This is actually a problem for storytellers. There are some things that are very disruptive to a story. Just like the cellphone invalidated all plots prior to the 90s by making it impossible for the characters to get lost so often or become out of reach (Remember the misunderstandings of the comedies and sitcoms? They all go poof with a cellphone) where you can unravel the plot of Romeo and Juliet with a text message, I think the coronavirus poses a similar problem.
David Wong, the writer of John Dies at the End recently posted this announcement, basically saying ‘fuck all that.’ He’s gonna write the story he had in mind in the first place.
I really do understand the sentiment. No, we’re not denying the coronavirus or the effects of the quarantine. It’s just that it’s a thing that messes with our story.
I was writing a story which is rather contemporary, and a man gets arrested. Then, after it was all well and done, I remembered the coronavirus and I had to go back and make the policemen handle the suspect properly, wearing masks and gloves, and putting a mask on him while they escorted him to the police station.
That messed up my flow.
For creators, it’s a problem. It messes up with story and flow. You can play with it, sure. Quarantine woes, a new couple meeting slowly over time while they get to trust one another and finally become more and more intimate, you can do a lot of things. But it forces you to reconsider a lot of the interactions that used to be normal, and it destroys the creative flow. You can’t have a badass hero flinch and step back when thugs threaten him and ask them to put on a mask. You can’t have a charismatic person reject handshakes. You can’t have a Greek wedding without lots of hugs and kisses and personal contact with strangers.
You just can’t.
The solution is rather simple for me. Most of my stories take place 20 minutes into the future, meaning in a world just like ours but with a few more tech stuff going on. The god complex universe is straight-out alternate timeline branching out from 2008. So, all I have to do is ignore the coronavirus from the day-to-day interactions unless it’s plot relevant. Meaning, I will have people with backstories and impact from the quarantine, losing loved ones to the coronavirus, being afraid to socialise and all that. But it will be a distant memory, something that happened 5 years ago at least. It’s like dealing with the flu each season. Do you want that in your story? Not unless it’s plot relevant, no.
On the contrary, since the god complex universe happens exactly because of the recession of 2008, there are mentions everywhere in those stories. People are in debt, they’ve lost parents to stress from their debt, corporations rule the world and all that cyberpunk stuff that we love and cherish. But the coronavirus is different. It’s real problematic down to day-to-day social interactions. It’s one thing to tell your friends you can’t go out ’cause you have no money, it’s quite another to tell them you don’t wanna get sick from them. It erodes relationships, and we’re only just starting to see that in the real world.
Just like every major event, you have to decide if the coronavirus matters to your character. If not, just avoid it and do what you were planning to do as always. Maybe mention it in appropriate places like when the character has to travel abroad. Just like the impact in airline security after the terrorist strikes, the impact in wait times after the coronavirus will be bothersome. You can use that in your story, as another hurdle to overcome. Maybe even have strangers chat and reminisce about the olden days of air travel while they wait.
As I said above, for romance it’s a boon and a curse at the same time. It forces some Jane Austen situations on your characters, where they’re looking forward to their daily brisk walk, or a scared father might not permit his youngest daughter to go out with boys. That’s useful, story-wise. Maybe. I don’t really like it, but some other storyteller will definitely use it in a creative way.
But unless you want to deal with it and maybe comment on it, I’d suggest you avoid the coronavirus in your story. Set your story five years into the future and have it just be a painful memory. Sure, mention the impact it had on your characters, just like any other tragic event, but stay away from coronavirus issues and just get on with your story.