I’ve read several articles about how we, as writers, should approach stories where Covid-19 is part of the setting. To include or not to include the pandemic in my novels, that’s the question?
Twelve months ago, who could have predicted (and been believed) that life in countries around the globe would sputter to a slowdown such as we’ve never seen. Investment portfolios are in ruins, travel is done for now, holidays and special celebrations are being held via video link and grocery shopping is an exercise in managing personal safety. Thousands of sewists around the world are making cloth pandemic masks and surgical caps because local supplies. Of course, if you write dystopian, fantasy or sci-fi genres, then our current situation may make your world-building easier. For me, not so much.
Kenora Tedesco, the lead protagonist in my novels, is a private investigator. The house she bought after her divorce is on a small lake north of Toronto. That means she either drives south or takes the commuter train. She works for a company in mid-town Toronto – Barclay, Benford & Friday – that specializes in industrial risk mitigation. Her love interest, Jake, a retired Metro Police Superintendent, runs the company. The people he employs include lawyers, former police officers, accountants and forensics specialists.
Because she’s still considered a rookie, her mentor Bosco Poon, who worked with Jake at Metro, sends Kenora out and about various locations in Toronto to hone her skills at going undercover, interviewing informants or collecting information. Learning to interpret body language and determine deception requires face-to-face interactions.
Kenora’s in constant contact with her co-workers, folks on the street, clients, etc. She has to hang out at courthouses, restaurants and malls where people she needs to talk to might congregate. There are social events she attends with Jake to schmooze existing and potential clients. She works out, goes to the market and the public library. And she has friends and family, too.
I considered whether to have Kenora and Jake isolated due to the virus. Separately, not together. In fact, I started writing a piece where they conducted business from a distance. But it just didn’t work. It felt fake. They have to be out and about to carry on their budding romance. BB&F staff have to investigate people, places and things. Bad stuff has to happen so that she can get herself out of scrapes. Wearing a mask and social distancing as plot devices or sources of conflict? No.
I unearthed an old draft where I had her racing home due to a family emergency. Old, as in August 2010. [Can you believe it – ten years ago! But that was before I realized I’d actually written two books and had to start the process of surgically separating Book 1 and Book 2]. The plot device/tension-builder was the interruption of her travels by the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland. At the time, I abandoned it as being too hokey and convenient.
So after all that cogitation, I’m back to my original story line that takes place starting in 2018. There was enough going on in the world to keep things interesting, plot-wise. But freedom to meet and travel are important enough that volcanoes and pandemics just won’t work for me.
Kenora doesn’t need a pandemic. She can generate enough action on her own while she tries to be the best PI she can be! So it’s back to the keyboard – not excuses.