22

I'm a young writer who has been writing a story centring around a teenager's life and how it's changed via the coronavirus. She was skeptical about the legitimacy of the Pandemic until an important family member is hospitalized. It talks about her and her struggles towards the media, family, and people as a whole.

I represented the whole page-worth of my story and how I'll go about it to family members, and none of them were impressed. They told me this novel was capitalizing on an important issue, and that I treated teenagers as idiots (I'm a teenager). They told me it's wrong for an author to capitalize on something so scary and real.

I don't think I'm in the wrong for wanting to make this novel. There have been many novels on touchy topics and historical tragedies.

But considering this is happening recently, I can see why this may not be an appropriate novel to make. Is it bad to make a novel based on the Pandemic? If so, why? If it's fine, then what precautions should I take to appease the masses?

  • How many novels have you written? There's an old saw that the first million words you write are garbage. – nick012000 Dec 19 '20 at 9:29
  • The sequel to my current book will be set during the pandemic. I figure that if we don't do this, then 2020 will be underrepresented in fiction. – NomadMaker Dec 19 '20 at 18:01
  • 3
    The Covid novels are arriving. (The Guardian, Aug 2020) -- I.e. go for it, before it gets cliche. – Jason C Dec 20 '20 at 22:32
  • 1
    I'm sure thousands of people are writing about COVID. – Hot Licks Dec 21 '20 at 1:53
  • 1
    Don't write about something real? No offense to your family, but that's the kind of terrible advice that renders anything else they say completely suspect. (Also, they can tell it to Boccaccio). – Tiercelet Dec 21 '20 at 15:59
46

I see two separate issues here --your work, and who you are getting feedback from:

  • There's nothing intrinsically wrong in being inspired by current events. People do that all the time, and some great work has been created that way. People's reactions to that work may be tied to their own personal experience and/or opinions about the current event, but that's not under your control. It's possible, of course, to do badly written, or exploitative work about a current event, but that is a question of the execution, not the concept.
  • I've learned, from sad experience over the years. Family members are NOT good people to get feedback from --generally. It's just too hard for both them and you to separate the work from their relationship with you. In general, although of course I always hope my family members will appreciate my writing, I've found my best and most useful feedback has come from people I don't have any connection with other than my writing.

I would also note that it's best to not seek feedback at all during the initial idea stage. The reason is that good writing is never about the concept, its about how you bring the concept to life. Only after you have put words on paper can people judge if you have done well or poorly. I have NEVER had a good experience from sharing an idea in its initial conceptual form.

19

There is no topic that per se is inappropriate to write about. Great literature has been written about everything, including rape, incest, child abuse, murder, terrorism - and yes, including the victim POV, the culprit POV and others.

What your family may have been referring to is not so much the topic, but the style. One thing that great literature isn't is lecturing. In Animal Farm we clearly understand that Orwell is opposed to Communism and where exactly he thinks it fails - but he's not lecturing the point, he is illustrating it with a story. The simple trick of using animals as pro- and antagonists moves the whole thing into fantasy, and that removes the interpersonal aspect.

Check your story for "preaching to the audience" artifacts. If as a reader I get the impression that the fiction is simply a thin layer to make me swallow the lecture you want to give me, I probably won't like it.

8

Every writer has to take inspiration from somewhere, and if this topic interests you and makes you want to write, then please do so. It's a touchy subject as you said, but if you're passionate about the story, then the rest matters less. Whether you write about the pandemic or not, countless people will. In fact, dozens of epidemic and pandemic movies release every year around the world, whether they're actually preprogramming the masses or not. If you still feel guilty, then it's better that you make sure your story stands strong even if you give little importance to the said issue. After all, masses (generally) can't be appeased without a good story, and a good story will work whether you're talking about a pandemic or even more disheartening issues that happen all the time in the dark corners of our world.

As for capitalizing on an important issue... every publishing company would do it if given the chance. Getting your book to the readers is all that matters. Whether they like it or not if you release it now or a year later, nobody knows. However, if you think that your readers might not like your novel if it releases a few years later, then I'd say that you give it more thought.

4

I'm just going to comment the feedback, and only to make it visible how crazy that feedback is.

They told me this novel was capitalizing on an important issue, and ... it's wrong for an author to capitalize on something so scary and real.

I can just assume that they haven't:

  • watched the movie Titanic
  • watched the Chernobyl mini series
  • haven't played Call of Duty, Battlefield, Company of Heroes, World of Warships or any other games about World War II
  • haven't watched any documentaries about plane accidents

All of the above was based on important, scary and real issues. And they were made by companies to make money, i.e. capitalize on it. By doing the above they support the very thing they recommend that you don't do.

Of course they will come up with reasons why all of the above is ok, but not writing about Covid. Probably something in the line of "it was so long ago". But is it really different? No, the "importance, scary, real and capitalizing" are the same, it's just the emotional feeling that changes. And that's not a reason for you not to write about it.

4

Go ahead. It is MORE important to write about current events as they happen because after time memories become tainted. For an example, in an 'everybody panic' situation you may be shocked to start with, then cynical, then reflective about society, then reflect on your part. Each is a box that once opened can't be shut.

It's a VERY interesting situation where family members take some 'do not discuss' position. What drives that? Fear? Helplessness? Is your writing a challenge they don't want to have to address?

As others have said, showing writing to friends and family is pretty worthless. You may click with other writers, but even then their style or views may not be yours. However, DO discuss ideas and ask for suggestions without looking at a piece of writing. For example: "I've only got one character which means she's always thinking aloud in her head. Somebody told me that's monotonous. What people could she meet for real dialogue?" (A few weeks later) "You know you suggested a Fireman? That's worked out really well because I gave him PTSD/guilt/creepy-machoism/etc. and my main character is being bounced around."

Even if you don't 'write a story', I suggest keeping a diary of events and feelings will be useful and also interesting to look back on in a few years time.

3

Unfortunately I can't remember who said it but I remember reading in a foreword of a (Stephen King I think) book, if you want to write, write!

I really don't see the benefit in not writing it.

IMHO (and this is a very opinion-based question TBF) it's absolutely appropriate to write about the pandemic! If you believe it is wrong to "capitalise" on such an issue, you should know people have been doing that for years - as Polygorial pointed out there have been many movies, computer games, books, TV shows, songs, etc. made about tragic events.

The main advice though would be to research the topic well - it might be difficult - being such a current issue, the science is probably going to be changing as you write (Think what we know now vs what we knew last March) and your story could risk looking very dated if by the end of this thing our knowledge has moved on.

Finally, regarding "capitalising" on an important event, you're not really capitalising unless you start making money off it, and if you still feel guilty you can give that money to a COVID-19 based charity or something...

0

This answer is very much my personal opinions, so take them for that.

First: do you want to write this novel? My suggestion is to then simply do it. It is never wrong to write. Have as much fun as possible, but accept that writing a novel contains one part that is a lot of hard work.

Secondly: do you want the novel to be published? Maybe reach out to some (a lot! ) publisher houses and check. Most of them, probably all, will say no as you have no track record. But then, among the answers you get, there migth be something that will nudge you in a new direction.

Third: how do you care about the reaction of others? You live surrounded by people, both in real life and on the net. If you publish things that will create reactions, in what way will it effect you? As an example: assume you are a teenager girl living in a very religous family and write about your personal experience of 'taboo' things, say doing an abortion -- how would that effect you. It might be that that you elect to publish anyway, but do make a conscious decision.

  • Is there any point in contacting potential publishers before the story has even be written? – Llewellyn Dec 20 '20 at 22:25
  • @Llewellyn Not necessarily any point, but among the answers given from publishers you might have good, actionable advice. Why write for the desk drawer, why not have as goal to get things published? – ghellquist Dec 20 '20 at 22:34
0

They are YOUR words.

Write. If that is what you want to write about, do it. Find a forum to share the idea, or not, or keep pounding on it. You'll succeed or not, you'll hit blocks or not, but write.

As for how you treat teenagers... well... it's funny because I'm sure most adults call them idiots. I look at how I was and I was an idiot by my standards now.

And yes it's close to home. It's happening right now, and people you know are dying (if not, you are a very lucky one indeed). I personally ache when I read and hear about these events happening, the stories, the losses- because they keep mounting and I keep seeing the raw vitriol being spewed too.

I just want to leave this out, too- When Gilbert Gottfieds told a 9/11 joke ... he got booed. "Too Soon". https://lasvegassun.com/blogs/kats-report/2011/feb/23/retrospect-gilbert-gottfrieds-911-joke-was-maybe-t/

  • 1
    Welcome to Writing.SE! This is a bit muddied; it's unclear whether you're saying it's appropriate to write about the pandemic or not. Is your answer, "yes, but you should be prepared for people to criticise you for it anyway"? – F1Krazy Dec 22 '20 at 23:01
  • Honestly @F1Krazy I should have said "Write about what you want to write about- just don't always expect to get paid". OP's words, OP's thoughts... As to the secondary concern about the pandemic I just wished to point out that 'too soon' is a term that causes much trouble in different areas. So... write OP, write your heart out! – J.Hirsch Dec 23 '20 at 20:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.