Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Snow Around You

Do you find yourself setting a piece in the season you start writing it? 

Obviously, if you’re writing a holiday tale and you need to get it to your publisher eight months early, you’ll write it when you need to write it.  Unless you’re like me -- I write holiday tales during the holiday, edit them, and submit them when I know the publisher is looking for holiday stuff.

As I’m editing pieces that have backlogged, I notice that I often set a non-holiday specific piece in the season in which I started it.  Of course, some pieces cycle through multiple seasons, depending upon the type of story.  But if I haven’t pre-determined a season for the piece, it's not essential to the plot, and I start writing it in October, chances are good that I’m setting it in autumn.  Or if I start a new piece in January, and I’m snowed in, chances are there will be snow involved.

Weather has different influences, depending on where you live.  When I lived in New York City, weather was an annoyance, unless it was a gorgeous day.  You watched or listened to the news before you left, and you kept a stash of umbrellas everywhere you usually spent time -- for me, it was at home and at the theatre -- because it could be perfectly nice when you left home for the day and perfectly awful when you got back.  The subways took on the smell of sweat and wet wool in the winter and sweat and suntan lotion in the summer (along with the usual smells of garbage and urine that permeate the system).  But weather in New York City is something you get through -- it doesn’t affect much in your daily life, unless it’s something like Hurricane Sandy.

Here on Cape Cod, it’s very different.  Weather permeates the decisions of every day life.  The daily tidal cycles have a lot to do with which roads you can use during certain days of the month (whether there’s a storm or not), and it’s something you notice.  If I’m driving through the marshes at low tide on my way to the library, I notice the receded water; if the tide is high, I see how close it is to being level with the bridge as I cross it.  As the seasons cycle past, and I drive to the beach on my way back from yoga class, I notice the different angle of the sun. I notice the difference in scent -- the ocean side of the beach smells very different in winter than in summer.  It’s a crisper, cleaner scent than the burgeoning smells of spring or the decaying smells in autumn.  The waves even sound different.  The angle of the sun is even more noticeable as I have to move the plants around inside the house in order for them to get enough light during the cold winter months, until it’s warm enough to take them outside again.

Could I put up a grow light?  If I could find the room, I could probably set up a shelf unit with grow lights on it.  But that would disconnect me from the natural rhythms around me.

Rhythms whose sensory detail infiltrate my writing and make it ever so much richer.

I notice this type of detail when I read.  I can tell immediately if someone’s writing about a place they haven’t visited, because it lacks a richness of sensory detail, even if the physical geography is correct.  Generic-feeling locations irritate me.  I want to feel the unique sense of place that each location has to offer.

The weather affects mood, and can contradict or support what happens in the story, whether it’ a plot point or a character’s emotions.  And, of course, weather can become an antagonist in a story, if it’s an additional layer the protagonist has to fight to achieve his or her goal.

Where we are affects how we respond -- and that includes temperature, rain, wind, snow, or sunshine.  Weather and season is an important tool to orient the reader and add another layer of meaning to the work.

--Annabel Aidan is a full-time writer, publishing under half a dozen names in fiction and non-fiction.  Champagne Books handles her paranormal romantic suspense, ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT.


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

One's powers of observation must be tuned to catch that, which is why I try not to overload my senses while I'm living with them.

Everything is fodder for fiction.

Nikki said...

I agree with Julie, or as Ray Bradbury put it, "It's all compost." I'm just starting a short story set during the Halloween Blizzard of a couple years ago, and it really helps that the ground is snow-covered here right now.