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Fiction Writers: Will You Include the Pandemic or Not?

  • May 17, 2020
  • Blog

notebook and pen photo

It’s a dilemma, one I faced when writing Magical Ties. The book takes place on Long Island but at one point, the main character, Emily, travels to Manhattan. In a post-9/11 world, I struggled with whether to mention the changes that horrific event created. Ultimately, Emily traveled only to a train station on East 14th Street, so it was unnecessary. And yes, that was deliberate on my part.

In these uncertain times, I’m left with a struggle that’s similar but much wider in scope. I’ve already started book two of Emily’s adventures (but early enough that I can change things). The question is, should I?

Placing characters inside the pandemic or its aftermath can either draw readers in (“Yes, I can relate”) or alienate them (“I’m reading to escape, dammit!”). And the weirdness of time factors in as well. Which will date the story faster? If we can get past this as a painful and difficult period in the world’s history, putting the pandemic into our stories will eventually date them. But if our lifestyles are permanently changed, not mentioning it will also date the stories. (Anyone else feel mildly uncomfortable watching old TV ads that feature large groups of people with no social distancing?)

I don’t have an answer. But I welcome comments.


  • Ken • May 17, 2020 at 11:38 pm

    Will including the pandemic serve your plot? If there is no specific reason to mention it, then don’t. Do you also have to include global warming, for example? If it can add to the storyline then I’d say go for it. By the way, I can’t wait to see Emily’s new adventures. 🙂

  • J. M. Levinton • May 18, 2020 at 1:02 am

    Thanks! I guess I’m not thinking of actively adding in the pandemic, but more along the lines of, do I change behaviors as a result of it? For instance, will there be changes in simply going to a restaurant? I’m having trouble thinking in terms of normalcy right now so I’ll probably need to wait a bit longer before continuing. In the meantime, I owe a short story for the next anthology and that’s easier to deal with. 🙂

  • Lydia • May 18, 2020 at 7:05 am

    I agree with Ken.

    Yes, I feel mildly uncomfortable with large crowd scenes in films and TV shows now, too.

    I also wanted to say that including Cover-19 in a story will eventually make it feel dated, but I don’t necessarily think of that as a bad thing. It’s sort of like how the Great Depression or the two World Wars (or any other number of historical events) effected the sorts of stories that were written during those times.

    There is something to be said for writing stories that capture an era as well as writing ones that are timeless. 🙂

  • J. M. Levinton • May 18, 2020 at 11:22 am

    Very good point. Thank you!

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