NanoWriMo 2020: Pandemic or Not?

Here we are in 2020 on the edge of November and this year’s NaNoWriMo. For months, we’ve all been trapped in the pandemic bubble. But should you write about it for your 2020 Nano project?

Writing tip for Today: Let’s talk about how the COVID-19 pandemic could influence your writing for Nanowrimo. Should you address the pandemic in your fiction?

Plethora of Pandemics

This year’s odd and challenging events will surely color many fiction writers’ experiences. The few writers who happened to already have published stories about a serious pandemic are probably lucky. Few if any started out thinking a plague would zap the world in a few years as they were drafting their books. The rest of us should approach the subject cautiously.

Think of the post-pandemic world (I know, right?). Do you think people will want to read about this year’s troubles in the coming years? Will readers scramble to find all the literature they can find about what they’ve just lived through? Or will readers avoid the topic like, uh, the plague (sorry.)?

The risk writers take with stories about recent history is that nowadays our news cycles are very short. Except for a small number, readers may not want to relive what they have finally escaped. And I’m convinced that if too many writers tackle the subject, readers will run for the hills.

Focus on Effects

While you might not name the 2020 pandemic in your fiction, there are ways to mine it for the ways it has changed people. Exploring themes of what happens when people are isolated, when people are afraid of one another and how one group takes a global threat seriously while another does not, are all evergreen ideas that never go out of style.

Isolation in the midst of plague has many stories: The Martian (Andy Weir) or even Where the Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens) feature protagonists who are cut off from society. Most thrillers are based in one group fearing another group. And novels abound with themes of the struggle for power between groups.

In all these ideas, the basic universal quest for love, acceptance and security flows like an undercurrent. When you anchor your story to at least one of these universals, you will connect with your readers in a more thorough and satisfying way.

Concentric Rings

As you begin planning your Nanowrimo novel, think about how the goals of love, acceptance and security figure into all levels of the story. Start with your Main Character and give her/him a goal. The goal should somehow help the character attain one of those universals.

Next think about the character’s immediate relationships. How are these characters going to help or hinder the MC’s goals? What will change or stay the same in a family, neighborhood or other circle of influence? An example might be if Juliet disobeys her parents and pursues Romeo, it will change all their lives when the couple dies.

Lastly, how will the goal and the obstacles influence the world at large? In an adventure/thriller, the government or power center may shift—and the fate of every subject may hinge on that shift.

In a more character-driven story, the win or loss of the MC signals to the larger world the message that love prevails (or loses), that it’s possible to find belonging (or not) or that security is possible (or impossible).

Including the pandemic in this year’s Nanowrimo is an individual decision. Yet there are many ways to mine our 2020 disastrous year without ever mentioning COVID. Good luck and write on!

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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