Well, it’s been a little more than a year of lock-downs and warnings, sickness and death, constriction and austerity as a result of the global pandemic sparked by the COVID-19 virus. Big, big changes. Have you had enough space to see how this is all affecting your writing?
For me, I’ve seen a shift to smaller casts – people with more localized problems, and only two to four people in a story. You can see this with my Christmas story last year – a crappy boss, a heroine wallowing in loneliness, a mystery man passed out on the pavement, and a touch of Mother. This is
quite compact for me; I usually like to write a party with loads of people, and lots of interactions.
With the new year, and the hope of new vaccines, I shifted again to a cast of thousands. But, my people weren’t people . . . they were space cats. I only go out to buy groceries once or twice a week, and my nearest neighbor in the winter is about 2 km down the road. However, with my retirement from my dayjob, I’ve gotten to know the cats on the farm. Instead of people-watching, I’ve been kitty-watching, and seeing how they build their social structures, and learning how their behaviors are influenced by their environment.
I’ve talked about my Space Cats before. Captain Greebo, the strong and taciturn hero (turns out he sings, too – I have to work that part in). Tabby Kate, the former nightclub caterwauler on the run. Tuxedo Jones, who I don’t know very well, is the villain of the piece. He lives in the barn, so it’s easy to him as I please, and not as he is.
The most interesting character is Lady Black. I haven’t committed her to paper yet. At first, I thought she was Greebo’s sister. Then I suspected he was her son. However, Great-Aunt is probably the energy I need for the story. I need some sibling rivalry misplaced through the generations, but also that sense of kinship or even love. I don’t know if she’s a villain, or a prickly ally to Kate and Greebo.
I do know the real-life Lady Black has a disagreeable personality. She attacks randomly, and the kittens are afraid of her. Tabby Kate actively dislikes her, but that only extends to defending her boundaries. I think Tabby is afraid of Lady, too.
But it turns out that Lady Black has a good reason for her nastiness – something in her mouth hurts. (She’s a feral cat, and taking her to the vet could result in some serious damage for everyone involved.) When she eats hard food, she makes noises that sound like an Exorcist soundtrack. Since realizing this is probably the root of her nastiness, I feed her soft food, and leave her alone when she comes to camp out in the box on the porch.
Oh, I get side-tracked easily! I find cat dynamics so fascinating! The point is, I’m writing characters with a lot of drama and love, but they also get distracted easily by ribbon, food and herbs in the mint family.
Fundamentally, though, how much has changed? I still write hopeful stories with optimistic or (dare I say it?) happy endings. I write stuff with a touch of surrealism and outright fantasy. In most respects, my writing hasn’t changed that much. The feeling that people need some cheerful, funny, quirky stories has only been reinforced by the pandemic.
(I’m almost sure that people who like drama and stories that don’t end happily will also find that post-pandemic audiences need that, too – that they need something to process the trauma and strain in safe proportions. I don’t think readers have fundamentally changed during the pandemic, but I do think they will feel they deserve a bit of a treat in the next few years, be it a dunk in the hard dystopia that might have been, or skimming lightly like a rock over a comedy of manners.)
What do you think? Have you noticed any changes in your writing or reading this year? It’s natural to change and evolve and continue on our arcs . . . I think the pandemic has given us a push – moving us to new arcs, or pushing us further along our old ones.