Problems with time frames for contemporary novels

February 26, 2023

My debut novel Return to Desiree Bay isn’t tied to a specific year in the 2000s, but my characters use smart phones, and there are several chapters that focus on social media and its potential for harm if it gets into the wrong hands.

If you were to guess, you’d probably place the story in 2018 or 2019.

My second contemporary fiction novel (still a work in progress) is connected to two specific time frames. Initially, these were 1991 and 2021. But national and world events have stuffed up that plan!

It might look pretty, but the smoke-haze that blotted out the sun on the NSW south coast on New Year’s Eve in 2019 was caused by catastrophic bushfires.

During the summer of 2019-2020, Australia endured its worst drought in years, which resulted in devastating bushfires.

You’d think it couldn’t get worse, but then along came COVID19, which sent much of the world into lockdown, on and off, for three years.

Australia officially re-opened its borders in early 2022, but by then El Nino had arrived, bringing with it wild storms and torrential rain that deluged many parts of the country for months on end.

We couldn’t take a trick.

What does this have to do with my work-in-progress?

My dilemma is: in which year do I set the recent events, which revolve around a thirty-year reunion? There’s no way I can have the reunion in 2021 because Australia went through several lockdowns in that period. COVID19 loomed large in every aspect of our lives.

Last year, 2022, is also problematic because of the floods that ravaged the country. And COVID-19 was still in the news every day.

The whole other can of worms is that my characters would have to talk about the pandemic and the weather. How could they not? These events would have had a huge impact on their lives. I can’t keep my characters in a vacuum.

The solution to the time-frame problem

The solution is to move the timeline back two years to 1989. And set the present-day action in early 2019, before the planet started to go bonkers.

I recently finished reading a crime novel Brunswick Street Blues by Sally Bothroyd. It is set in the inner suburbs of Melbourne and was published in 2022, but the author has moved the the story back in time to 2007. By doing this, problems are solved. Social media wasn’t a dominant force in 2007, but Bothroyd can still equip her characters with mobile phones. It’s a win win!

It would be interesting to find out more about Bothroyd’s decision to set the novel in that specific year.

I’m keen to learn about any novels set in 2019-2022 where there is an acknowledgement of recent geopolitical events or natural disasters, or they are somehow woven into the plotline.





AJ Blythe

Sorry, can’t help you with novels incorporating the pandemic or bushfires, but I did watch something recently that mentioned it…of course, can’t remember what that was.

Do you have to specifically state the year? Could the future time be generic? As in about now but no mention of bushfires, pandemics, mouse plagues, floods, cyclones… ?

February 27, 2023 at 8:21 pm

Shayne Collier

Hi Anita, I can’t think of a way to get rid of the specific dates. My main setting is the Snowy Mountains, parts of which were ravaged by bushfires in early 2020. And then COVID! So, I think I will set the ‘present’ in 2019!

March 7, 2023 at 11:12 am

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