As writers, we think carefully on the setting we use for our stories. The where and when of each scene is not only an anchor for both story and characters, it provides readers with valuable information. Settings should be chosen to enhance the events taking place and create tension. If characters are pressured by their environment, they are forced to confront themselves and rise above fear or weakness.
When choosing settings, one thing that isn’t always considered is the season in which the story takes place. Sometimes an event (school starting, Christmas, Baseball season) dictates when a story happens in the calendar year. Other times the choice is up to the author. Whichever scenario is true, the writer should always think about the season and how to make it work for their story by building up the scene’s atmosphere. What seasonal details can you use to bring out the most from your settings and create a strong mood?
Fall offers huge potential for atmosphere, especially for darker books -thrillers, mysteries, paranormals, or anything that requires situations that allows for strong emotions/themes like fear, worry, distress, abandonment, betrayal. Autumn is a full of natural changes that get us thinking along these darker lines–the way the air turns chill and the ground becomes a dumping ground for dead, moldering leaves, the smell of the earth growing more noticeable and pungent with decay as life gives way to death. The days grow shorter, more gloomy, and the nights are cool and silent as animals seek burrows and birds leave the area to find warmer climes. Autumn is all about contrasts–the beautiful colors, the rich smells, the crisp sounds, but also underlying it all the knowledge that death is near and that nature is preparing for dormancy.
Whether you use Fall or another season to create atmosphere, it’s important to draw on more than just sight to paint the picture for the reader. Remember that readers are pulled into a scene by recognition and shared experiences. Sight might be the most ‘used’ sense, but it is not always the most powerful for forging an emotional reader response. The writer can ‘show’ the wind blowing dry, curled leaves along the sidewalk and we can see it. But add the slithery paper sound it makes? We experience the scene on a whole new level–it’s a detail we recognize, something that stands out.
So when you describe, think in layers. Did you know that out of all the senses, memory is tied to scent most of all? Sounds, textures, tastes and smells are powerful ways to allow the reader to experience the scene and the seasons are full of descriptive details to draw from. Use all the tools in your descriptive arsenal, including seasonal details to create a brilliant atmosphere and reader association.
Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.