How much should we reflect the real world in our writing?

I’ve been taking advantage of the festive break to sit down at my computer and type away on some fiction writing for the first time in a while.

So, I have a question…

Are we all going to agree that we’re going to set all our books in 2019 or earlier for the forseeable future, or do we have to start incorporating face masks and such the like in our stories now?

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Depends on where your story takes place, no? Asian countries were masking long before 2019, maybe not as much then as now.


Is the pandemic part of your setting? Is it relevant to the story whether characters are wearing masks or not?

There are some mystery/thriller novels where large sections of the plot rely on lost/missed phone messages, lack of access to phones, and so on. Those sections seem extremely dated now, with cell phones everywhere (at least among the urban professionals who tend to populate that genre).

Hopefully (!!) by the time your book is written and published, the pandemic will be a rapidly fading collective nightmare, and ubiquitous mask wearing will seem as dated as ubiquitous smoking.

If history is anything to go by, the book will either be finished in just 24 hours or in over a decade’s time. :slight_smile:

No… but that means I either set it before 2020 or include masks or…?

I’ll bite.

Who cares? And how does it really change what you write? Go back through NiaD and look ask “what would change IF I WAS FORCED to make it set in 2020/2021?” Other than situations where someone meets in public, nothing would change.

Maybe I’m narrowly focused in my views but unless you choose to make it a point in the story… it doesn’t really matter.


Hmmm. I get what you’re saying. Different countries / locations / individuals’ experiences will vary, but speaking personally there is very little about my interactions that are the same as they were in 2019.

So the implication of what you’re proposing is that we set books in an alternate timeline version of 2022 where COVID never happened? I mean, that works, but it how long does the impact and aftermath have to continue before that’s no longer realistic or recognisable as the human experience. As we rapidly near the 2 year mark of the pandemic I’m wondering whether we’re nearing the point where offices are closed, people are working from home more and we see the occasional facemask.

It also raises questions about what responsibility we have as authors to be part of the historic record, demonstrating the culture, mood, social norms, lives, loves and fears of the times we live through. I mean, I know we don’t have any obligation at an individual level, but as a collective group I don’t think I’d set our responsibility at zero.

Sounds like you want approval for a decision you’ve already made.


You’ve just described the entirety of the internet! :slight_smile:


I think authors reflect their times whether they do so intentionally or not, whether they use realistic settings or not. I don’t think they have much choice, really.

Here in my highly vaccinated corner of the country, things are mostly back to pre-2019 normal. Restaurants and bars are open and people go to them in large numbers. Concerts and sporting events happen with large in-person crowds. Schools are open. Offices are open. There are mask requirements, my county has a vaccine requirement for indoor events, but those are set dressing.

Could I have characters show their vaccine cards before being seated at a restaurant? Could I make school closures, or pandemic deaths, or overloaded hospitals part of the plot? Sure. But 2022 is already looking pretty similar to 2019 in most respects, so I would have no qualms whatsoever about ignoring the pandemic in a book set in the generic “present.”

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What I’m suggesting is “write what you see and know”. If it includes face masks to describe then you include it.

Ex: when Jim met Jill he didn’t know how beautifully asymmetric her lips were. The mask she wore his what would become his most treasured aspect of her face.


When Jim met Jill he never would have guessed that the asymmetrical shape of her mouth would become his most treasured aspect of her face.

Both are valid today. They would work. Neither indicates a position on the vid or even why a mask is needed. If you want to write about the vid then I suspect you would have mentioned it at the first introductory prose of a character meeting.

I may be over simplifying it that’s how I see it.

I’m my barely vaccinated part of the country things have been pre-vid for a bit. No one shows a card. No one cares. If they do you know they aren’t local and those folks are quickly taken aside.

And why would anyone exercising responsible caution be ‘taken aside’?

VIP lounge and free drinks all night, obviously.

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My 2022 is looking unrecognisable against a 2019 baseline. I don’t think my employer is ever going back to office working, for example. Masks are ubiquitous, and certainly more likely to be seen and worn than a tie. There is still an inherent nervousness displayed by a good proportion of people in anything short of nearly empty environments (except pubs and restaurants where the virus knows never to enter), and hurrying is just far less possible.

A fascinating difference between our lived experiences and perspectives!

Because the “rules” are n one state don’t apply when you visit another. Accosting the law abiding citizens of one local because you don’t like the laws… generally frowned on by the locals.

And an answer to your question: because people’s experiences are so varied, you can write whatever works best for your story and it will be plausible.

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And accosting a visitor for practicing caution (provided they don’t do a Karen on the locals) is extremely poor form.

I guess that’s the clarification. The locals here are all “you do you”. But many of the visitors demand that we capitulate to their fears. Karen around here almost certainly comes from a place a bit further north.

Sadly many of them are trying to move here. So there will only be suburbs of NY down here.

Or rubber hosed until they comply. :slightly_smiling_face: