When writing a novel, does it matter which season you choose for your story's timeline?
I thoroughly enjoy making choices for my books. Who will it be about? Where will the story take place? Which time period will this marvellous story happen? There are so many things to decide.
To choose the season, I typically consider the general timeline, and the season follows. But what if there were more to deciding the season in which the story takes place? What if by switching the season, you’d have a better story?
I’ve heard it said, “Don’t mention the weather unless if it reflects what’s going on inside of a character.” I think matching the weather to a character’s journey can be smart. Weather can serve as a natural obstacle in particular settings. It can also cause a character to be late, to get into an accident, or make them stay home when they were supposed to go somewhere. But beyond weather, which season would best serve the story you want to tell?
One thing I loved in the Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin was how the threat of winter amped up the tension in the series. He messed with the seasons and made it so they didn’t come in a predictable three-month pattern.
There are some usual ways of looking at the seasons. Spring can signify the coming of age and love, summer can be playful and free, fall can symbolize death and decay, and winter can be cold and unforgiving. What else can each season do for your writing?
Moving beyond the typical thematic reasons for choosing a season, consider what the seasons have to offer your story. Check out these lists that relate seasons to symbolism and more.
Thematic use: new opportunities, fertility, starting over
Symbols: butterflies, bugs, flowers, green grass
Reverse it: A time of loss during the spring makes the loss greater because this is usually a time of growth.
Moods: happy, sunny, spirited, playful, silly
Thematic use: freedom, sun, playful, inner-child, a drought
Symbols: sun, heat, swimming, long days
Reverse it: A time of conflict through the summer, which is usually a time for harmony
Moods: free, happy, busy, fun
Thematic use: death, decay, falling, loss, chill, letting go
Symbols: dead leaves, pumpkin, scarecrow
Reverse it: Make the fall a time of new life when this is normally a time of loss.
Moods: somber, contemplative, pain, sad
Thematic use: being buried, freezing, frozen in time, lonely, poverty, winter cabins, family, holidays
Symbols: snow, ice, the colors blue and white, frozen lakes, ice skates
Reverse it: Make winter a fruitful and warm time of year, and the abundance is that much more surprising.
Moods: hiding, quiet, alone, desperate
What else can we do with seasons in our stories? Consider the following questions to help you play around with each one.
1. What would happen if a season is skipped in your story?
I’ve heard of people who live in places where it’s hot and ninety degrees one day and snowing the next. What does it do to people to miss out on the season of fall? What could that do for your story? Or what if a character gets hurt and misses out on summer? How about missing Christmas or the entire holiday season because they’re out of commission? One of my favorite parts of The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenengger is when Henry time travels and misses Christmas. How sad! It amplifies the loss. I recall Clare by the tree all alone waiting for him to reappear magically, and I feel terrible. Henry's holiday absence triggers change because Clare realizes what it really means to be with a man who time travels.
2. What would happen if a season lasted longer than usual?
3. What would happen if you chose the opposite season for your story? Would it be better? Worse? What would change?
Besides reflecting a character’s inner journey or providing natural obstacles or benefits, what else can a season do for your story? I suggest the next time you want to decide in which season a story takes place you go through the following exercises so you get the most out of what time of the year you write the events.
Answer these questions to decide the best season(s) for your novel...
1. Make a list of the events that will happen in the four seasons that take place in your story and setting—holidays, festivals, any calendar event. Which list appeals to you most for your story?
2. Consider the hook for your novel. Imagine the scene during each season. What are the characters wearing? What are they doing? Which works best to hook the reader?
3. Think about the release date of your book. Would it work better to match the season to the release date, or does it matter?
4. How much time will pass during the story? Which season were you planning to start with? Would a different season work better?
5. What symbols from the season (or seasons) will be present in your book? Make a list. How will these symbols match your character’s inner journey?
6. Consider the climax in your story. What time of year do you imagine this final battle happening? Is that the best time of year for this to happen?
The good news is there’s no right or wrong answer to which season you’ll include in your book. I hope this post has helped you think a little more deeply about when your story takes place so you can extract all the richness that exists in certain times of the year. Happy dreaming, and happy writing.
Right now, if I could be anywhere during any season, I’d be floating on a mattress on the lake during a warm summer in the Northwest. Where would you be?
Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash