A Writer’s Dilemma – The Coronavirus

The coronavirus is a truly awful thing. If we are willing to sacrifice even more than we have – which is debatable, given our independent natures – then we might get through this more quickly. Eventually it will be over, as pandemics always are. In my opinion, it will take a vaccine to make it happen, and the production and distribution of such a drug may be months or years away. As authors, do we face it head-on or pretend the world is as it was?

I participated in a recent survey conducted by a magazine for writers and publishers. The topic was how to deal with the issue of COVID-19 in a story set in the present. It’s a timely subject, one that I’ve considered as I write the next Bayou Hauntings book, and I was interested to hear how other authors felt about it.

There were two schools of thought.  First were those who said the virus must be written into a novel set in Spring 2020. It’s a fact of life, after all. It is real, and a story that ignores it isn’t providing a true picture of how things have been in the first half of the most amazing year in my life. When you write your story, you make your protagonist wear a mask and order groceries through Instacart and work from home.

Buying groceries or robbing the store?

The second group had the opposite view, and that’s my thought as well.  My stories are pure fiction – supernatural thrillers set in Louisiana. I write what some call escape fiction or beach reading. The stories aren’t literature, they don’t have an underlying social message and they are meant to entertain and be enjoyable reading.

We all know the pandemic is affecting everyone around the world, and America was harder hit than many countries. But I’ve chosen not to write it in. As awful as it is, I can write a ghost story without the real horror of COVID-19.

When my protagonist is out on the bayou searching for clues in a haunted mansion, I just don’t see the need to have him wear a mask and gloves, socially distance, order take-out when he gets back to town, never go to the TV station where he works, and so forth. I want my reader to escape – to get away from reality for a few hours or a few days, to get lost in what I hope is an interesting tale, and to come away satisfied with the outcome.

You may disagree completely. You may think writers have a moral obligation to tell things as they are, but I’ll argue that novelists – creators of pure fiction – have the license to alter facts to suit the plot. If someone picks up a book of mine two years from now, will they wonder why I ignored the real horrors of 2020? I don’t think so, but only time will tell. For now, stay safe, stay well, wear your mask and curl up with a good book!

5 thoughts on “A Writer’s Dilemma – The Coronavirus”

  1. Elaine Reichert

    I like your take on writer’s liberty. We get enough of CV19 in the daily news. When I want to relax, i want to enter an imaginary world with engaging characters. Thanks for providing this!

  2. Your thoughts make perfect sense to me! We read for entertainment! We don’t have to include every exact thing that’s going on in the world! It is fiction, afterall!

    Hope you’re doing well Bill. Miss seeing you ocassionally!

    1. Hi Judy! I miss our fun times at Kiwanis meetings! Hope all is well there – we are doing fine but I sure will be glad when we can travel again!

  3. I for one totally agree. Reading for me and most people I know is an escape from reality. I would be very disappointed if a good ghost story included what I prefer to escape from, reality of today or of this whole year! The world is living in a nightmare and we need fiction that will take us away, even if it’s for a short while.

  4. I agree with you. When I read a book I want to be taken away to somewhere else. I’ve had all I can take of this coronavirus, and I don’t want to pick up a book and read some more about it! Just give me some pure escapism.

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bill thompson

Award-winning best-selling author

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