Building Joy in Fiction During a Pandemic by Louisa Onomé

The truth is this: we’re living in unprecedented times. It’s difficult for us to find moments that we can really relax and let go because of the instability of daily life. And hey, listen, pandemic fatigue is real too. There’s only so much distancing and virtual conferencing we can do before we slowly start to feel disconnected from the people and things we love.

So what do we do?

This is a question myself and a handful of my fellow 2021 kidlit debut authors have pondered over the past year. Rather than just looking at our own lives, we also took a look at how we find and create joy in our books as a way to share that feeling with young readers. The times may be uncertain, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to spread the positive.

Here’s what we had to say about how to find joy in fiction while in the middle of a pandemic.

“My writing has become even more important to me during this pandemic,” says Sam Taylor, author of We Are The Fire. “It’s something that is uniquely mine, and something that is entirely in my own hands. When there’s so much happening in the world that feels completely out of my power–I can’t stop the pandemic, however much I might wish to–I at least have my stories. I can’t control if more of them become published, or how people will respond to them. But I can make time for writing, and hone my craft, and honor the stories I need to tell, and explore the truths within them, and tell them through the best words I can put together. And I can take satisfaction in the characters and worlds I’ve created, and find some peace and escape in them each time I sit down to write.”

Young adult fantasy author of Wings of Ebony, J.Elle, agrees: “The imagination is a powerful tool. And I find the more we can use it to engage and escape when life outside (literally in this case) doesn’t feel very imaginative or inspiring, the better. Stories are such a gift, whether they’re on the screen or between the pages of a book. So in Wings of Ebony and all my stories, while they explore pointed and timely themes, I try to build in nostalgia around the things that bring us joy and love. I lean hard on emotions in my exposition because my ultimate goal is that my readers feel what my character is feeling. Opening that gateway between reader and character allows me to “play with the reader” a bit, giving them moments of laugh-out-loud joy, coupled with moments that make them shift in their seat. Also, joy is found in so many unsuspecting places. We need as many smiles as we can get, especially now.”

It’s hard not to agree with my fellow authors. In my case, I think humor is so important in anything, and it seems we need it even more now that we’re going through a global health crisis. Judging by description alone, my debut Like Home wouldn’t be considered a “funny story”, but I like to think of it, in a way, as a comedy, simply because it’s my natural style to find the humor in any kind of situation. That’s how I approach finding joy in a pandemic as well. Focusing on the mundane things and finding things about them to poke fun at is how I highlight joy in my books–and in my life. It’s really important to me to emphasize that writing contemporary or “realistic” books doesn’t mean focusing only on the struggle or stressful situations, but recognizing that there’s opportunity for joy everywhere if you’re willing to look.

Check out the Class of 2k21’s kidlit projects here for more titles that can bring the joy to any young reader in these uncertain times.

Louisa Onomé is a writer of books for teens. LIKE HOME is her debut novel. She is a part of Class of 2K21 Books, a group of young adult and middle grade authors debuting in 2021. You can find out more about them at www.classof2kbooks.com.

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