The not-so-brave new world of pandemic pandemonium we’ve been living through for the last nine months poses a specific problem for those of us writing cotemporaneous novels. What do we do with the new, very restricted ways of living people have been obliged to adopt?
Many of us will have begun our current Work-in-Progress when no-one had even heard of Covid. Do we re-write what we’ve done so far, plunging our characters into the tedium of mask-wearing and not going out (well we’ve had to put up with it – why shouldn’t they)? Or do we carry on, as if nothing had changed? Neither option is without its problems.
Setting your novel in a world free from C-19 might actually prove to be the more difficult path; more of a work-out for the imagination. I don’t know about you, but those times seem so long ago I can hardly remember what they were like. Imagine being able to go out whenever you want, without having to cover your face. Imagine having physical contact with other human beings – touching an arm, shaking a hand; spontaneously sharing a hug. It’s hard to recall what it was like not to be constantly worrying about maintaining a distance between yourself and other people. I can’t help thinking of the line in the Smiths song ‘Hand in Glove’ – ‘everything depends upon how near you stand to me‘.
But even if you are able to faithfully re-create the way we lived then, will your novel read as if it’s set in the past, in a parallel universe, or the near future, rather than the present? And if you decide to go for gritty realism and immerse your characters into Covid-world; what then? How many plots will be made untenable by the current (and let’s hope they are only current) restrictions? How do you make your story worth reading when its players are so limited in what they can do, and the extent to which they can interact with the world? You could see it as an opportunity – to create a new kind of story within the limits we’re experiencing. Is that a positive thing though, or simply allowing this damned pandemic to take over your writing in much the same way it’s taken over every other aspect of our lives?
I started my latest novel before C-19 struck. I won’t say how long before. Writing a novel takes time even when you’ve got all day and every day to do it. When you have a busy life and are writing in the meagre time that’s left over, it takes longer still. Each of my previous two novels took me around fours years to write, and I’d say I’m on course for a similar experience with this one. I’ve just passed fifty-thousand words, which puts me more than half way through. It’s set in the present – the present effectively being when I release it.
There’s always the chance events in the real world might impact a novel you’re writing (though I don’t think any of us would have expected something that would have had such an impact). On my current trajectory, there is a also a chance that by the time my latest book is finished, the pandemic will be over, and so I won’t need to worry about having ignored it. On the other hand, I think this pandemic will have changed all of our lives for a long time to come, so any novel that doesn’t include at least some sort of pandemic-legacy elements won’t be fully in the real world.
What would you do? Would you ignore Covid, or re-write your story accommodate it?
Text & graphic ©graham wright 2021