Writing

My Reaction to an Article About Setting Stories Now and What I Think You Can Do About it

Ugh! This pandemic is killing me and us all. I want to get back to full straightforward life ASAP! Okay, I don’t blog about things like this.

However, I did come across an article on BookBaby about “the elephant in the room.” The article talked about setting your story now in 2020, despite the pandemic.

It gave an example from an old story, but twisted on it where a character had to practice social distancing and stay 6 feet apart from others. The post said that there are a lot of complications with setting your story this year. Your characters would have to follow pandemic guidelines, but that could interfere with your plot. The author also said that you shouldn’t have the characters live completely typical lives, such as dining out or partying.

The person advised against setting the stories in the future since no one knows what will happen. I agree with that one. But he or she also said that you shouldn’t set it in the past since it would be unsatisfactory. However, I don’t agree with that one, especially if you only backdate by one or two years. If contemporary settings matter so much, I would still consider 2019 and even 2018 to be pretty contemporary. I think setting your stories then should be totally fine. After all, if your characters need to live normal, typical lives, then setting it one or two years before now should be understandable and even important. That is when setting a story in a certain year plays a crucial part. But I think writers should get to set their stories whenever they want. I wrote another post about that, though.

So, unless your story is centered around Covid-19, or is set in a made-up world (i.e. a make-believe planet in science-fiction or a different magical land or world in fantasy), I think it is best to set it in 2019 or 2018. Or, you could wait until the pandemic is fully over, which should be by next year, or even sooner. This could work if you need to do a lot of research or plan more.

I read the comments on that article, and a lot of people said that books should take you into another world and shouldn’t necessarily be centered around current issues. That probably would work if your story is set in the US and is between January and March.

If your story is set in a made-up world, go ahead and set it now or in the future and keep Covid-19 out of it. Otherwise, set it one or two (or more) years earlier or wait till the sense of pre-pandemic normalcy starts to return.

Writing

Unpopular Writing Opinion: Why I Wish Readers Would Accept Any Time Setting in Stories, Regardless of Publication Date

When I say any time setting, I mean any time setting. I firmly believe that authors should get to set their stories whenever they want and readers should accept and deal with the time setting. I don’t agree with the ridiculous rules that authors should only set their books in contemporary settings or historical settings, but nothing in between.

It all started out when I wanted to update my book, “The Frights of Fiji,” then titled, “From Frights to Flaws,” and I sent it to an editor. Throughout the manuscript, the editor kept complaining about the years mentioned and the fact that the story was set in 2010, even though it was first published in 2013. They seemed to tell me to update the setting to 2018 since many middle grade readers then were babies or really little. I was very offended and told them I highly disliked someone telling me when I could or could not set my stories. Then the editor felt me and said that they supported my idea of setting my story whenever I wished and that they wouldn’t tell writers when they could or couldn’t set their stories. That year-change was merely a suggestion. Yet, they also pointed out how kids today wouldn’t be able to relate to pushing buttons on phones. Um…hello? They’re going to be reading books way more primitive than that. Definitely for school. They’ll read books where candles were used since electricity didn’t exist, horse-drawn wagons were the main means of transportation because there were no cars. They’re even going to read stories where pants didn’t exist and men wore robes and togas, like in ancient times, B.C.E.

Also, must I mention that it was not until the 7th “Harry Potter” book was published that I discovered that the characters were much older than I thought. I had grown up thinking “Harry Potter” was set in the 2000’s thanks to some hints from the movies, which I watched before the books. But when “The Deathly Hallows” was published, I discovered that the events of the series happened in the 90’s, from when before I was born up until I was 4 years old, excluding the epilogue. Yes, it was a shock and disappointment at first. But I eventually got past it and accepted it, especially since the first 3 books were published in the 90’s. And no, it wasn’t because J.K. Rowling was a very big-name author.

Even on a website, someone pointed out why “Harry Potter” was set in the 90’s, and said that it could’ve been set earlier, but no one would relate to it as easily. Once again, kids have to read books like that for school. And I’m sure there’s a reason why English curriculums often require stories set too early for students to relate to. It’s probably to learn the differences. Do you think a lot of school kids now or even 30 years ago could relate to characters, like Tom Sawyer or Romeo Montague? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy it, even if they have to read it. When I was in school, there were very few books set around times we students could relate to. One I remember was “Rabbit Hole”, which I read in 12th grade. There was a scene with a video cassette, which suggested that the story couldn’t be set later than the 90’s or early 2000’s. While it felt a little awkward, it didn’t keep me from enjoying the story. Plus, it was required, so I couldn’t stop. I still liked the story, as it was.

Another time, after I republished “The Frights of Fiji” in 2018, I sent my sequel to be edited, as well. Once again, the editor removed the year I stated in it, 2010, and said it would make the story outdated. Bull poo. I even told them why I stated the year it was set. The editor said that authors can set their books whenever they liked, however, it should only be stated if important, otherwise it’s distracting. Garbage! The first book had already been published and the year, 2010, was already written as its time setting. So, I had to say the year book 2 was set.

When I started a post about this on a writing forum, while a few took my side, others did the opposite. They saw the idea of a book being set in 2010 and published in recent years as a bug and being awkward. When I said that changing the year would mess up dates and events, they saw that as nonsense. They picked it up differently than I intended, though. In book 1, my MC’s 13th birthday plays an important role. It also has to fall on a Saturday, and in 2010, her birthday, April 17th, fell on a Saturday. Had I changed the year, I would have had to either change her birthday, or make it a different day. But between 2013 and 2018, hundreds of people have already read the book’s first edition, so it would have looked bad to change the year setting.

Another person on that forum said that unless a story is centered around a certain historical event, like 9/11, it should not be set post-2000. Bird poo. And some other writers agree. They said that it would be hard to market a book set many years in the past without a reason. One writer said that a book published today that is set in 2006 without a reason looks bad. Another said that authors shouldn’t date their stories. They should be contemporary all the time and that readers should get to fill in the year themselves. Bull poo again.  

Why can’t readers see older settings from this century as a chance to learn more about those years? Seriously, what’s wrong with learning about things like flip phones, DVD rental stores, and other “outdated” ways of life? It really shouldn’t hurt. Readers should see books like that chances to be educational in terms of learning the differences of life then versus now. A book set in 2006 and being published around now should be acceptable in mainstream publishing. There’s nothing wrong with learning anything. Of course, that is as long as it’s not harmful. After all, we do or did have to learn history in school. And that is to learn not just how life was different than, but also the mistakes or bad decisions people made so that we don’t do those ourselves.

To me, fiction is only outdated if it’s offensive, such as the use of racial slurs or the damsel-in-distress trope. Basically, anything that would be insensitive to people today shouldn’t be used in writing. But years? Big deal. Authors should get to date their stories, set it in whatever years they wish, and readers should be more open to that. I wish that’s how it would be.