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”
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
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
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: https://travissbigidea.podbean.com/e/free-original-storyworld-ideas-part-2-three-coronavirus-story-settings/ )