I’ve debated this since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Should I incorporate social distancing elements in my writing? Should characters wear masks and stay 6 feet apart? Should they never greet each other with a physical gesture like a handshake or hug? Should more than one character even be in the same room together? Or do I ignore all that and write as if life is back to the old normal?
Stories always represent a snapshot in time. Whether it’s the language used, the technology described, or the social norms of the characters, stories inevitably date themselves. As a science fiction writer, many of my stories occur in the future; so outdated tech usually isn’t an issue. But my characters speak and use early 21st century vocabulary and not the words, or even a separate language, developed between now and when the story takes place. And say I’m writing about a colony ship hurtling toward a new planet. What about the crew’s composition? If written 100 years ago, the crew likely would have been all male and white. Not today, at least not for me. I purposefully include an ensemble cast consisting of both sexes and multiple races and ethnicities.
Whether we like it or not, our writing dates us. Wouldn’t including elements of social distancing simply further date an already dated work? Or do such elements go too far? Or would we prefer our fiction to be just that, a fictional escape from reality? Would we rather not be reminded of this unusual and difficult time we are living through?
So far I’ve written two short stories during the pandemic. Neither one includes social distancing concepts, but I thought about doing so both times. I ultimately rejected doing so because it would have interfered with the story. For example, one story takes place at an academic conference. Those are all cancelled for the foreseeable future, so that would have killed the story. The climax wouldn’t quite have the same dramatic impact if it was a virtual conference.
There is no right answer, but I’m curious. How have you treated social distancing in your writing? Let me know in the comments.