Free Original Storyworld Ideas, Part 2: Three Coronavirus Story Settings

Let’s say you wanted to write a story about Coronavirus but weren’t sure where to start. This post shares three original story setting ideas!
on Apr 30, 2020 · 21 comments

Coronavirus is of course on everyone’s minds right now and fills the news. What if you wanted to write a cautionary, near-future story that featured a society profoundly affected by COVID-19? Now might be a good time for that, in terms of using current events to generate story sales. But what if you weren’t sure what kind of approach to take? This post offers three ideas on story settings in which the Coronavirus pandemic winds up changing the future. (NOTE these settings are much more dystopian than optimistic–if you’d rather not think about negative possible effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, you may not want to continue reading. Though I’m not being deliberately morbid…)

The title of this series is “Free original storyworld ideas” (link to Part 1, here) and indeed I’m offering these notions for free to anyone who wishes to use them (and am available to discuss story world ideas for anyone who wants to do so). But I’m not promising these are necessarily the greatest possible ideas–certainly there must be better ones. Nor do these ideas come from me alone–I talked to my wife about them and my friend Parker J. Cole (thanks, Parker!) But, God willing, this discussion could spark your imagination about what could be done and inspire aspiring writers visiting this site to come up with something else. Perhaps.

Ideas I didn’t Pick and Why Not

With so many conspiracy theories floating around about Coronavirus, it seemed unnecessary for me to suggest story ideas that revolve around conspiracies to take over the US government (or the world) based on somebody deliberately creating COVID-19 or systematically lying about what the virus really does or can do. I’m not saying there’s no potentially interesting storyworld that revolves around some kind of COVID-conspiracy–but that if you want inspiration to write that kind of story, lots of theories are already floating around the Internet. E.g. the Chinese created the virus, or the US government, or globalists, or white supremacists, etc. No need for me to focus on such ideas here.

Nor is there a reason to spend much time on highly probable long-term reactions to Coronavirus which are relatively mundane. You might want to include mundane changes due to COVID-19 in stories set in the future, though. Such as, you might create a future in which far more people will routinely wear respiratory masks than in the past. Or the custom of shaking hands will come to an end (either completely, or nearly so). Or sterilization of household equipment will become standard–maybe even self-sterilizing rooms will become a wave of the future, a future craze in the design of homes and public spaces. These might be interesting background ideas for a story about something else, but in my mind, it would be hard to sustain a whole story setting off these relatively benign details. (Yes, I’m about to suggest three ideas that are not quite so “benign.”)

Worse is Better (For a Story)

While nobody wants to live in a dystopian hellhole, there’s a lot to be said for emphasizing the worst in making a story about the long-term effects of a pandemic. This isn’t to be pessimistic about what the real effects of Coronavirus may be, but because negative events are generally more interesting to read about than everything being joyous and happy. Many realistic projections of what will happen to the future of Coronavirus include it becoming subject to regular vaccinations or herd immunity and so in a few years, the current crisis will seem to have been a nightmare we passed through much faster than it seemed at the time.

But what if the virus doesn’t do well with a vaccine, because it mutates too much? Or what if herd immunity doesn’t develop, because people who have already had the virus are in general no more protected from getting infected again people who never had it?

By no means am I wishing for such scenarios to really happen. Nor am I projecting these as the most likely outcomes. But as fodder for stories, a persistent virus that’s very difficult to extinguish is much more interesting than one that gets wiped out by vaccinations. So all of the ideas I’m floating consist of a hardy-and-hard-to-get-rid-of Coronavirus. Again, I’m not saying I think this is what will really happen–just that it’s interesting to consider.

A few years after the time of writing this post, these ideas may seem ridiculous for COVID-19 because by then it may be it’s been regulated to insignificance. But if so, substitute another virus yet to be discovered in the place of Coronavirus. 🙂

Story Setting Idea 1: “Localtopia”

Image from a “localtopia” Facebook page–I thought I’d invented the term “localtopia.” Clearly I did not!

If we imagine a persistent Coronavirus, or even more appropriate for this particular story idea, a series of viruses like COVID-19 that all come from foreign places, perhaps a long-term reaction could be to shut down almost all international travel and commerce and produce and consume goods on a local basis. You know, to prevent new, devastating viruses from spreading around the world.

While I don’t think this scenario is very likely to really happen, it does dovetail with a number of environmentalist aspirations. As in reducing carbon footprint and growing more food organically.

So imagine it becomes standard for almost everything a person consumes to be produced within, say, 100 miles of where that person lives. All is local.

I suggest playing this story so that doing everything locally seems like a utopia (at first). Drop the reader into a setting in which people seem at peace and harmony in their “localtopia.”

But then the story brings up downsides, bit by bit. By no means are all local areas equal when it comes to producing their own food. Some localities would be very hard-pressed to feed everybody with locally-grown food (such as the area in between Washington D.C. and Boston in the USA–far too many people live in that zone to locally farm for all of them). Whereas other areas are nowhere close to sources of ordinary minerals used to build things today. Such as steel.

“Localtopia” would wind up creating a series of vastly different societies, in which each one tends to build with different materials, eats different fruit in season, and has radically different levels of prosperity. While a given locality perhaps would be relatively egalitarian, across the whole scope of localities, the disparity between rich and poor zones would be greater than ever before, much greater than now.

Presumably a person could still pass through localities and trade, but doing so would be bogged down in paperwork–“localtopia” would seem to have to be created by excessive governmental regulation, more at the state and local level in the USA than the Federal (though Federal regulations could contribute to the situation). So some commentary on over-regulation with go naturally with this story idea.

What happens to people when they’re immersed in a sub-culture that borders other cultures with differing levels of prosperity? What happens if one local area is crowded with people but not enough food for all of them? But a bordering area has plenty of food, but not enough people to defend the food? War, of course.

“Localtopia” would not come about without a series of conflicts, not given human beings acting the way humans have always acted throughout recorded history. In fact, while the story may start with a seemingly idyllic, bucolic, near-utopia, even that peaceful setting should come from a gruesome past of suffering that the reader finds out about piece by piece. And will lead to even greater suffering as local wars break out between groups of people who see themselves as having nothing in common with their neighboring localities around them…(let your own imagination fill in specifics of what the wars would be about and how they’d be fought…)

Story Setting Idea 2: Immunity Slavery

Image copyright: The Advocacy Foundation. Link at:

So instead of a series of viruses of foreign origin as per the “localtopia” idea, let’s imagine Coronavirus retains a capacity to kill a certain percentage of people of any age or can permanently damage a person’s respiratory system. Having the disease does not convey any immunity and it mutates too rapidly for viruses to keep up.

But imagine that a small percentage of people are naturally immune to the virus. And their immunity can be shared on a temporary basis by IV infusion of plasma from these immune people.

Imagine also that local, state, and national governments cave in to the international demand for goods and travel and the commercial world we knew before 2020 continues on more or less unabated. Some people work in conditions in which they are routinely exposed to the risk of Coronavirus. Some may have had it four or five times and are relatively healthy–extra irony points for making those people smokers! (as of now, smokers seem to do better than average versus COVID-19, for unknown reasons) Yes, a small percentage of regular people with ordinary jobs wind up dead from Coronavirus, in spite of routine protective measures. But most people come to accept that as a necessary risk that comes along with having a job.

However, the wealthy elite do not want to risk getting exposed to Coronavirus themselves. Even though they continue engaging in international travel.

Yes, there would be a legal market of immune people getting paid for their plasma, but imagine the supply simply isn’t enough to meet the demand. The richest of the rich want more.

So the uber-wealthy pay agents to identify likely immune people–they’re taken captive, held in secret facilities, forced to donate plasma, or worse, organs, while being considered too precious to be allowed to wander around on their own. The “plasma cows” would yield immunity on a secret black market. While being bred with other “plasma cows” for the purpose of producing a “strain” of humans with superior genetic resistance to viruses…(let your own imagination fill in the rest…)

Story Setting 3: Artificial Intelligence Virus-Free World

Image copyright:

A reader of this article who thinks along political lines may notice my first suggested story setting kinda bashes left-wingers. Or better said, exposes certain left-wing aspirations to criticism. Whereas the second idea would vilify the capitalist elite and could be seen as anti-rightist. This third idea is more down-the-middle.

Imagine that the Coronavirus is persistent, hard to get rid of, and hard to vaccinate against. But governments neither shut down all international commerce, nor cave in to returning to work as normal with minimal restrictions.

Businesses in “vital” sectors remain open and the use of tele-work becomes increasingly normal. Schools mostly close their doors, replaced by expanded (and obsessively sanitized) libraries for those few students otherwise unable to gain access to online instruction. While stay-at-home-unless-need-be orders remain in effect for much of the world.

Over time, the international economy is rebuilt with sterile robots doing much of the physical work that can put human beings at risk of exposure to the Coronavirus. With a vast swath of workers unemployed, most governments respond by providing Universal Basic Income.

Increasingly, goods are delivered to people via robotic couriers and robotic drivers and cargo handlers deliver internationally-produced goods. Almost all people stay at home almost all the time, even though only some are able to work there. Viruses are nearly 100 percent eliminated as a result.

Highly realistic virtual reality would become the way people intermingle and where most people would go for entertainment. In person contact becomes a rare, thrill-seeking thing.

The downside? This vast array of robots producing goods and the virtual reality world would have to be supervised by a series of Artificial Intelligences. And the AIs become increasingly self-aware and link up with one another, with their own agenda of (let your imagination fill in the blank…)


I hope you found those story ideas interesting. I would be very pleased if they inspire great works of fiction from any readers of this post. Though I’d be happier still if none of these potential futures actually takes place!

So what do you think I’m missing in my suggestions, reader? What would you add to what I said? Or suggest differently than me? Please let your thoughts be known in the comments below.

(The link to my podcast covering this same topic in other words is: )

Travis Perry is a hard-core Bible user, history, science, and foreign language geek, hard science fiction and epic fantasy fan, publishes multiple genres of speculative fiction at Bear Publications, is an Army Reserve officer with five combat zone deployments. He also once cosplayed as dark matter.
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  1. notleia says:

    I, for one, am maintaining my mental health mostly by means of that river in Africa.

    Happy hippie farming communes? Yes. Robot-assisted lifestyles with more leisure to make art and culture? Yes. No wars allowed in the happy hippie zone. I’m joining a knitting circle with grannies and lesbos and maybe someone playing bongos.

  2. I choose scenario three.
    My take on it will be unusual though probably done before.
    “How AI Finally Destroyed Civilization.” If you expect another Terminator story you’ll be disappointed.

    • Travis Perry says:

      The AI probably doesn’t need to send terminators after us if they control the entire supply chain… but how would your take on the AI idea be distinctly non-Terminator? I’m curious. 🙂

  3. Autumn Grayson says:

    Kind of interesting that you’ve taken three of the major things that have been cropping up and developed them.

    I’ve been considering aspects of these lately, both in the sense of adding them to some of my stories and also because I’m thinking about writing some blog posts to reflect on this outbreak.

    My stories wouldn’t use COVID 19 itself, but some other virus. Some of my ideas include government conspiracies…not because that’s what I think happened in real life, of course, but because those were some of the what if scenarios that could work for some of my story worlds.

    I do think we should source more things locally. Not to fulfill the desire for a silly hippie utopia, but more from the idea of self sufficiency. Not to the extent that people just cut themselves off from each other or don’t help, but in a way that makes each person a little stronger. And more importantly, as a failover system for cases like this virus. If a nation has a failover system to meet its own needs(at least when it comes to necessities for the next few years), it could cut off trade and travel until something like the pandemic blew over, without as many of the adverse effects we have now. We could still send foreign aid, maybe through drones or volunteers, but all in all it would be better if, in spite of participating in global trade, we built more of a culture and infrastructure that allowed us to be very nearly autonomous if need be. To an extent the US has that, at least in terms of natural resources, but we apparently don’t have enough actual systems put in place to gracefully failover to autonomy, never mind the fact that a lot of our citizens aren’t prepared for that either.

    And then each nation could have smaller units within itself that could isolate themselves as self sufficient units, too. In the US, those smaller units could be states and then maybe counties or cities. Again, they wouldn’t have to stay separate at all times, and the intention wouldn’t be to make a utopia. But the ability to fail over to a self contained system could help stave off the worst effects of world wide quarantine, which is currently isolating people whether they like it or not. Only, with our current system, we’re rather unprepared in too many ways. Independence as a failover system would be handy in case of war, too.

    Some aspects of the immunity slavery idea sound familiar, though I can’t remember all the specific stories. There is a series where people’s organs are forcibly harvested, and then Brandon Sanderson had some story idea where got infected with diseases on purpose as part of their jobs, so either I’ve heard the immunity slavery thing while reading the back of some YA dystopia, or my brain is combining all the memories of stories that contain aspects of what you mentioned.

    A long time ago I had an idea for a story world that was just occupied by robots. Since then I’ve kind of played with it in my head, and lately I’ve considered using a virus like scenario to spur AI’s development or takeover in that story. Or maybe the virus would make humans go extinct in that world and leave only robots behind. No idea if I’ll actually go that route or not, though.

    • Travis Perry says:

      These particular ideas I would not say were the most inspired I’ve ever had nor the most original…but I hope their timeliness makes up for that.

      Yeah, the danger of using COVID-19 is whatever you guess could be shown to be totally wrong in just a few years. One of the risks of headline hopping. Though showing a series of viruses starting with COVID-19 should be effective.

      Yeah, the immunity slavery thing has parallels with other stories that have done organ harvesting sci-fi/horror. The most unique aspect of that particular idea is to specifically tie it to Coronavirus.

      And as for robots taking over because all the humans die from the virus, sounds like my kinda story. A bit off from what someone might expect.

      Best of luck on the stories you develop in the future!

      • Autumn Grayson says:

        Thanks 🙂 Time will tell if that’s the exact route I go with my robot story, though it will probably end up combining several ideas instead of just one. Earth and our universe doesn’t usually exist in my stories, so in addition to what you said, that’s another reason why I’d avoid using COVID 19. I do borrow some things from real life, but I give them a completely different origin or even traits to make them look like they could have developed naturally in my story worlds, instead of them just randomly being there just because.

        How’ve you been handling/reacting to the virus and social isolation, btw? I’m an introvert so I’m mostly fine, but maybe slightly worried about the fallout of the whole issue. And even though part of me loves having to be around people less, there’s a tiny part of me that goes a little crazy when it thinks about the fact that the alone time is only coming from the fact that the isolation is forced. Like, being forced into isolation is different than actively choosing it. And then notleia said a bit of how she’s reacting, so I’m curious about you now.

        • Travis Perry says:

          I think perhaps the biggest thing I miss with social distancing is church attendance. I’ve taught several classes at church for years and one of them I’ve moved over to doing by video. So I’ve been putting a lot of effort in to learning how to do that, but it all feels very weird. No direct feedback. Like I’m talking and nobody hears me.

          Other things include my adult daughter had a birthday on March 20th. I wanted to get together with her for her birthday, but we’ve been putting it off because she wanted to go to a movie.

          Probably the biggest stressor would be the income I was making doing online translations happened to be for a company that mostly did student-teacher meetings with Spanish-speaking parents. When the schools closed, the company shut down operations. Yes, I qualified for the freelancer provisions under the Coronavirus relief bill but could not file for unemployment online (under Texas rules) because I worked out of state in the past 18 months (for the US military).

          So my only option was to call by phone. Most of the time the line was busy, though about ten percent of the time I’d get an automated voice telling me they could not take my call. So I’d call again.

          I called around six hundred times before reaching a human being, but all the first guy did was give me a different number to call. The second number I called well over two thousand times. I finally talked to a real human being on Tuesday of this week. I think I called around 400 times that day before getting through.

          So, thank God, I don’t have to do that again, but yeah it got to be quite surreal to call and call and call, over and over and over…

          • Autumn Grayson says:

            Wow, that’s crazy. I’m glad you finally got through to someone. And I can definitely see how you’d miss teaching your classes in person. Have you tried Discord? I haven’t used it at this point, but I hear a lot of people talking about it and they seem to like it. It sounds like you can have a lot of people talking in it at once, possibly through both text and speech. And it sounds like there’s privacy settings, too, so you could potentially just invite the people participating in your church class. Or maybe even use it on a smaller scale for some of your business stuff.

            Guess I’ll ask this too since the translation stuff came up in your post, but do you/would you do translation for longer novels, or maybe comics? It would be little while before I’d be ready to hire anyone for that, but in certain areas of the indie world there does seem to be an increasing demand for translations. Though I know translating can be hard work when it comes to things like long fantasy novels…though translating for comics sounds like it could be way easier even if the project is technically a long one.

            • Travis Perry says:

              I misspoke above actually. The online work I was referring to was interpretation not translation, though I’ve also done that. The difference being interpretation is spoken and translation is written (note I’ve only professionally interpreted the pair of Spanish/English).

              In the world of professional translation, the standard is to translate from the foreign language back into your own language rather than the other way around. Though I have done a limited few translations into Spanish, mostly I translate written Spanish and French into English. I’ve also translated Portuguese and German into English, but my grasp of those languages isn’t as good, so it’s a lot more work. Spanish and French are my bread and butter.

              So I could translate a comic into Spanish for you or maybe French. Or maybe Portuguese, even. But in each case I’d have to get a native speaker to check my work. Because professional translators normally go from a foreign language into their native tongue. FYI.

  4. Kathleen Eavenson says:

    Don’t think it’s been mentioned yet but your Scenario III has strong overtones of a classic SF setting: that of Isaac Asimov’s “Caves of Steel,”/”Naked Sun” novels. Not the plots, of course, but the Spacer Worlds’ society. They took social distancing way too far!

    [Or did I just miss the mention of it in my first read through? If so, oops, sorry!!]

  5. A.K. Preston says:

    I would probably take three. It meshes somewhat well with a cyberpunk idea I might work on after my current WIP is finished. My story premise is more focused on the social effects of hyper-realistic androids, but I can see a background like this giving major impetus to the robotics industry in my fictional setting. I’m also thinking about a “virtual voting” system and increasing public demands for a “post-labor” society where virtually all jobs are performed by robots in order to free up the human population for supposedly Athenian-style civic life. Of course, the reality does not quite match that ideal…

  6. Autumn Grayson says:

    Hey guys, sorry I didn’t think to mention this sooner, but Brandon Sanderson is giving away a free ebook. The offer ends today, so if you’re interested, get it while you still can:

  7. Okay … just want to say up front that my idea of using a virus to take control of another society was planned as part of my current series long before the COVID-19 pandemic started. In my current WIP, book 2 of Stone Sovereigns, (incidentally book 1, Lander’s Legacy, will go live on Amazon on May 6) billionaire Aurelius Hunt leaves two of his people in the Core when he returns to the Surface. Their task: Use a virus he had developed to take over the Core (I won’t get into the details of why). Of course, I do have the action of book two taking place at the center of the earth, and the Core Dwellers are a remnant preserved there since Noah’s flood, so that’s different. Now, with the real-life COVID situation, I feel as if people will just suppose I got the idea from that. Just wanted to go on record saying … no, the idea predates COVID-19. Thanks!

What do you think?