Writing About the Virus
A few years ago - okay, maybe almost a decade now - I started writing a post-apocalyptic story about a commune, and the people in it. In that story, one of the commune residents who had ventured out into the world comes back, and with them comes change - and a story I hoped had intrigue and excitement.
I posted some of it on my old blog, and people liked it. This was before I discovered Wattpad, and the idea of serial fiction, so I stopped posting it when I realized I could not protect the copyright on it simply putting it up on Wordpress.
I have about half of it written, and when my other writing took over, it got packed away. I haven’t written more of it in a long time.
I re-read it recently, mining my half-finished works, ideas, and snippets. Every now and then, I set down the contemporary romance for something different to bend my writer brain in a different direction. It often works to recharge me and put my fingers back into the pages of my romance and get a book completed.
This book, which I had tentatively titled “Where I’ve Been” is still one of the efforts I keep revisiting, but now I am looking at it and wondering if I could ever publish it with its current plot, given our world today.
Why? Because, in the book, there is a pandemic.
Take a look around, and you’ll see tons of books on disease, pandemic, plague, and viruses that threaten humanity. Some are sci-fi, some historical fiction, some contemporary.
Beth Reekles, one of the fabulous writers on Wattpad (she wrote The Kissing Booth), has written a contemporary book centering around our current COVID-19 Pandemic. It is titled Lockdown on London Lane, and even though I want to read it, because it will be great, part of me is procrastinating because I read to escape, and right now, that doesn’t include Coronavirus.
You can read it here: https://www.wattpad.com/story/221721098-lockdown-on-london-lane
I also stumbled across an article that lists books that deal with plague and pandemic, most of which are likely instantly recognizable as big bestsellers from famous writers. Stephen King, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Michael Crichton... They’ve all written about pandemics in some form.
Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood, (YES! She has a Wattpad profile!) is one of the books of the MaddAddam trilogy that is on that list. A book I really enjoyed reading when it was published in 2003. Not sure I could re-read it right now.
She has a story posted to Wattpad titled Growing Up in QuarantineLand that is a must read, however.
Realism or Not?
One of the core events setting up the world in my book is about a Sickness.
A plague that stemmed from world disorder and killed indiscriminately. Something that, when I wrote it, was most definitely a sci-fi/post apocalyptic concept. Now, it seems more plausible. The stigma in the commune when the character comes back - folks worried about the Sickness - the breakdown in society because of it feels like it could be a real possibility, not a farfetched fictional plot.
As I read through my writing, I wondered if I should change parts of the book. Reactions that I had written based on pure creative conjecture felt wrong, because I’ve now experienced the reactions that would happen in the situation. I have experienced the proper protocol to prevent infection, and the procedures don’t even come close to that in the book as it stands.
The past year, on a global scale, has changed how we see and view the world. Our interactions, economy, and mindsets have adjusted to this new normal. It hasn’t gone as far as communes, the fall of civilization, civil war, and vast tracts of unusable land, or course, but nonetheless, this story I started ten years ago (or more now, I can’t remember when) feels less fantastical than it ever has.
So the question echoed in my head as read.
Do I change the book, update it to incorporate what I know now about how our world handles a fast-spreading, deadly virus? Do I bring in masks, hand washing, and distancing? In one scene, I have a character bare their back, showing a barcode tattooed to identify they recovered from the Sickness, and are now immune to it.
Or should I transfer this book to my boneyard and stay away from trying to modernize a story that hits too close to home right now? A hard call.
Do you read pandemic fiction now? Or are you avoiding it in favour of escaping our reality? I’m curious to know.