• Jessica Sherry

Setting: Pandemic as Background

The coronavirus pandemic--fuel for enumerable outbreak-style writing projects--tops BIG STORIES right now. A worldwide pandemic makes for compelling fiction, providing built-in suspense and horror. But what if you don't want to write end-of-the-world, outbreak stories?


I certainly don't. It's just not my bag, baby.


Instead of jumping on the pandemic bandwagon--however relevant--it might be fun to brainstorm using the BIG STORY in small ways. A writer's spotlight can shine on anything, bringing life to the stories behind the obvious one. I'll probably never write a novel about a pandemic, but now that we're all in the middle of one, I can definitely see it playing a background role to just about anything.


Here are some of my crazy, writer-brained, coffee-fueled writing ideas on the small stories behind the big one:


  • Quarantine Stories: Think The Shining. Close-quarters, limited supplies, an uncertain future--being quarantined, or hell, just being stuck at home can exasperate all sorts of problems. Course, that doesn't mean your story has to go psycho. Love stories, mysteries, family dramas, comedies--you can do anything with a group of people stuck together.

  • Hospital/First Responder Stories: Heroes on the front lines of this crazy time in history all have stories of their own. Focusing on these amazing people for characters with the coronavirus as background could make for awesome stories. Maybe a nurse, new to the job and unsure whether she's made the right choice going into medicine, now faces a pandemic that even seasoned nurses struggle coping with. Will she step up or bow out? Or a cop newly retired choosing to come back to work to help his fellow officers, even if it puts him at risk. Or a team of retired cops--oh, that sounds fun... A doctor dealing with an anxiety disorder treating extremely anxious patients. Endless possibilities.

  • Airport/Cruise Ships/Travel Stories: For some travelers, getting home has been the big story. Not only have these poor souls feared getting sick, but they've also faced terrible obstacles simply getting back home. Some cruise ships are still at sea, unable to dock--who knows when those tired vacationers'll be on land again. Think Planes, Trains, & Automobiles. Good stories can surely come from that chaos.


A little bit smaller now.... Here are a few of my smaller-scale wonderings:


  • A budding romance that can't blossom because of social distancing.

  • A rage murder committed because someone's not social distancing; I did hear a story about people coughing on other people just to move up further in line at the grocery store. Another about a woman going postal and licking items in the grocery store--the store had to throw out that merchandise.

  • The lengths someone might go to for toilet paper.

  • How being home all the time means we pay attention to our neighbors more... and they're watching us, too.

  • People with OCD are shaking their heads at the rest of us. Who's crazy now? For once, people who obsess about germs fit right in. Yesterday, when I went to Publix, an employee sprayed down my entire cart right in front of me before I could use it. I could see a character like Adrian Monk loving this pandemic world. No shaking hands. No hugs. No touching. Not everyone would hate it.

  • What about criminals? Have they had to change their MO because people are home all the time? Are they stealing different things?

  • Bored teenagers... Oh, my gosh, the bored teens. I have one. She's playing video games right now. Teens could sneak out at night to meet-up with other teens, causing all sorts of trouble. More online environments are getting hacked; bad words displayed over virtual boardrooms. Sounds like bored (and smart) teens to me. What other hijinks could teens get into that could make good stories? Or even, what good things could they get into? Planting gardens, errands for elderly neighbors, creating fun, outdoors social media games with their friends.

  • Small businesses have been forced to reinvent themselves through all this, if they haven't been shutdown altogether. What about a new business on the cusp of opening when all of this unfolds? What might someone do to save his business? A determined entrepreneur could transform his business into something completely unexpected.

  • A huge event being cancelled after months, maybe years, of blood, sweat, tears, money thanks to the coronavirus could the catalyst for a great story. Weddings, conferences, concerts, dream vacations, graduations, proms, sporting events, anniversary celebrations, awards shows, book tours (I wish), the Olympics. Just when you think you've got everything figured out, on track, planned and perfected, along comes a pandemic to screw things up. What did Langston Hughes say about a dream deferred?


You get the idea. A pandemic story doesn't have to be a traditional pandemic story, if that makes sense. Using the pandemic as setting rather than plot could be the background for anything.


Share your pandemic writing ideas below!


Cup's empty. Happy writing!


Drop Me a Line, Let Me Know What You Think