Is the Pandemic Affecting Your Manuscript? - Andrew Crofts

How quickly contemporary writing can seem historical.

When I first started writing in London in 1970, not only the fashions and hairstyles were different. We had a coin-operated public phone in my shared flat and anyone lucky enough to own a car could simply pull up outside and leave it there. Now when a piece of film from that period appears on television it looks like an historical document, books from the leading authors of the day can feel equally old fashioned.

The proliferation of mobile phones has changed the way that the plots of thrillers and detective series work and the progress of the MeToo movement has changed the way that we talk to one another. The unlikely rise of showmen like Trump and Johnson to positions of genuine power has changed our view of what is possible politically, moving the parameters for where a reader has to suspend disbelief.

So will the Covid pandemic, and our reaction to it, change for ever the way we view things like social distancing? It already looks slightly wrong to see people shaking hands or standing too close to one another on television programmes that were recorded before 2020, so how quickly will we adapt back to our old ways of interacting – if at all?

It makes for some difficult decisions if you are in the final stages of completing a manuscript with a contemporary setting. If you don’t mention the pandemic and society’s reactions to it, you risk making your story appear out of date before it has even been published, but if you do make reference to any of these happenings there is a risk that everything will have changed once again by the time you find your readership.

I recently worked on a novel which was set in New Zealand because the plot required a peaceful and safe location. During the early stage of the writing there was a terrible mass shooting in a Mosque in Christchurch, which then had to be mentioned and consequently had an effect on the plotline. I can only imagine how many authors are currently doing hurried re-writes of their manuscripts to include some reference to the great pandemic of 2020.  


Umberto Tosi said…
Excellent questions: My current opus is set in 1948 and the answer to that one is no. But I have to research well and be sure to include scars of World War 2, being as the abounded in that postwar period. I even remember seeing bombed-out ruins still extant in London and in some German cities when I first visited them from the States in 1958 - 13 years after the war. The same will be true of COVID-19, though perhaps less dramatically.
Yes,I grew up with bomb sites still remaining in London... and my parents though they did not lose siblings or parents in that war were scared by it - in terms of careers etc. And, they lost friends, and a lifestyle...

My manuscript is being beaten up by political events... in 2016, the Brexit vote scuppered my gentle story set in 2007. Had just pulled out the typescript and begun to work on this again, when the pandemic struck... had thought to move it to 2019 but...

What do we do! One thing I am not doing is to w rite about this present crisis - "everyone else' is probably turning out enough of those, already...
BY the way, I am a poor speller. Not 'scared' of course, 'scarred'...! (Is that correct now? Dyslexia is a pest for writers...
Enid Richemont said…
This has been a huge problem for me, too, as so much of my Middle Grade and Y/A books were published in the late 20th century or early 21st. I think it's less of a problem if you're writing for adults. The major writers of the 19th/20th centuries lose nothing for being devoid of devices, and the world events happening at the time just become part of the story.
I was trying to finish a mystery novel set more or less in the present day when the extent of the pandemic became apparent, and I found it extremely difficult for various reasons. One was that early on I couldn't concentrate on writing anyway, as I felt swamped by bad news and compulsively refreshed the various online news sources. Another was that I turned out to be writing the kind of novel where people rush about all over the place and congregate in random groupings, and I couldn't help feeling this was all wrong!
I did manage to finish and publish it, and I must say I was quite relieved to be able to retreat to the early 19th century for my next project! It will be quite tricky to go back to the mystery series, as I feel there will have to be at least some mention of the pandemic in the next novel,

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