Note: This post was originally published in 2020
During the earlier days on the Covid-19 pandemic, I came 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 the pandemic affected the world 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.
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.
Or you could even set it during the pandemic, but have the characters live typical lives. There are movies that do that, although they don't state the year they're set in - except for "The Mitchells vs. The Machines." It's set in 2020, but the pandemic isn't there.
"The Mitchells vs. The Machines" was delayed to be released in 2021, but not backdated to 2019. So, they kept their time setting in 2020, but had the characters live typical lives, excluding the domination of technology.
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 2020. Or you could do what the film-makers did for many movies released during the pandemic and exclude it.