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.
Excellent advice! Both thoughtful about the autumn and how it can mirror and enhance the meaning of the story, and picking up that theme to explore the textures of the season – using the senses other than sight in the writing. Thanks!
Raven Corinn Carluk says
Since everyone else has pointed out how right you are, I’ll add my two cents to theirs.
You’ve very correct. Not enough writers use the other senses. With your few words about the sound of leaves, I was immediately put on a sidewalk on a brisk morning, with a biting wind, and little skittery leaves getting caught in eddies and crunching underfoot.
Thanks everyone. Wow I’m so thrilled that this post made such an impact. Thanks everyone for the lovely, kind comments!
Mr. H. says
Your post makes me want to do two things:
First, I want to go through my mostly-finished manuscript draft and add these kinds of details which I know I omitted. Actually, it makes me want to set my story in Fall!!
It also makes me want to revisit my lessons (I teach) on writing, and see if I have any mention at all about any of this. I don’t think I do, and I am both embarrassed and motivated.
Thank you for reminding us all of how important the things we take for granted really are.
Sarah Laurence says
How true about fall and senses. Scent is strongly evocative and often missed in writing. So nice to connect with another writer!
Aimee Laine says
You are so right about Fall! I’ll never look at this season the same way. So many facets have gone unexplored. What used to be a simple change of colors and movement into the cold doldrums (sp?) of winter now had so much more potential! 🙂
Wonderful post! I really enjoyed reading it; you connected it well to the theme of Autumn. You’ve inspired me to go and record the look and feel of Autumn.
Keri Mikulski says
I believe it – about scents and memory.
Love this post and love Fall. 🙂
Excellent post – lots to think about. One of my novels begins just as fall does and as the year closes in, as winter approaches, she opens up and lets the world in, so there is a contrast between seasons and action.
Thanks everyone. Sometimes I feel like writing is akin to juggling–it seems there are so many things to take into account, but the end effect is pure mastery.
Roni @ FictionGroupie says
I love fall and I find that many of the stories I write take place in the cooler parts of the year.
Zahir Blue says
Very nice. In particular I appreciate the point made about sight, as opposed to other senses.
Strange Fiction says
Excellent post. I agree, an effective description of scent is the strongest memory invoker. I love coming across them when I’m reading. Personally I find it the hardest sense to bring to life.
Wow, that was so truthfully written and well expressed and I like how connected it is with the theme of Autumn. Again you are right about it being important to capture the moment in a story as it is, and to feel the senses when doing so, as that is as much of an experience as the ones we encounter in everyday. I must admit I don’t use seasons in stories, but you have inspired me to do so.
Thank you for such an insightful post. 🙂
The romantic query letter and the happy-ever-after says
A dissection of our craft I like it. Authors who write well about writing are to be admire. Well done.
Lost Wanderer says
I truly love this post. Especially the part “Autumn is about contrast” I think you are correct in saying that we don’t always remember to use seasons as a setting on ordinary days. This post is a good reminder of the great variety of resources we have at our disposal if only we learn how to use them well.