To Covid or Not to Covid in Our Fiction Stories

by Kassandra Lamb ~ There’s been a debate going on in the writerly world over whether we should include references to Covid in our fiction stories going forward.

There are three schools of thought:

  1. Ignore the pandemic completely in our fiction, because after all it IS fiction.
  2. Project our timelines slightly into the future and just refer back to the pandemic occasionally as an event in the past.
  3. Realistically include the pandemic in our writing, even develop plots around it.

Personally, I have a strong need for realism in stories. Even when I watch Star Trek reruns or read a paranormal novel, I expect the not-real elements to be plausible—something that could happen in reality.

Either #2 or #3 above would satisfy this need for realism. I plan to use #2 in my new police procedural series, since the publication of Book 1 is still a ways in the future.

But the story idea I had for my next Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mystery, One Flew Over the Chow-Chow Nest, had some plot elements that worked best if set against the backdrop of the pandemic—such as a person being kept in a mental hospital long past the time that was necessary to treat him. How easy that would be when no visitors are allowed due to Covid.

I figured it will be Spring at the earliest before this book comes out, and hopefully by then we will be seeing “normal” on the horizon.

So I decided I’d go for it, but try to keep the pandemic in the background.

Since this is a cozy, I reminded myself to keep it light. I think I’ve managed that. I’ve even inserted a few moments of levity, such as when Marcia’s police detective husband strips off his workday-contaminated clothes on the back deck, then heads straight for the shower.

“Streaker in the house,” Ms. Snark yelled out.
I couldn’t help snickering. Thank heaven for our six-foot privacy fence.

But ironically, avoiding the heavier aspects of Covid in the story wasn’t the hard part.

It’s all the little ways that the pandemic has changed our lives that I keep forgetting about as I write. For example, when two people are conversing with masks on, I can’t say “he smiled” or “she frowned.” The other person wouldn’t be able to see that!

To Covid or Not to Covid in our fiction stories
Mask-wearing requires “showing” emotions in different ways. (photo by Mehrnegar Dolatmand on

I have to say, “his eyes twinkled” or “her brow furrowed.” Or I have to use gestures instead of facial expressions to convey emotions.

And when everybody is six feet apart, they can’t hear anything mumbled under one’s breath.

Also, I couldn’t have Marcia running into the quirky residents of Mayfair while walking her dogs. Because everybody is keeping their distance!

(I really miss octogenarian Edna Mayfair putting in her two cents worth.)

I’m thinking that I need to push the timeline out farther.

Maybe set the book in late Spring, 2021, and have most of the characters vaccinated or at least in the process of getting vaccines. And during revisions, I’ll look for more places to insert humor.

And I’ll also be watching for slip-ups, such as having people shaking hands or hugging.

So fellow writers, if you decide to go with realism regarding Covid in your fiction stories, recognize that it won’t be easy. Like me, you’ll be marveling at the number of things, small and large, that have become part of our “new normal.”

Readers, what say you about including the reality of the pandemic in fiction? Would you rather we leave it out completely, be realistic, or somewhere in between?


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Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida. She also writes romantic suspense under the pen name of Jessica Dale.

Misterio press produces an array of quality crime fiction. We post here twice a month, usually on Tuesdays, to alert you to new releases, to entertain, and to inform.

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  • Reply
    Barbara Harrison
    January 26, 2021 at 3:37 am

    I have been reviewing the Mountain Men of Olympus series by Ellie Rowe, for which the “pandemic quarantine” is the entire reason the ladies are stuck on the mountain. Realistically, I doubt the COVID social isolation can be seen as in the past until 2022.

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      January 26, 2021 at 1:17 pm

      Hmm, I’ll have to check that series out, Barbara. Sounds interesting.

      And you’re right. We won’t be completely past this for quite a few months yet.

  • Reply
    Margie Hager
    January 26, 2021 at 10:53 am

    As far as I am concerned if a romance novel refers to this pandemic in any way I will not buy it. Yes this happened, is going on. I don’t need to be reminded of it.Sorry. I read to relax and escape.

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      January 26, 2021 at 2:05 pm

      I don’t blame you, Margie!

      I know I’m taking a risk with this story. I am trying to “keep it light.”

  • Reply
    Andrea Stoeckel
    January 26, 2021 at 11:47 am

    If you are writing contemporary fiction how could you NOT include the elephant in the room Kassandra! We may not like the “new normal” but it’s happening, and just like masks and social distancing, it might be nice to see it as just…there

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      January 26, 2021 at 2:09 pm

      Exactly, Andrea. Even after we’ve smashed the heck out of that curve, there will still be a period of time when the masks and distancing will be needed, to protect those who haven’t been vaccinated, for whatever reason. I actually address that issue in the story, with Marcia’s assistant.

      I’m hoping I can help normalize that. We’ll see if I can pull it off.

  • Reply
    January 26, 2021 at 5:19 pm

    I’m avoiding the pandemic for now (aside from some short character vignettes I wrote when this all started). I need a break from the pandemic, and I want my normal world back! That said, I can see in future using the lockdowns to set up a murder. But I think the pandemic will be much more enjoyable reading and writing when it’s well in the rearview mirror.

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      January 26, 2021 at 5:39 pm

      Yes, when I was about a third of the way into this book, and starting to realize how many adjustments I had to make, I was getting depressed. That’s when I decided that, while doing rewrites, I would shift the timeline toward the end of the pandemic. Now I’m thinking I may shift it even farther. And focus more on how things are returning to normal!

  • Reply
    Barbara Monajem (@BarbaraMonajem)
    January 26, 2021 at 7:32 pm

    I think I prefer it if Covid is part of a story, although not necessarily in a big way.

    When we were first into major lockdown, it seemed strange to see people in TV shows — sitcoms, mostly — not social distancing and not wearing masks. I would almost cringe when people got too close to one another. Weird, maybe…

    OTOH, the only contemporaries I have written have vampires in them, so I guess I wouldn’t worry too much about reality. 😉

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      January 26, 2021 at 10:15 pm

      I know what you mean, Barbara. It seemed so strange seeing people on TV acting “normal,” and now some newly recorded shows are giving token nods to the pandemic. But they’re wearing the masks at all the wrong times, like when they’re walking down the hall by themselves, and then when they stop to talk to someone, they take the mask off! I’ve stopped watching a couple of my favorite shows because they’re doing that.

      It seems like Hollywood can’t figure out how to do this any better than I am…LOL

  • Reply
    Thomas Palmer
    January 26, 2021 at 7:38 pm

    I won’t read a story if it has the pandemic in it. I’ve returned 3 books so far because of this, and deleted 4 others from my library that I waited too long to return.

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      January 26, 2021 at 10:47 pm

      Don’t blame you a bit, Thomas. We each have to decide our comfort level.

  • Reply
    Kaye George
    January 26, 2021 at 8:07 pm

    My thought is that you can set this in “the future” and you don’t have to specify exactly what the date is. You could bump to well after all the bad parts and have just a bit about remembering how it used to be. I intend to do that in a future work that I haven’t started yet. Don’t know how easy or difficult that will be! Good luck.

  • Reply
    Kassandra Lamb
    January 26, 2021 at 10:18 pm

    Good idea, Kaye, about keeping the dates vague. Two plot points require it to be no later than the tail end of the pandemic. But I can be vague about other things.

    And I think I’m going to throw in some of the good feelings like the sense of relief when one gets vaccinated!

  • Reply
    Judy Penz Sheluk
    January 27, 2021 at 9:20 am

    I’m in the camp of “don’t want it in my cozy” any more than I want excessive violence or bad language in my cozy. I read to escape reality. But I am sure there are many who would disagree. At the end of the day, it’s your story. Tell it as you feel it. But it’s not a book I’d be adding to my TBR list.

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      January 27, 2021 at 1:39 pm

      I hear you, Judy. I read to escape too. All this discussion has been really good for me. It’s helping me finetune my approach.

      I’m going to focus mostly on the good feelings as people come out the other end of the pandemic. This book won’t be released until late spring or summer, so hopefully we’ll all be experiencing the slow but sure return to normalcy by then.

  • Reply
    Mary Adler
    January 27, 2021 at 12:33 pm

    I’m thinking about masks and dogs. My dogs react differently to friends in masks even though I know they (the dogs) rely more on their noses than their eyes. What do you think? On topic, at the moment I am starting a new series that is not a historical series. I will probably set it after the pandemic has settled down. I’m afraid we will be dealing with Covid in our lives in one form or another forever. I hope the vaccine reduces our risk enough that we can interact normally again. Sure miss the hugs.

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      January 27, 2021 at 1:34 pm

      Yikes, Mary! I hadn’t thought about that dogs might not recognize people. Yet another nuance. I’m going to add that to one scene and see if I can make it funny, or at least cute.

      And boy, do I miss the hugs too!

  • Reply
    January 27, 2021 at 6:29 pm

    I’m planning to leave the time period in my upcoming suspense books slightly vague. They will be contemporary, but no mention of the pandemic. I think people are not only sick of it, but also eventually, hopefully, these details will seem dated.

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      January 27, 2021 at 11:32 pm

      Good point about the pandemic references eventually becoming dated. Can’t wait for that day!!

  • Reply
    Mary Adler
    January 28, 2021 at 9:18 am

    My little dog who is wary of people is also very good at reading micro expressions and is affected by hidden mouths the most. She could never be a service dog. She needs one herself for her PTSD. Our other dog who is easy going is much less affected. Sending a virtual hug.

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      January 28, 2021 at 12:29 pm

      Aww, poor little girl! For her sake as well as ours, I hope we don’t have to wear masks too, too much longer.

      Thanks for the hug!! Here’s one backatcha! <3

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