As we move through 2020 and the global pandemic continues, questions arise for writers:
- Do I need to include the pandemic in my book?
- Should my characters be social distancing and locking down and wearing masks?
- Should my nonfiction book include specific pandemic-related stories and anecdotes?
We’ve been dealing with Covid-19 for long enough that we have some examples of creative choices being made, and how audiences have responded. Recently two popular TV shows, This is Us and Grey’s Anatomy, returned with new, updated episodes. They both included strong pandemic plots and situations, especially Grey’s since it takes place in a hospital. These two shows have always made a point of being rooted in the “real world,” including ripped-from-the headlines plots and situations, so this was a choice that made sense.
Viewer response was not subtle! But it wasn’t definitive either. It seems half the people liked the realism; the other half objected vociferously. The primary complaint seems to be, “I watch TV in order to escape from this reality! Especially right now — COVID is bad enough in real life, why do I have to deal with it in my entertainment, too?”
So what’s an author to do? Here are some thoughts:
This genre will obviously be the most problematic. Here are a few ways to handle it:
- One way to avoid the question is to make sure your book is fully contemporary without any overt references that connect it directly to 2020. It could easily be 2019 or 2022. You could just ignore the pandemic.
- Another way to avoid it is to purposely set your book in a time period before this pandemic started. So maybe it’s 2017, or whatever works for you. This way, you avoid having to include real-world pandemic consequences — things that will still be with us in 2021 and beyond — because we don’t know what they are yet. Will people still be social distancing and wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings for at least another year? I hope not, but we just don’t know. Setting your book prior to all of this could be an answer.
- You could decide to write a book that includes Covid-19 as part of the premise, or simply part of the backdrop. You could include the difficulties of not being able to socialize and the misery of quarantine, if that works for your story. Just be aware that it does firmly date your book in 2020.
- You could give up contemporary and write historical! Or fantasy… or sci-fi. (Just kidding. Sort of.)
There are many different kinds of nonfiction books, so I can’t be specific. But here are a few general thoughts:
- Most nonfiction books use real-life stories to illustrate points. This year is offering a wealth of stories that could serve to illuminate all kinds of topics: coping with anxiety, parenting difficulties, the challenges of cooking at home, the trauma of job loss… I could go on and on. You can decide whether it makes sense to include pandemic-related anecdotes in your nonfiction book.
- Pay special attention to whether omitting any reference to Covid-19 would feel inauthentic or incomplete in your book. If you have a book about anxiety releasing in 2022, then it probably wouldn’t make sense to leave out the coronavirus, since pandemic-related anxiety is one of the main hallmarks of this year.
- Books specifically addressing faith and church may feel incomplete if they don’t address some of the issues that have arisen this year. How does a pandemic challenge one’s faith? How does attending church in a physical space relate to our lives as Christians? You’ll need to decide what’s appropriate.
There aren’t any one-size-fits-all answers. But then, there never are, right?
What are you planning to do in your current works-in-progress?