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When I did my Q&A last week, only one question came up more than once. And then again this week, when I asked on Twitter what question people would like me to answer in the newsletter, multiple people asked a variation of this same: should I include current events in my contemporary romance work in progress?
Certainly, this isn’t a new question contemporary romance authors have had to tackle, but that doesn’t make it an easier question. Big tragedies have always left us discussing where they fit into our fictional worlds.
I don’t think there’s a right answer, but there’s some questions an author can ask themselves to decide how much or how little to include.
First: how close to “reality” are you writing your contemporary romance?
If you’re writing to reflect today’s world, social issues, and some sense of today, then you may need to at least give an acknowledgment of how the world has changed post-Covid-19 (we’ll get there!) Especially in your “real world” romances set in places like New York City or New Orleans. Like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, it might be hard to simply ignore the aftereffects of what’s happening now.
Second: are you writing for escapism–so your readers can escape stress and worry using your books?
In that case, your world may be more fictional, maybe more aspirational, it may turn more of a blind eye toward reality and exist purely as fiction, so it’s clear to that reader that it’s contemporary, but not meant to be an accurate portrayal of modern life so you won’t even touch on what’s happened or what’s happening.
Third (and very important): what can you handle including/writing/thinking about?
Self-care for writers isn’t a small thing that should just be set aside in the discussion of how you handle current events in contemporary romance. If you need your own escape in the form of writing, then go ahead create your world without Covid-19 in it. If that’s what you need to do to keep creating, keep getting word count, and keep yourself mentally healthy, then give yourself permission to do that.
Or give yourself permission to work out some of your anxiety and stress by writing current reality into your book and giving it a happy ever after.
The readers will make their own choices as well.
People say there’s a reader for every book. Will there be people who want to read about right now? I’m sure, at some point. Just like now we have people who want to read about WWI, prohibition, the Great Depression, and other eras. Ours isn’t special in being tragic, but it’s special in that it’s happening right now, to us, and that makes it harder to imagine as romantic. But somewhere there are readers, like possibly there are authors, who want to read about people coming out of this with a HEA. That’s why this video of this couple discovering romance in NYC in the midst of Covid-19 has been so popular.
In short? Do what feels right for you, the creator, and right for your story and your world. I think what’s of the utmost importance right now is protecting your creative process and practicing good self-care so you can keep writing.
There’s no right/wrong answer, there’s only what’s right/wrong for you, the author, at this moment.