Friday, September 2, 2011

Writing The Season – What It Means

My guest is author Kenneth Weene. He shares a bit about the importance of writers setting a mood for the reader to visualize and store a sense of season. With the right choice of words we can create a happy setting or an ominous tone in our work.

It isn’t just the weather, not even the color; it’s the whole mood. That’s what changes from season to season.

It isn’t enough to say that the colors of autumn fill the little town in which your story is set. It isn’t even sufficient to mention the cold rain carrying that first hint of the fluffy snow yet to come. Sure there’s football in the yard and the crunch of dead leaves underfoot. Then the inviting smell of burning wood carried by thin wisps of chimney smoke in the ever-crisper nights. If you are into astronomy, you can change the constellations. If you are into gastronomy, what local foods now grace the table? Having grown up in New England, for example, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a pumpkin pie or suggest that apple cider, perhaps redolent of cinnamon, is being drunk. Ah, those pesky kids have loaded the cider with raisins and sugar in the hopes of a more potent brew. The sense of autumn is everywhere.

Have you, however, noticed something else? I have slowly portended something joyous, as pleasant as a game of tag football in the yard or rolling together in the just-piled leaves. I have set the mood for something to happen, something perhaps a bit delightful. We anticipate winter and Christmas, playfulness, and kids having good-natured if naughty fun. (And yes, in case you were wondering, the mention of constellations is intended to help generate an awareness of forecasting the future.)

Consider the above paragraph if I were to change it just a bit. Here are the changes (replacing the italicized sections above).

It isn’t even sufficient to mention the cold rain carrying that first hint of the wet-footed misery yet to come.

Then the acrid smell of burning wood

in the slightly darker evenings.

Ah, those damn kids have loaded the cider with raisins in the hope of a foul-smelling but potent brew.

The new description offers a less happy fall. I have now set the mood for something perhaps a bit off, certainly unpleasant, to happen.

Setting the sense of the season to the mood of our narrative is one way we can subtly bring our readers into the story. Staying with autumn as the example, suppose the writer wants to do something sexual with the story. Then perhaps we can have deer rutting or possibly go back to the pleasure of that leaf pile but instead of crunching the leaves can tickle or comfort. On the other hand, if the story is about loneliness, do not the yearlings go off to find their own lives? Do not the birds migrate leaving behind their empty nests?

Writing the seasons into you story adds a dimension that few readers will recognize but to which almost all readers will respond.

One last piece of advice: Like all writing tricks, this is one that can easily be overdone. Set the stage, but never overdress it. If a writer constantly describes the weather, the reader will stop reading those passages. Unlike the filmmaker, who can provide a constant sense of ambiance, the writer has to content himself with setting the stage infrequently and must therefore do so in a way that will motivate the reader to visualize and to store a sense of the stage in her (his) own mind. 

  • How do you show the season in your story?

Memoirs From The Asylum

What is it like to work inside a state hospital or to be a patient in such a hospital? What is it like to live inside the mind of such a patient? This tragi-comedic novel takes the reader inside the asylum, inside the worlds of three central characters: a narrator who has taken refuge from his fears of the world, a psychiatrist whose own life has been damaged by his father's depression, and a catatonic schizophrenic whose world is trapped inside a crack in the wall opposite her bed. This is the interwoven story of their lives, a story that includes love, sexuality, violence, deaths, celebrations, circuses, and surprising twists. As the plot unwinds, the reader learns a great deal about the nature of futility, frustration, and freedom. Excerpt (click on excerpt tab on the right)

Buy: Amazon

A New Englander by upbringing and inclination, Kenneth Weene is a teacher, psychologist, and pastoral counselor by education.

Ken’s short stories and poetry have appeared in numerous publications including Sol Spirits, Palo Verde Pages, Vox Poetica Clutching at Straws, The Word Place, Legendary, Sex and Murder Magazine, The New Flesh Magazine, The Santa Fe Literary Review, Daily Flashes of Erotica Quarterly, Bewildering Stories and A Word With You Press.

Ken’s novels, Widow’s Walk and Memoirs From the Asylum are published by All Things That Matter Press.
To learn more about Ken’s writing visit: 



Mason Canyon said...

Ken, you make a good point about writing the season in a story. As a reader we do respond without ever thinking about it. A few changes here and there can turn a story completely around. Wishing you much success with your writing.

Sia, thanks for the introduction to Ken.

Thoughts in Progress
Freelance Editing By Mason

~Sia McKye~ said...

Welcome to Over Coffee, Ken.

I do use seasons when I write. Reminders of the season? Things associated with the season I'm writing about. Clothes, music, events. Like you say, you can't hammer the reader over the head with constant weather reports so you have to look for other thing to remind them.

Enid Wilson said...

Good advice. My editor is from USA and she often questions my scene setting. In Sydney, we associate hot beach party with Christmas and so on. It often confuses her.

Chemical Fusion

Tonya Kappes said...

I always pick a season for each of my novels. I think it adds to the feel of the book. I will add specific seasonal flowers, sports, activities to get the reader into the mood.
Thanks for having Ken!!

Jo said...

As a reader, I had never realised the importance of setting seasons when you write, I'm afraid it is something I have always taken in stride and not really paid attention to. As you mentioned though, some writers do over do scene setting whether it be the weather, the season or the place.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Enid, I can see where the confusion would come in, lol! Christmas is cold and either snowy or wet here. Some how the idea of sun, sand and beaches don't quite = Christmas...

~Sia McKye~ said...

I have an appointment out so I'll catch y'all later.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Interesting the changes a few words made. Few seasons in space (other than 'room temperature' on a spaceship) but I did have to depict summer in the desert for my upcoming book and make it annoying.

Kat Sheridan said...

Enid, the snowy, cold winter thing is only true if you live in the northern part of the US, but has somehow become some sort of universal image. I spend my winters in the south, where it's nearly always warm and sunny all winter. The same is true of parts of the western US.

Kenneth, you make good points about scene setting. I write dark gothics. I once had a critic suggest I open the story on a sunny afternoon at a picnic or something, just to be "original". Le sigh. It might be original, but it would set the wrong tone entirely.