Pub Rants

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Here, in my neck of the woods, we’re heading into our eighth week of lockdown. The longer I’m in this new reality, trying to balance work with homeschool and family life, the more I’ve been pondering what types of stories this moment in history will give us. I’ve also being speaking with editors and my agent colleagues about what types of stories we’re looking for and what we’d be comfortable reading. The big truth is that everyone’s experiences are varying so vastly. We don’t see an end in sight, and without closure, can anyone pen a story right now that captures a universal truth? While a pandemic is ripe fodder for writers, when can one write about it, and how can it be written about? These are interesting questions with answers that will only come over time. All I can offer here is what types of stories I would and wouldn’t be interested in seeing at this time:

YES: Pandemic as inciting incident. I am excited to see stories that use the pandemic as a plot propeller—as a circumstance that, without it, the story (centered around a conflict not directly virus related) could not have happened.

  • Mystery and suspense: Your character is stuck inside, so now what? I’m thinking about Rear Window or The Girl On the Train narratives that can evolve only because circumstances set the characters on a certain path. What do you discover if you finally have the time to clean out your daughter’s room? Or your partner’s office? What do you learn if you’re spying on your neighbors all day? What if a restaurant-delivery person becomes obsessed with a family she regularly delivers to?
  • Romance: I’ve been hearing a lot about the idea of people forced to quarantine together, but also what if you and your office crush find yourselves having to come into work to keep the business running? Or what if your character takes a job as a grocery-delivery person and falls in love with someone they deliver to? What if your character is a teacher falling in love online with a homeschooling parent?

NO: Woe-is-me pandemic stories. I could not read anything that takes a glib approach to this time just as I can’t stand celebrities complaining about being stuck inside their mansions. I’m not alone here. This isn’t the time for stories about how much of an inconvenience this is. That approach will not win any fans.

NO: Science-based or speculative fiction about viral outbreaks. As mentioned above, I’d love to see stories that use the pandemic as a springboard for a plot that is not specifically about an outbreak. However, I am not interested stories in which an outbreak is the central conflict, i.e., outbreak thrillers featuring heroic scientists or politically motivated villains.

MAYBE BUT NOT RIGHT NOW: The defining story. Somewhere out there, a writer is composing the beginnings of a story that will define this moment for us. That will speak to us as a nation. That will make us feel seen. I can’t wait to read it. But it’s too soon. Defining stories require a matured perspective—and facts—that only time, distance, and due contemplation can provide. We don’t know how this will end or how it will impact us as a society in the long run, so hypothesizing about it now in fiction seems moot. In the meantime, keep a journal. Write down your experiences and your ideas for new novels. Capture it all now so that when the time is right, you’ll have what you need to work with.

Creative Commons Photo Credit: Marco Verch

2 Responses

  1. James Madara said:

    I told myself I wasn’t going to do a pandemic story since everyone probably has an idea for one, but I came up with a hook that works for a post-pandemic world along the lines of Book of Eli and Mad Max.

  2. Roisin Cure said:

    I have blogged and sketched from life, in ink and watercolour, for many years, but I decided to blog and sketch every day without fail during lockdown. I am not sure why – just that I love sketching from life and writing, two good reasons. The results were a huge surprise: the negative was that I posted later and later each day, sometimes not hitting “publish” until after the clock had chimed midnight. The positives: blogging gave me a focus, and sketching got me losing myself in art, observing spring at close quarters and actively seeking out beauty and nature (once the initial shock had subsided). It brought me close to nature in a way that I had always wanted, but somehow had never made time to do, like everyone else in the world. It brought me beautiful memories of my kids. There was a down side too, which is more private than a public comment allows. I became a better artist and one of my sketchbooks from the time was viewed over fifty thousand times on Twitter. The whole experience was a lesson in letting go, being, all the cool zen stuff we always talk about. And now my kids take turns to cook – even my husband does, too. i think that’s a win. We could still catch it, though…we’re far from safe.