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How do we write a novel set in Covid times?

24th October 2020 |

Or choose your decade wisely.

Can we? When writing a novel takes time and whatever we write under whatever scenario may be changed? Or is that the clue? Write as the pandemic unfolds? The start of a romance could be as lockdown commences. Or do we need to be more specific? Set a novel over a shorter time span? Five days? A week? A month?

It’s a tricky issue. I must admit I can’t imagine writing a novel set today and not include the pandemic.

Or do we want to write and set the narrative in the past? Even 2019 is like another country now. And how can we let our characters behave as we did then, when we know what is waiting for them round the corner?

I really don’t have an answer to this. It’s probably more a question of getting to the heart of the story/novel and letting that decide the time frame. There is a certain amount of nostalgia about the past. But what past? The 50s for all the cuteness of current serials on TV was a time of grinding hardship and repression for women. The 60s fared little better, unless you were in a city and had plenty of chances to live and the 70s was depressingly similar despite the loosening of restrictions on availability of the contraceptive pill and freedom for homosexuals at last. The 80s? For all the arguments that it unleashed consumerism, it was the start of greater freedom and wider access to cheaper goods. Tax rates at last started to fall and access to credit and cheaper interest rates helped us feel richer. Yet we hadn’t reached the 90s and the wider availability of cell phones and access to computers so life was focussed more on the locality still.

I reckon if you can overlook the shoulder pads and big hair, it might be quite a good decade to mine for possible settings. But it has the spectre of high levels of youth unemployment which are frighteningly close today.

The 00s? Those years when the only bug to worry about was the millennium bug…remember that? All the advice that the turn of the millennium would crash computers all over the world? It passed. Except there were atrocities. 9/11 , the Bali bombings and the crash of 2008. The earthquake and tsunami on boxing Day 2004 in S.E. Asia as well as hurricane Katrina in America. It was the decade that saw the rise of the internet and social media. 2000 to 2010? But there were opportunities, freedoms, low interest rates, so plenty of cash to splash and wider communications so perhaps it is a possible.

However, as I write this, I’m getting the feeling that all decades have challenges and opportunities that our characters must face. Perhaps the real issue is not the setting but the challenges from a Covid world and the post Covid world. What will these be and how will our characters adapt in this ever-changing and unpredictable world?

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