Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Setting and season

Someone sent a note around one of my loops saying that they usually write a story in the season they are in--a common trick so that all you have to do is look out the window to get a strong feel for what the weather is like. But then she went on to say that this time she is writing a story set in the dead of winter. Her question is how do you keep the setting true to the season when you are not living it?
I think that is a very valid question. Seasons can play an important role in a story and the weather can be a character as well. A character that has a direct effect on the conflict and the outcome of the story. Trying to find a killer in a blazing sun with 110 degree temps is a lot different than following clues in Spring when the wind whips around you and the ground is muddy mush. Falling in love in a sleigh ride during a soft snow storm is a lot different than a subtropical jungle where your bodies are coated in sweat.
So, how do you keep the setting true to the season when you are not living it?
Step one: research. I listened to a presentation at Seton Hill University by the wonderful Meg Mims on setting the scene. She sets her books where she lives. She keeps the seasons true by taking the time to go outside once a month and walk the highways, byways, streets and fields and take notes. She keeps a notebook full of observations on angle of sunlight, temperature, wind against her skin, what type of bird song she hears, what animals and insects she sees. This notebook is her guide when setting her stories in a season.
What if you are setting your books in a place where you don't live? Some authors will visit that place in each season and take notes such a Meg suggested. But if you don't have the time or money to invest in that kind of travel-improvise. You can Google where ever you have set your story. There is weather, animal, and plant information available. Go to a zoo and visit the bird buildings to get a real feel for what birds look like and sound like from your list. The same with native creatures like raccoons, or opossums. If it's summer and you are writing about the dead of winter-go into the penguin exhibit, look at the arctic foxes.
Step two: You've done your research but you are having trouble bringing that data to life in your work. Trick yourself. Set the scene where you write. For example: When I lived on the south pacific island of Guam the weather on Christmas day was the same as the weather on the 25th of July. (75 for a low 90 for a high with soft tropical breezes.) Many military families improvised. They used spray snow on their windows. Turned their air-conditioners way up (for only one day). They covered the windows to bring in the feel of darkness you get in December in the northern latitudes. Some even went so far as to bring in electric fireplaces. Or you can have a picture of a fireplace burning on your television set. They strung lights on tropical fir trees and for a few hours created the Christmas from home. Including the smells of popcorn and gingerbread. Physically set your scene. Play bird sound or Christmas music. Light a tropical candle or an evergreen scented candle. Use your imagination and create a season in your room. Remember all five senses. Then sit down and use what you did physically to help you richly translate the season onto the page.
Good luck, and remember-have fun. Writing is not worth all the trouble if you don't have fun with it. Cheers~


Meg M said...

Wow, what a great idea! I never thought of going to the zoo and adding to my notebook - I need to do that. Thanks! And for the mention, I'm honored!! Cheers!

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Meg,
Thanks for stopping by. And more importantly, thanks for the great presentation that got my brain thinking about seasons.

Jessica Nelson said...

These are really great tips. I need to make a setting notebook! I love that idea.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Jessica, it is a good idea, isn't it? Thank you, Meg!

Have a great week!

Marilyn Brant said...

Great ideas as always, Nancy! Thanks for these valuable tips!! On the subject of winter, though, I know I can remember the bone-chilling temps without any reminders or notes--LOL. (SO glad it's finally spring. :)

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Marilyn,

I'm so glad it's Spring, too- note how I started with the Spring picture. lol. Thanks for stopping by. Hope to see you Sat! cheers~

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I love these brilliant tips! Living is SW Florida we don’t exactly have 4 seasons (I’m not complaining, mind you) and when it’s warm and sunny here it is hard to imagine someone shivering elsewhere.

Anita said...

I really don't have enough setting in my story and am trying to find ways to naturally include it...thanks for the great reminder and tips!

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Jane, Florida sounds fab in the dead of winter up here in the great white north. lol.
Hi Anita, thanks for stopping by. The weather notebook really helps.