So I’m writing away on my WIP a couple of weeks ago when I suddenly stopped short (no, not the Seinfeld kind; the Hey, wait a second kind). What did it was a scene where my Lead gets introduced to someone and they shake hands.
Will anybody be doing that when this stinking, rotten, unprecedented pandemic and societal shutdown is over? I’ve heard several folks (including President Trump and Dr. Fauci) suggest that we should scrap handshakes altogether.
Wrap your mind around that. We’ve been shaking hands since Socrates was a baby. It is a way to say hello, make a deal, show good faith, express gratitude or admiration. The Civil War ended when Grant offered his hand to Lee and the two warriors shook. (On the other hand, some handshakes haven’t worked out so well. See Chamberlain, Neville, who declared “Peace in our time” after shaking hands with that Austrian paperhanger with the Charlie Chaplin mustache.)
Even if the handshake is not officially dispensed with, a large swath of people won’t do it anymore. This will have to be reflected in our fiction.
And what the heck will replace it? Please, please, I beg on my knees…not the elbow bump—the ugliest, ungainliest contortion outside a game of beer-bong Twister. Some are touting the Hindu namaste, a slight bow with both hands pressed over the heart. Others advocate the slight nod. Former hippies have resurrected the peace sign.
What will your characters do?
Hugs are also certain to go the way of the Blue-Footed Booby. Which makes me sad. I’m a hugger. If I know the person and haven’t seen them in awhile, I do the grizzly. I always give and get lots of hugs at church. But post-pan will people be too nervous to give or receive a hug?
How will social gatherings change? What if you have a scene in a baseball stadium, movie theater, or shopping mall? Our scenes will have to reflect the “new normal.” But what will that look like? What details will we need to emphasize?
What about the courtroom scene? Will they still pack a jury box? Will a criminal defendant who has been in the viral hothouse of the country jail be required to wear a mask?
How about restaurant scenes? Will servers wear gloves to go with their masks? And beauty salons and coffee houses—how will people space themselves in these venues? What will be happening on airplanes and buses and subways? What will folks be nervous about? Will a sneeze start a bar fight? Almost surely if a Raiders game is on.
If there is a Raiders game!
And what are we to do about little action beats like stroking the chin or rubbing the eyes? Careful, or you might get angry emails saying, “Your characters touch their faces! What are you teaching our children? Do you want to kill us all?”
Here’s another kettle of trout: the rules of romance. Will dates be dictated by distance? What’s a man supposed to do at the end of the evening? Will a kiss ever be just a kiss? Or will it be a negotiated transaction with terms, conditions, representations, and warranties?
Will a man who wants to get serious give his prospective lover flowers or a twelve pack of toilet paper?
Maybe love scenes will have to go like this:
Chase looked into Dakota’s eyes, eyes that said Yes and I don’t care about germs. He leaned forward then, reaching out tenderly, wantingly, and with a hand trembling with desire, he unhooked her mask.
I ask you: What changes do you foresee in our social habits post-pandemic? How will all this change our fiction?