The Pandemic Invades Fiction – Is it a Game Changer?

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

The longer I am cooped up behind my four walls, the more my mind wanders on how every day life will be changed by a life threatening virulent pathogen. When I thought the lock down would be for a month, I imagined it to be a vacation or an indulgence. But now that I see the virus invading all aspects of our lives – now and in the future – Covid19 will have an impact that we are only beginning to grasp. Similar to how 9/11 changed our sense of security in the world, how we traveled and how we fear “the other,” we will be defining this experience in new ways that will affect our writing too.

Writers at fanfiction.net are adapting very quickly to story lines that involve current events. They take their favorite TV shows or classic literature and add a COVID angle. Below are some spins I thought would give you an idea what I am writing about – my take.

1.) Imagine romance during the time of a pandemic. How would people “meet”? How would they practice social distancing & not jeopardize the important people in their lives? Is there an APP for that? Would they revive AVATARS to experience the physical aspects of a relationship from a safe distance? Let your imagination run wild. Stories could be romantic comedies or deadly angsty serious.

Picture a modernized version of ROMEO & JULIET where one family has antibodies but the other is pure blood and want to remain that way. Put two young lovers at the apex of a pandemic where governments must decide which family or race should be allowed to survive. A sick romance with a Hunger Games twist?

TAMING OF THE SHREW adaptation where genetics brings two unlikely & resentful lovers together for the sake of the human race’s survival.

2.) DOCTOR DOLITTLE UNDER QUARANTINE – A children’s book where the doctor only has animals to talk to.

3.) STEPHEN KING’S ‘IT’ ADAPTATION IN THE HORROR GENRE – where an isolated anti-hero has a lifelong neuroses about hygiene and disease and crosses the path of a vindictive serial-carrier (aka Pennywise, the clown). A series by the name of KILLING TIME.

4.) LES MISERABLES in a SciFi futuristic genre – Imagine a post-pandemic world where the politics of our time creates a rift between the classes. Rebellion born from pandemic and isolation.

5.) MAGAZINE SERIAL – For writers looking for a writer’s outlet. New York Magazine is looking for fresh takes on pandemic stories. Add the right amount of cynicism and angst with a vivid imagination, and you might sell your pitch.

What would happen if you wrote a series from the perspective of THE VIRUS? Think FANTASTIC VOYAGE (the movie) meets THE HOST (Author Stephenie Meyer-YA), a pathogen could be a sentient being (either from another planet or an awakened yet ancient species living deep in the rain forest until it’s disturbed). The only way they can survive is to inhabit a host and they live their lives by adapting to the human body and “living vicariously” through a larger host. 

FOR DISCUSSION:

1.) Have you been thinking of writing a story influenced by Covid19 or a pandemic? Tell us about it.

2.) How would you reinvent a classic literature or more modern bestseller to inject it with a deadly virus? Get creative.

PANDEMIC PASTTIMES:
If you’re going stir crazy during the Covid19 pandemic, Audible is generously offering FREE READS at this LINK. I love audio books and listen to them most nights. I can’t wait to dive into these Audible gems. The star series of the lot is Harry Potter by J. K. Rowland but there are books for young readers as well as literary classics for all ages.

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About Jordan Dane

Bestselling, critically-acclaimed author Jordan Dane’s gritty thrillers are ripped from the headlines with vivid settings, intrigue, and dark humor. Publishers Weekly compared her intense novels to Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardner, and Tami Hoag, naming her debut novel NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM as Best Books of 2008. She is the author of young-adult novels written for Harlequin Teen, the Sweet Justice thriller series for HarperCollins., and the Ryker Townsend FBI psychic profiler series, Mercer's War vigilante novellas, and the upcoming Trinity LeDoux bounty hunter novels set in New Orleans. Jordan shares her Texas residence with two lucky rescue dogs. To keep up with new releases & exclusive giveaways, click HERE

44 thoughts on “The Pandemic Invades Fiction – Is it a Game Changer?

  1. Can’t play this one, and from what I’ve seen on author polls, readers want to escape, not be reminded. At least this reader (and author) is avoiding any books that touch on the topic. I was looking at a romantic suspense book’s Amazon page and the ad showing under the book information was for a book called “Pandemic.” NO WAY would I buy that now, and probably ever.
    However, I don’t deny a sense of humor is required to get through this, but the less I think about it at the moment, the calmer I am. I haven’t adjusted my book to include any references to the pandemic. But in the spirit of fun, here’s a great parody of Bohemian Rhapsody. https://youtu.be/8KPbJ0-DxTc

    • The videos & tiktoks of,bored people have been hilariously entertaining. The late night talk shows have gotten creative on YouTube. It would take something creative to capitalize on a post-Covid world but I feel it happening. Thanks, Terry.

  2. If I did, (write a story or buy one) it’d be from the espionage angle of a pandemic- created intentionally in a lab, for the express purposes of bringing down the most prosperous economies on the globe, creating fear and chaos among the masses, controlling population growth, and to create a sense of dependency on governments for survival.

    The plot would involve the creation and manipulation of the bug and its DNA in a secret lab by scientists who work in small cells and don’t know each other (the better to disappear them), the innocuous release of the virus into the local population to secretly gauge the virulence and transmission speed, then sending out the infected troops to specific locations in the world.

    Enter the covert operatives who uncover the whole dastardly deal, inform their governments, and bring the miscreants to justice. They chase the bug and the hosts all over the world, meting out cowboy justice, and get the girl in the end (or the guy…operatives can be girls.)

    That’s what I’d do. But what do I know? I’m just asking a what if question…

    • You bring up an interesting nuance, Deb. The thriller genre could explain conspiracy angles and/or a new type of warfare scenario. It might read as a way to explain how COVID might’ve happened, which could make a good read.

      It could introduce new types of characters that would generate conflict between a military character vs the science of it. Teams to detect & combat the virus would have to pit an epidemiologist at odds with a military or police unit. I see room for new themes where science is weaponized. Thanks, Deb.

  3. Have you been thinking of writing a story influenced by Covid19 or a pandemic?

    As I wrote earlier this month, I’m much more concerned about contemporary fiction POST pandemic. So many considerations and unknowns. Certainly romance will change. A guy sitting six feet away from a woman in a bar might say, “The libraries are all closed, so I’m checking you out instead.”

    • I am definitely thinking POST pandemic & the new normal. Dark humor would be fun.

      Even if a post-pandemic world isn’t a main theme, stories would be unique if the author would address how the world will have to move on.

      When I see commercials on TV, the ones who have actors crowding a bar or sports event feel “wrong” & dated now. We’re at the cusp of something (on a bigger scale) than even 9/11. Authors may have to create a vision of a changed world to capture that “new normal.” Thanks, Jim.

  4. Every morning I watch the news, then try to block out anything COVID-19 for the rest of the day to save my sanity. As a reader, a pandemic story would be the last thing I’d buy. I read to escape, not to be reminded of our current situation. Same goes for movies. If “pandemic” or “contagion” or “virus” is in the description, I keep scrolling. I understand the lure for writers, but I won’t be hopping on this particular bandwagon. Love your angles, though.

    Give your snuggle bunnies a hug from me. Did you see the video of the terrier who got ahold of her human’s fake teeth? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_YSXc176X8 Hilarious!

    • OMG! That denture video is hilarious. Thanks for sharing it.

      I can see your point. I have a certain author curiousity about a post-Covid world & how it will change fiction writing. My mind is working on it.

  5. Dr. Doolittle sounds like an idyllic world. I could live there!

    How about time travel?

    A character might escape into the past, seeking peace and sanctuary.

    Or a character might travel forward into the future on a mission to bring a cure back to present day.

  6. I’ve already added a Coronavirus reference to my WIP: hospital setting; blood test required (for something else), will include testing for COVID-XX (will probably make it COVID-26 as it’s set in the near future; the current “-19” is a reference to the year it was discovered).

    • Very good, Harald. You’re way ahead. Imagine an adapted virus that’s been feeding off humans for years. How would doctors, scientists & governments fight it? Covid26 could be the follow up virus from 19 or it could be a 2nd of 3rd iteration.

      I’m watching the news on the private nursing facility where 17 bodies were found with 1 in a shed. Authorities can’t gain access because it’s locked down & private. Horrifying. I can picture how the new crime scene would have to work with new protocols to investigate while protecting detectives & first responders. I can see how readers might be intrigued by an “every man” homicide detective faces a gruesome scene that holds risks from an invisible enemy that could kill investigators. Very creepy. I would buy that book.

  7. How about its impact on movie making?

    • More CGI for “mob-scenes”/ crowds a la Lord of Rings or Star Wars battles for things like The Patriot or Glory or Remember the Titans;
    • “hologramming” characters closer together from different shots or distances or even times (like Forrest Gump or Zelig, or even Hank Jr. singing with his father or Natalie Cole with her dad, or that Elton John Coke commercial a few years back – am I dating myself – again?).

    You can create the distancing (or lack there of, on the page, but folks will still wanna “see” on the screen, and how “historical” stories are made safely in the future would / could be good scene setting in a thriller in Hollywood a few years hence…

  8. I’m still in denial, pretending this virus that shall go unnamed here does not exist (in my writing – In real life, I wear a mask and do all the social distancing, etc..).
    .
    I have written two short stories regarding pandemics. My favorite of the two involves a manufactured weapon virus (a bit of a cliche, I admit) that induces a state of absolute rage. My main character is immune. He has his family members locked up in different rooms of his house (they’ll kill each other). His wife is in the basement. He struggles to get food and fresh water as rage mobs roam the streets, eager to kill… It was an early effort but not terrible.
    .
    A good thriller could be written about the current or similar situation wherein the hero, a usually boring medical news reporter of some kind, discovers the virus is indeed manufactured and was spread to destroy economies as some kind of setup for an invasion or takeover. How our hero could resolve the conflicts here, I have no idea (at the moment).

    • I can see it, Carl. You could pit our present day incredulous reader minds & reveal what a post-pandemic world could look like. Very interesting.

  9. When this first started we re-watched OUTBREAK. Pretty sobering.

    I was thinking about murder mysteries in the age of COVID. Everyone wears gloves. No prints, no DNA. And Everyone wears a mask. Going to need to find new clues in a room that gets mopped down every 30 minutes.

    • I can see social distancing in the midst of a crime scene where only one detective or CSI tech is allowed inside. Go pro type cameras with communication technology could allow collaboration between partners, similar to Bone Collector.

      Investigators would have to wear personal protective gear with potential follow up screening to make sure they don’t catch it. Or they could take a pill regimen or undergo a treatment to kill the early stages of a virus.

      Or maybe there’s a new way to trace movements of a carrier vs someone who has never been infected, similar to the science of DNA to identify or track a suspect.

  10. Over the weekend NPR had an interview with an author. They asked this very question. He said he was working on a contemporary novel. His lead couple take a cruise. Not any more. He said as he went over his manuscript looking at what would need to fit into a pandemic, he found a better solution. The book is now set in 2019.

  11. Ah, yes, the glorious fiction of the last 100 years about the small pox, Spanish flu, and yellow fever epidemics. Wait, there is none.

    I read a lot of cartoons via the newspaper and GoComics. Many of the cartoonists who have decided to have this real world event in their comics are already in trouble. For example, Heart in “Heart of the City” is currently stagnant, and “Rabbits Against Magic” has two characters in a bunker with repetitive dialog. Good fiction is about engagement, not disengagement, so the choice to write about this virus is a dangerous one to make.

    • But we can’t ignore it. To engage is to be relevant & authentic.

      I remember after 9/11 there was a moratorium on anything that read as too close to 9/11 details. Especially since much of the publishing industry was & is located in New York city. Eventually we got there but we can’t ignore how this virus will undoubtedly change the realities of our world.

      Thanks for weighing in, Marilynn.

  12. I’ve been writing pandemic books for a while now, but in the context of bioterrorism. My books are romantic suspense, so yes, the hero and heroine find ways to connect emotionally and physically. Work in a hospital for a few years and you discover that people have sex in all sorts of odd places. 😉

    Oddly, my next project (pitched before Covid-19) doesn’t involve infectious diseases at all.

    Cheers, Julie Rowe

  13. I think now is too soon. But it is interesting to think about changes, or “the new normal”, and I really hate that phrase. There is going to be some amount of social distancing until at least several months after a successful vaccine is released. (It’s not like everybody in the world can get the vaccine the first week it’s out. Even then, there will continue to be outbreaks forevermore. It’s now endemic.) I do think that the further out in time you go the more things will go back to pre-CV times. Maybe five years from now people will be out and about, but writing a story about that cruise, family vacation to Disneyland, or bachelor/ette party on the Vegas Strip right now isn’t going to be believable because people won’t be doing that this year, or next, and even when travel and tourism comes back it’s going to take it’s sweet time.

    It’s like movies set in NY in the early 00s. If you saw the twin towers, pre 9/11. If they gone, post. This time now, and for the foreseeable future is a similar demarcation. A crowded wherever is pre pandemic or in the distant future. Sparse and separated people wearing masks is now.

    I also think this era will scar everybody for as long as they live. The longer it goes one, the deeper the scars. It’s so economically damaging for so many, but not at all for some. Educational disruption will have consequences for the young for the rest of their lives. Those who are graduating college now will have extreme difficulty getting jobs, and be seen as damaged goods by the time next year’s graduates are on the market. Again, lifelong damage and scarring.

    There are so many ways this will scar and affect people I don’t know that any of them can name them. I can see how it will damage me economically forevermore, but not its other effects. I’m sure it’s that way for others.

    • You bring up intriguing psychological issues, CF. It reminds me of READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline – a book made into a movie. Cline sets the story in a future time, without thoroughly explaining what happened. Everything is matter of fact, seen through the eyes of a loner teen boy. The reality of his isolated life, living in a stack of metal storage barges, drives him & others into a virtual game world of avatars & the good life. Talk about having a vision of a new world, the author will really blow your mind with his imagination & research. Cline makes his extraordinary effort look easy when it absolutely is NOT.

      The central character (Wade) must be a mental mess but he chooses to live vicariously in the game Oasis to escape his hopeless life. There’s an odd hope in the resilience of the human spirit that runs parallel to a bleak reality in this book. Cline chose “virtual” hope amidst the underpinning of a dead & dying planet.

  14. Strangely, the novels I’m working on are set in a world where a magical contagion is constant threat, though in this case it’s not contagious by normal means. Instead, it’s vampirism. I had this all set up before COVID-19, but I suppose my readers will see some odd resonances.

    There’s a gateway between California and the magic-rich parallel world on the other side, and in the 1850s a cholera epidemic crossed through. Enough people died or weakened to the point where the local vampires had to drain their victims to survive. The victims either died or woke up as ravenously hungry vampires. Eventually there was no one left to drain and, except for a few vampires who made it across the gateway into our much more populous world, the vampires all starved.

    The area was repopulated later with colonists who crossed the gateway, including, alas, some of the refugee vampires. The cycle is always on the verge of recurring.

    And my main character is a polio victim, too.

    Dunno how I managed to get two plague riffs going before COVID-19 was even a glimmer in a bat’s eye (though my dad and great-aunt both had polio). So far I haven’t reworked anything because of the plague we’ve actually found ourselves in.

    • Wow, that’s impressive, Robert. I love it when authors put a great deal of thought & science into their justification for a paranormal/horror world.

      My friend P C Cast writes a HUGELY popular Vampire series. A former school teacher, she called upon her father’s chemistry background to derive a blood chemistry that develops in the veins of kids when they hit puberty. Vampires evolve without a choice because it’s something in their blood like a rite of passage. When they discover they’re chosen, they are forced into Vampire school. Her lead character is a girl who is part Native American. Spells & magic from Native American Cherokee lore is blended into a fantastic vision for a YA series.

  15. Very interesting. As I’d mentioned to you before, and like some others have said, readers read to escape and I think everyone right now wants to escape this damn virus. I don’t have a storyline in mind, but I was thinking that conducting a romance during quarantine would be pretty tricky. Great post!

    • In Italy, I saw a sweet & unexpected TV news story about a man & woman who live separately in apartments across a courtyard, who have fallen in love via their balconies & binoculars. Sounds kind of stalkerish but they’re talking marriage. Even in a pandemic, love is hard to stop.

  16. I’m probably going to regret writing this, but this post made me cringe. I know the intention is meant to inspire, but it’s easy to misinterpret: How fiction writers can capitalize on catastrophe.

    We all need entertainment, diversions, etc., just not sure anyone needs to encourage writers how to “use” our current calamity as grist for their novels.

    .

    • That’s not what this is, Sue. Wow. How did you make THAT leap? I have to say that I’m offended by your cynicism but perhaps your view comes from a perspective outside the publishing industry and ill-informed.

      As authors, we need to capture real life for our readers. If we ignore the real changes that will come from this global crisis, our books (that are generally set in present day) will not reflect what our readers are experiencing. As was discussed above, writers were faced with a similar reality after 9/11 when our lives changed in how we travel – airport security, for example. Imagine if authors had ignored 9/11 changes to contemporary life & wrote about pre-9/11 airport security & international travel. The espionage thriller changed a great deal. And it took time for emotional stories to surface about survivors of the 9/11 attack. Many authors write gut wrenching stories that explore the human spirit. These stories are not easy to write. Authors have to tap into their own raw emotions to portray the authenticity.

      As authors., we must explore a vision for how a long term pandemic might change our lives – ie social distancing in public, use of face masks, changes to international travel, etc. By the time we write our books, pitch them to an agent or publisher, sell our book, then get it into production before it’s finally released, it can take 1-2 years for that whole process. We wouldn’t want our books to be outdated at release. I’ve had to update older crime fiction plots for the advent of the cell phone in the 90s, as another example.

      We explore topics like this to capture the reality of the human experience–NOT to make money off a global pandemic. I still am stunned I have to explain this.

  17. Hi Jordan, thanks for responding. Not a writer, likely ill-informed re your industry, just a fine artist who enjoys this blog. I love stories.

    I think it was the statement below that made me hit “send”.

    “Add the right amount of cynicism and angst with a vivid imagination, and you might SELL your pitch.” (Emphasis mine).

    Wish you well. Stay safe.

    • OMG. Thanks for clarifying, Sue. I can see how you might read into that statement, but I was NOT thinking about the pandemic per se, but more about the human experience in the face of surviving a catastrophe. New York Magazine (where this idea to pitch came from) was seeking dark humor stories. Of all places, New York. But in their own way, the types of stories they were seeking–stories with dark humor–can sometimes get people to laugh, when they only want to cry or go stir crazy.

      But for ME, I’m thinking how romances would work in the new normal of social distancing and wearing masks–after we get through this. We would have to envision what the new normal will be.

      As an artist, I’m sure you understand how we create something from nothing. Artists, musicians and writers have a lot in common as far as creativity. The notion of a worldwide sickness triggers authors’ minds in many ways. Young adult novels and their dystopian themes would spawn dark stories about a unique kind of virus, similar to how Hunger Games spun the idea of a dark reality TV show where teens fight to the death in order to feed their families/districts.

      The act of “pitching a story” is like creating a log line for TV or movies. You have to capture the editor or agent’s imagination with an intriguing premise in a concise statement that hits them in the gut right off the bat. For example, the popular teen book “13 Reasons Why” by Jay Asher was made into a TV series. (An amazing book) The pitch line was something like “A teen girl commits suicide and sends 13 audio recordings to the people who helped her make the decision to take her life.” Yes, it’s on the sensitive subject of teen suicide. Is the author trying to make money on suicide or are they writing a book that speaks to teens about the sensitive subject? It was a mega book for teens and popular with publishing houses and the film industry.

      I don’t want to over explain this but now that I hear your point of view (thank you btw), I wanted to be sure I explained my intention. I am certainly glad you spoke out both times. Thank you.

  18. Once again, thanks for indulging me and explaining your point of view.

    This is my awkwardly written understanding of your CORE message:

    Going forward, due to Coronavirus fall out, novels (written in the present) should reflect our new social/political reality. (The same way cell phone/tech forced writers to revise their plots). NOT suggesting Coronavirus should be the subject matter. Suggesting only that these societal changes be acknowledged in WIP’s or work going forward.

    Am I in the ball park?

    Grateful for the time you spent responding. This is one strange time for everyone.

    Cheers, Sue.

    • Close enough, Sue. Yes. It’s not mandatory that books reflect the virus per se, but it wouldn’t read as authentic if there are more permanent precautions put into practice by the federal government (ie masks in public, for example).

      Thanks for sticking with this. Hugs from Texas (from 6 ft).

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