Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Creating With the Seasons, Part II: Writing

Happy Spring, everyone! Taxes, allergies, never knowing if the weather is hot or cold or simply freezing . . . Yes, it's a wonderful time of the year.

In my last post I wrote about finding ways to use the various seasons as a creative direction for my artwork, especially for the days when I was stuck wondering what to paint. For today's post I want to discuss how to use those same ideas as writing prompts, starting with:

Poetry. Although it's now a few days behind us, April was National Poetry Month and one of the ways I celebrated was experimenting with some haiku. You might recall learning to write one in school, something teachers love to promote as for some lucky reason children seem to excel at the form. In case you missed out on those lessons (say it isn't so!) haiku is a traditional three-line poem from Japan consisting of a five-syllable first line, a seven-syllable second line, and a third and final five-syllable line. One of the most important elements of haiku is that ideally there should be some mention, or at least a reference to the seasons. A good book on the subject that encourages daily haiku writing is Clark Strand's Seeds from a Beech Tree. Even the title to me implies a seasonal sensibility as I imagine all those birch seeds flying around in a spring breeze. Beautiful!

Scenes in your novel. Winter storms; mosquito-infested summer camping trips; constant autumn drizzle . . . all of these things can enhance both the mood and the action of a well-written scene. Not only can seasonal details add plenty of drama or humor, but they can also be what spurs the action: a summer cloudburst destroying a high-society wedding, or the fatal consequences of SADD (Seasonal Attention Deficit Disorder) in a Yorkshire-based murder mystery.

Writing an entire short story or novel set in one specific season. Limiting your timeline to one specific season can both tighten your pacing (e.g., a goal that must be achieved during an explosive summer abroad) as well as amplify your story's theme, e.g., end-of-year gift giving can be the catalyst for a wealth of character reactions, from over-the-top shopping sprees to deep and dark financial woes, all to be dealt with during a single season of joy.

Use the seasons to bookend a story or novel. Begin your story in spring; end in spring twenty years later. Choosing a significant, stand-out season to begin and end a narrative can provide a satisfying sense of closure for both your characters and your readers.

Give your characters passionate reasons to love or hate an individual season. We all have favorite times of the year and so should your characters. Consider how the seasons might affect your characters' health, happiness, and/or plans for the future. What if they need to travel at a certain time of year, but their choices are blocked when they encounter overbooked hotels and flights which then spark entirely new challenges and obstacles to overcome. Or perhaps they suffer from "anniversary syndrome," every year reliving some terrible event from a distant summer that leaves them devastated and struggling to meet any challenges at all.

Seasonal or holiday foods. In some of my previous posts I've written about how much I enjoy books that include descriptions of food or cooking. I like authors who feed their characters as opposed to those who insist their heroine save the world with only a cup of coffee to sustain her, and she drank it three mornings ago. Showing your characters eat or prepare seasonal foods for any given holiday or time of the year is a great way to add metaphoric as well as literal descriptions of culture and character attitude (positive and negative) as seamlessly as possible.

Bundle up, or dress down for comfort. Be sure to keep your characters warm or cool with appropriately seasonal clothing. Then again, if you really want to torture 'em, ensure that they've got it all wrong: a padded raincoat in August; a summer dress for a winter party. I know from experience how difficult it can be to not have the right outfit at the worst possible time. Years ago I traveled to New Zealand in the middle of their winter (American summer) and due to an airline snafu I ended up staying in hot, humid Tahiti for two weeks with a suitcase full of sweaters and socks. Fortunately it was easy enough to buy myself a pareu and a new bathing suit to beat the heat and not stand out like a misinformed tourist, but think about how much trouble you could create for a fictional character in a similar situation. Heat rash, anyone?

Seasonal Journals. There's nothing quite as special as a journal dedicated to capturing the beauty and essence of the seasons. Whether it's an art journal, a travel journal, or a nature or gardening journal, writing down your impressions and activities amidst the changing of the seasons is a journal to keep forever.

Tip of the Day: In case you're considering writing a holiday novel, children's picture book, screenplay, or a series of craft articles for magazines, keep in mind to write and submit your material well in advance of a seasonal publication date. Six months to several years in advance of your chosen holiday is never too early. Some tricks to help with writing about fruit cake while you're sunbathing can include decorating a section of your writing space with a miniature Christmas tree in July, or doing the same with beach towels, sea shells, and resort posters in the depths of winter. Never let what the thermometer reads hinder your imagination.