted me to do some rewriting and use a super-virus, developed in China, as the way of completely eliminating the rainforest natives. The reporter finds himself in the middle of a battle between the natural order of things and what is considered modern day progress. Hopefully, the story will have a longer life than the Coronavirus.

  53. What I had to offer was mostly what Dave said – he used a really excellent example. If the virus becomes part of our lives for a long time (years; some virus episodes were decades)… I’d explore what adding the virus does: how would each character respond – e.g., mask or no mask? How does adding reality add to the book?

  54. I am about to write the second draft for a novel that HAS to be set in 2020. My first thought was to include the virus but have my county isolate themselves, so they can somewhat ignore the rules; the characters need to meet and interact. What I am now planning to do is have those interactions prior to lockdown. Then, with the occasional naughty meet up, I believe I can keep the plot going till lockdown easing. I feel this passive documenting of the pandemic will actually add something to my novel.

  55. I can imagine that a novel including the pandemic realistically could be a teaching tool re: rights and responsibilities, cause and effect, and compassion and concern for others. It would not need to be “preachy” but in telling the story of the characters these things could be presented in an interesting and even entertaining way. Just a thought.

  56. No será una respuesta. Es una Toma de Razón. Primera vez que leo, entretenido y curioso, cosas de la vida de estudio y trabajo de Steven Spatz. Cuando uno repasa este tipo de publicación, es precisamente, “pública”. Y allí se inicia, instintivamente, con algún afán competitivo y sólo para practicar algún deporte en esta cuarentena, la comparación aparece por naturaleza: “¿Y yo. Cómo y dónde estoy?” Y conociendo a Steven por este tipo de comunicaciones, se conformaría, por ahora solamente, con alguna reacción. Y la breve, verdadera, natural, concreta y actual podría ser ésta, la mía: no practico la ficción como producto de venta. Todo lo que he enfrentado literariamente en mis superadas cuatro décadas de márketing y publicidad entre Rosario, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Nueva York y Chicago ha sido superar mis dificultades entre creativas y administrativas, con, sorpréndase, Su Majestad… el Dibujo. Después de esta confesión, apuesto doble contra sencillo, que nadie va a acertar. Termino como lo hizo Steven, “… si tiene curiosidad sobre el Huracán Bobby…”. Gracias y saludos.

  57. I’m hoping that many books and stories will have integrated within them what a huge scam this has been on the people. Unfortunately, if they do get written, they won’t be novels. The collateral damage unleashed by this ‘pandemic’ provides fodder for a million storylines – the people who’ve lost their jobs, their savings, their livelihoods, the surge in suicide, despair, alcoholism and the spike in domestic abuse. A veritable smorgasbord of items is there for writers to reference in their stories. The intertwining lives, storylines and criminality of the rich and famous who have profited mightily from this can provide material for legions of authors. Ex·po·sés on the criminally complicit media could keep authors writing and researching for decades to come. Authors SHOULD be writing about this, but will they? Probably not if they want to get published. Grow some stones fellow writers!

  58. It’s a hard call, I guess. Can the story stand without reference to the pandemic? A lot of people read novels in order to get away for a while from their day to day life and its worries. If novels were not a form of escapism (or many of them) I wonder if sci-fi and fantasy novels would be as popular as they are. Having said that, there are also a lot of stories that deal with things like wide-spread out-of-control disease too. So I suppose, from a reader’s perspective, I guess it depends on whether I want to sink deeply into a world in the throes of a pandemic, or whether I am looking to escape it for a time.

  59. Great question. I try not to be specific as far as year as much as possible. I’m currently working on a series. Series has progressed from original characters to their children. I didn’t want to wait twenty years to write these after kids grew up. I’m continuing to be non-specific. I have one book at copy editor which features a basketball player. It would be very difficult to change this story to reflect shut down of NBA due to coronavirus. I’m working on next book. At this point I’m not planning on including coronavirus in book, but who knows what will happen as story develops.

  60. The Jekyll-Hyde dichotomy that finds my everyday life moving forward, albeit ever-so-cautiously, while the chaotic nightmare of sudden crippling or/and death plays out en masse in every one of the nations hospitals is paradox that is impossible for me to reconcile.
    I am an apprentice nature writer (essayist)/photographer who would NOT for all the shekels in the fed reserve, try to tackle the current pandemic either in horror fiction or historical documentary. As for those strongly rooted in the writing of fiction or non-fiction tragedy, perhaps they must do what they have to. May they find great success in sculpting portrayal of courage and strength in their heroic characters.
    As for me, if ever there has been greater need for redemption by escape to a smidgen of beauty and hope, that time is with me, both in what I write and read! One can only battle in the emotional trenches for so long. My advice would be to offer readers something quite removed from the current pandemic scenario until the stench and rubble have subsided. Nature, humor and poetry spring to mind very quickly.

  61. My last book released in May, and my next one will be October 1. They’re set in present-day Louisiana, and I chose to ignore the pandemic entirely. When I was in Lafourche Parish for research I practiced social distancing, wore my mask, did not eat in restaurants, etc., etc., but I think the public appreciates a break from these strange times. My readers don’t expect to get a social message, and my genre (supernatural/paranormal) lends itself to being way beyond reality anyway. So my characters go to restaurants and bars, hold hands at a seance and do things we all did before March, 2020. No apologies for doing it that way; I want to give them a release, not more proof we’re in a serious situation.

  62. I will treat this time as one of mass hysteria akin to the Salem Witch Trials in with thinking was suspended in favor of a charging herd following ridiculous preformed ideas handed to them as truth. I think weaving the trials into the novel on the current time will be an intriguing work and likely banned for content.

  63. When I first learned of haiku I was taught that the action is happening now, with ‘now’ being whenever the reader is reading it. Likewise, my novels are happening ‘now’. I write in the present tense.
    So my first novel, completed in 2019, is antepandemicum.
    My second novel, a work in progress, started in 2019, just does not mention the pandemic.
    So if read a couple of months ago, during major lockdown, it was not realistically ‘now’.
    Yet what about if it is being read in a few years, or twenty years time?
    Nobody knows what ‘now’ will be like pandemic-wise in a few weeks time!
    However, the story does not mention lots of things, like checking oil level in the car, or having a wash and combing hair before going out, so maybe putting on a mask is happening but not mentioned.
    So, my novels might not be at all realistic, but it is fiction.
    Yet hopefully the novels fulfill their purpose of conveying my ideas about an invention of mine.
    They are free to read and no registration is required.
    William Overington
    Tuesday 21 July 2020

  64. I would not put the Coronavirus epidemic in a contemporary novel. Most people read fiction for escapism. Give your reader a well-needed break. I know I need one.

  65. I was in the process of updating all my previously published stories (in three genres) to 2020 and the same universe when the virus broke out. It opened up a wide range of plot elements involving villains and those trying to stop them. While I won’t focus on the numbers, specifics of the pandemic, and the news media reports, the virus will enhance the backdrop and the environment in which vastly outnumbered heroes work harder to eliminate the villains involved.

  66. As an author I would consider the purpose of my writing. If I am writing to entertain through Romance, Historical Fiction or other categories that help people escape from their problems, I would not include it. People don’t need help getting more depressed. If my book was a spy novel, mystery or thriller it could make a good circumstance for the protagonist to overcome. Audiences for these genres are used to this type of reading material and probably would not be affected by the negativity too much. As for the unknown, I take it one moment and one day at a time, and trust God to work it out according to His will.

  67. I agree people need a break from writing about Cov.19. I was able to finish my first two books, and get 24 review copies printed and waiting my first reviews, one of my books got a Scoreit!-(4.5 Stars) on the fiction. The non-fiction is helping my green business offering a free copy with purchase.

  68. As my debut novel is launching in less than 6 weeks and is NOT set during a pandemic, and I’m currently writing Book 2 and a separate book that takes place around the same timeframe as my debut novel, I’ve decided to treat all 3 books as if they’re in a parallel universe where the pandemic has not occurred. It would simply overcomplicate an already complicated plot, and, after all, many of the companies do not exist here and the medical technology referenced is not available in our current world. I may reference it in a later novel, or at least reflect any more permanent social changes that have continued in the aftermath of COVID19, but for now, it doesn’t exist in the world of Zero Dark.

  69. I think the whole thing will be old hat before most works-in-progress go to press. Might we be wiser if we don’t deliberately “date” our work? Personally, I root for work that doesn’t obsess over this – I had had enough of the hand-wringing and paranoia about a week after the world shut down, but none of the media would allow me a moment’s respite from it. “All Covid, all the time” is not my idea of a mantra on which to hang the rest of my life. So, I will not address the issue in any of my work. Ever.

  70. I’ve decided in my new series to let my imagination take over. It’s set in 2029, the new normal. I’ve had lots of fun going wild with potential outcomes in the future, without ever going to in depth in the pandemic itself. I think it links itself well to dystopian type literature.

  71. My personal experience results in NO ELEPHANT in the room. No adaptation required and no ignoring of the COVID. As a writer, I’m doing NOTHING different than a year ago, four years ago.

    Of course living on the fringe of the Croatan Forest Reserve makes things easy in regards to COVID. Watching this COVID thing on the telee news is like watching a video of “The Waliking Dead”. Yes, I have NO neighbors unless they’re four legged or slither through the vegetation.

    Shopping? Ordering online has been “the norm” for almost 20 years.

    Of course the query concerns placing characters into the year 2020. For me, not an issue. But to address the anxiety of others, simply move the time line to 2019 or post 2020, like, 2021.

    “We stood at the waterline as Big Mama Atlantic gently pulled her waves up to our feet, not knowing that this would be our last visit with Big Mama for quite sometime due to an invisible killer.”

    “Both our hearts sang in rythym as we slowly approached Big Mama for the first time in a much too long of a stay away from Her. After three million souls Big Mama continues to do what she’s always done showing us that she’s the boss and we now recognize our fragile nothingness, comparatively.”

    I mean, come on people. Get your feet wet and WRITE ON!

    Regards,
    Val Amant

  72. I’ve actually been taking advantage of the pandemic and all that it entails to capture the mood, details, and chaos of 2020 for the third book in a trilogy….which I wasn’t ready to write yet! I’m still working on Volume 2 but it felt remiss to hope to recapture these moments at some point in the future when I’m finally ready….and perhaps will have forgotten how bleak, despairing, and crazy the times. After all, as many have said, we have no idea what the future will bring and by the time I’m fully immersed in this next book, we may well be onto something completely different. So, I’m writing scenes where it will be important to the plot. The challenge of working the pandemic into more humorous situations proves very cathartic!

  73. I’ve been writing a book on the main street revitalization movement of the last 40-50 years. I had a lot to do with starting it. More than 2000 towns and cities have used our methods to bring life back to their historic town centers and urban districts. The impact has been phenomenal: since 1980 this has led to $85 billion in reinvestment, nearly 300,000 buildings renovated, 150,000 net new businesses and 672,000 net new jobs.
    By March 2020, I’d completed a draft of all but the closing chapter — on the future of main street. Then the bottom fell out of everything. I was in shock. What to do with the book I’d been working on for 2 years? End it in 2019? Just stop writing? I was paralyzed for weeks. Thousands of small businesses closed forever. Gradually, I began to explore what these towns were doing to recover, what opportunities there might be out there for after what looks to be a long recession. I talked with leading experts in retail, economic development and have resumed writing the chapter. My goal is to send the edited manuscript to Book Baby by September 15. Pray that Congress provides financial support that keeps all this going, for main street is the heart of our communities.

  74. My fiction trilogy is set in the present day, but since it is fiction, I have chosen to ignore the so called pandemic, along with any number of other issues in today’s world. I have written a science fiction novel addressing today’s world issues which has just been picked up by a publisher. I feel that my work is meant to entertain, not provide social comment on today’s problems.

  75. I’ve already adapted and done a fresh new draft of my thriller that now takes place in 2022 in what I’m guessing (hoping) will be a post-Pandemic world. When I watch contemporary TV shows now and see people going about their daily pre-Pandemic routine, especially crowded party scenes, riding the subway packed like sardines it feels like the ancient world and if we have submitted our work yet I feel that to be realistic we have to adapt if not to how things are than how we think they’ll be in a year or so. I don’t think we’re ever going back to pre-Pandemic normal.

  76. Five years ago I wrote about my husband’s heart transplant and how it affected me his sole caretaker. I never finished it but picked it up again to rewrite the story from a distant perspective and found us in a similar situation, guarding him from Covid and the outside world, constant disinfecting, washing hands frequently and wearing face masks, our routine during his recovery.
    Somehow, I will weave in 2020 and both the PTSD and the familiarity of protecting a loved one from death.

  77. I’m glad to have read this because this question has been on my mind. A non-writer friend didn’t understand why it was bothering me so, but I honestly didn’t know how to write a story if set in the present. For me, I feel like I need to write historicals or far future – which works for me since I like to write sci/fi and paranormal. My office humor book has been ruined by the pandemic however.

  78. Pandemics may come, pandemics may go but life goes on for ever. People are fed up reading stories about virus. So choose such stories that reflect the least effect of virus.

  79. Wow, what a lot of comments. Many of them I agree with, both pro and con. Even when writing fiction it’s necessary to be historically accurate. Covid may not be part of the story but this is not the point. Where the story written touches on anything related to life as we know it (documented history), lip service needs to be given to the Covid situation. Who of us haven’t read fiction that where they touch on aspects of Science, Biology, Medicine, Crime, Justice, etc, adhere to the facts. (deduced from research or personal knowledge) That doesn’t mean our fiction becomes a medical, scientific, or other kind of textbook on a subject.
    However, if someone had an autobiography to write of a unique Covid experience it would be appropriate to get the context, facts, details, on a deeper level. Right now wouldn’t be appropriate or timely to publish, for reasons already stated above by others. The world hasn’t solved the problem yet, the disease is raging in some countries with no hope of leveling out at present, vaccines are still experimental and most of us are nauseated by media saturation on the subject, and the arguments and ignorance over stipulated advice. (to do with washing, sterilizing, no hugs, quarantine, wearing face masks and whether to stockpile toilet paper etc. An opportunity for adding hilarity to an account exists here.) Wait until there is a happy ending to write a satisfying conclusion please.
    On the other hand maybe choose New Zealand as the setting for the novel, if a relatively Covid free setting is preferred. Life has returned to normal for most of us and the ones returning to NZ are in strict enforced quarantine. (Many of these are testing positive for the disease) I know our geography comes into it. There is much green space and farmland throughout, the country is virtually cut in half with a body of water in between, and the city’s sizes can’t compete with the immense cities in other lands. (“A team of 5 million”* spread in pockets over our entire country) Our swift lock down, for the best part of two months – based on the model of what had been happening in other lands – plus very staggered return to normality, worked. It had to, as we simply do not have the hospital capacity or resources (hygiene equipment or respirators) to cater for a huge outbreak. I won’t start on the economic factors which have resulted.
    Fiction/non fiction written after the disease has abated will also need to accurately reflect the financial situation.
    I believe, many of us will choose to read fantasy to escape our current situations for a long time!
    * A quote by Jacinta Adern. “team” because there is no “i” in team!

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.