Keeping the Fiction in Fiction

The time has come again for television networks to roll out their new fall lineups. A lot of premiers are airing a bit later than usual, but Hollywood seems to be adjusting to the protocols needed to keep actors and filming crews—hopefully—safe. Little by little, reports are emerging about which series are incorporating the pandemic into their storylines, no doubt to justify the masks and social distancing featured in the scenes. Still others have plots that, don’t just include Covid, but revolve around it.    

The music industry is also making due with this crazy part of history we’re experiencing, headed by none other than Bon Jovi. The band’s latest single with Jennifer Nettles, “Do What You Can,” sums up everything we’ve been watching and going through in the past seven months. A catchy and cathartic tune, the hit has already made the Adult Contemporary chart and is becoming increasingly popular on the radio as well as with talk shows.

Does this mean, then, that the very virus we complain about every day holds the key to an author’s success? Could this be the break we’ve all needed to pen that most coveted best-seller?

If you ask me, not necessarily, depending on the genre you write.  For authors of nonfiction, I say have at it! Whether we like it or not, this is an once-in-a-lifetime event, with material for a new chapter almost daily. Future generations will be interested in what life was like, and this is your opportunity to paint an accurate depiction for them.  

That said, I’d advise my fellow writers of fiction to proceed with caution before you start composing The Novel Coronavirus: The Novel. (I’m not copyrighting that, so feel free to appropriate, if you must.) Of course, writing is therapeutic, and with this being a test to everybody’s mental state, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to notate your thoughts. When it comes to writing for publication, however, I’m not sure you want to fill a manuscript with Zoom meetings, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper shortages.

My primary reason for discouraging this is—as I often discuss—for the enjoyment of your readers. True, we strive for relatability, knowing from our own experience how it draws people into the narrative. That’s why I, myself, don’t read much sci-fi. I like to be able to have a grasp on characters’ actions and feelings, rather than try to visualize foreign creatures and scenarios. For me, identifying with the plotline deepens my connection to it.

At the same time, fiction provides people with an escape. While including a few real-world elements can enhance your story, many readers like to have the lines of reality somewhat blurred. It allows them to ponder what they might do if they were in the protagonist’s position. In fact, I used to enjoy movies about pandemics for this very reason. Now, though, I’m not sure if I’ll ever find entertainment value in such again!

Since the beginning of this “new normal,” it has been a little odd to craft scenes that feature activities we can’t do right now, like congregating for big events or even hugging someone outside of your household. We don’t know when or if things will go back to the way they were, and we never want our work to be inaccurate or dated. Still, I don’t think we should be hasty to remove all those references until a much later time. Thankfully, our characters won’t infect one another.

As always, these views are no more than my opinions. If you’re passionate about a Covid-related story, go for it! There are various situations developing that could engage an audience, especially a few years down the road. Whatever you choose to write, make sure it brings you joy and sanity to cope with this challenging time. After all, our books aren’t just an escape for our readers…they give us one, too.   

2 thoughts on “Keeping the Fiction in Fiction

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