Writing the Seasons


Fall finally reached Tennessee this past week.  I know, it’s been fall for quite a while according to the calendar, but only in the last several days has it started to feel like autumn.  The air has turned cold, leaves are changing, gusts of wind are making the trees sway and stripping away the foliage.  And now, at last, the rains have moved on.  Today is a perfect fall day:  crisp, clear, breezy.   The sky is azure, and the oaks outside my office window are shading toward bronze.  When I stepped outside this morning, I was greeted by the faint scent of burning leaves.

This is my favorite time of year, but the truth is I love all the transitions from season to season —  I look forward each year to the first hint of snow on a December evening, that first warm day in March, the first afternoon thunderstorm on a hot, hazy day in June.  And part of what I love about these seasonal changes is that inspire my writing.

If you look back through my books, you can find passages that tell you when during the year I happened to write them.  For instance, this is from my first novel, Children of Amarid:

Without another word he spun away from them, striding purposefully toward the Great Hall and compelling the three accused mages to follow by the sheer force of his will, like dried leaves swept forward in the wake of a galloping mount.

These passages are from Shapers of Darkness, the fourth Forelands book:

All her life, Chofya had loved the slow hot days of the Growing turns.  While others complained of the heat, she basked in it, thinking back to her youth in the hills south of Noltierre, where the sun baked the clay and the brush and skin of small children to a fine golden brown.

Just the mention of [the growing season] called to mind dreary days trapped within the walls of her mother’s castle, staring out at the warm rains and the brilliant lightning that arced across the sky on the coast near Curlinte.  “Growing rains bring a good harvest,” her mother used to say, when Diani complained to her of horseback rides put off by another storm.  “It’s the Growing sun I fear.”

I remember vividly writing these passages, drawing upon what I was seeing and feeling every time I stepped outside.  (That last one was written at the beginning of the Southeast’s extended drought, by the way.) But I find that I use seasonal imagery for more than just descriptions.  I’ll draw upon them for metaphors and analogies, as ways of establishing mood and developing character.  As much as I love the change of seasons, I can also draw upon the darker side of each season, the way I do with the reference to drought in the last example above.  Spring brings renewal and warmth; it also can bring floods and violent storms.  Fall is beautiful, but it also brings harsh winds and skeletal trees.  Winter can be soft snows and peaceful mornings; it can also be howling blizzards and bitter cold.

Here at MW, we’ve posted quite a bit in recent weeks about the use of theme and motif.  Seasonal writing is a way to play with those things.  As an exercise, try writing a story, perhaps using characters from a current or future project, and using seasonal imagery to convey mood and tone.  Use it to describe dialogue or facial expressions.  Don’t be too heavy-handed with it, but establish it as a theme of the piece.  You can limit the imagery to a single season or try to weave the entire yearly cycle into the piece, so that the theme progresses from season to season as the story progresses.  Whatever approach you decide on, have fun with it.  This is merely an exercise, something to play with in between works-in-progress.

The point isn’t that you might want to use the seasons as a theme in an actual book — we  probably all strive for themes with deeper significance.  But this is a great way to practice thematic writing, and also a fun way to celebrate the coming of autumn and the slow approach of winter.  Enjoy!

David B. Coe

17 comments to Writing the Seasons

  • …the slow approach of winter

    Winter approached the upstate of South Carolina with all the gentleness of a brick dropped from a six-story balcony. And I had to dance outdoors all weekend.


  • Emily

    I love Fall and Fall imagery. I miss Ohio where fall was more “real.” Fall arrived in Fayetteville recently, too, but the leaves just aren’t changing much. The tree outside my window is mostly green still. The yellow and brown leaves look more like disease than Fall coming. And it is going to get warm again tomorrow, so they haven’t turned on the heat in the buildings yet.

    All that aside, I loved the passages you posted, David. They were lovely and gave a lot to the piece. I’ll think about weather and seasonal imagery for my own work. Thanks!

  • Yeah, Misty, it was a little sudden here, too. Sometimes the onset is slow. Sometimes it’s more fits and starts. Mother nature threw a fit this weekend….

    I’m with you on the Fall thing, Emily. I grew up in NY and spent several years living in Rhode Island. Fall in the north is something that one has to experience to understand — the spectacular display of sugar maples and sweetgums, the soft yellow of birches and sassafras. There really is nothing like it anywhere else. Fall in the south is subtle; at times it’s lovely, but at times the trees just look blighted.

    And thank you both for not commenting on my misspelling of “drought”. I’ve corrected that, and am now off to my remedial spelling class…..

  • QUOTE: And thank you both for not commenting on my misspelling of “drought”.

    Everybody has lapses at times. That’s why there’s editors, agents and proofreaders. 😉

    Fall’s already fallen here in Ohio. Whenever I see the leaves turning it always makes me want to pick up a brush and try to paint some fall treescapes. I haven’t done it yet, but maybe soon. I have some canvases ready. I just need the paint.

    Last Saturday we had below freezing temperatures and I was out in a haunted orchard freezing my butt off trying to scare people while shivering. I’m not good with temperature extremes. Now my lips feel cracked, like a thick layer of ice over snow that couldn’t quite hold the weight of a footfall.

  • My brother is a professional artist. I envy him more this time of year than any other. And I know what you mean about the temp extremes. But that’s all grist from the creative mill, right? Nice simile there at the end. Use that!

  • I really have this urge to describe a dye job as a “maple tree at night in the throws of the autumn chill” or try and work in an apple on a tree, ripe for picking… but its not really working w/ my stories at the moment and I think 2 novels and 2 short stories are enough juggle exercises right now 🙂

  • Lily

    Cool advice! But I can’t believe that fall just hit you, I’ve already gotten a first snowfall! Fortunately it melted. 😀 I’ve never liked the cold, but I must agree that the scenery is beautiful.

  • Axisor, I can see where you probably have enough on your plate right now. But it could be a good exercise for another time….

    Lily, yeah, what can I say? I live in the South. I’m still adjusting to it, but I’ve only been here 17 years.

  • David, I loved the snippets you posted. Writing full of emotive imagery always appeals to me; it’s like poetry for the prose reader.

    I’ve just left the sudden and awful fall of Autumn (nyuk nyuk) in the Carolins for the Deep South, where my aunt assures me the 80 degrees by day is quite cool, and the low 60s by night are downright cold. I have nothing creative to toss your way, tho the smell of blankets stored too long in an RV’s damp summer closet has to be useful as metaphor somewhere, some time.

    Tomorrow I’ll be doing research in New Orleans, and AJ Hartley has kindly agreed to fill my size 6 and half boots here at MW.net. It sounds painful, but the imagery makes me grin. I’ll check in and comment on his most lovely post.

    Let the good times roll! (How many of you can say that the way the Louisiana natives do? Hint — it’s in French.)

  • Oops. I told a lie. Blame it on *out of town cluelessness*, kinda like vacation-itis but more work. Anyway, AJ is *not* replacing me tomorrow, as that is Misty’s blog-day; he is replacing me on Wednesday, when I will be picking up two fostered Poms to adopt, in Crawley, La.

    Wednesday. Not Tuesday. Wednesday. Not Tuesday. (thunks own head) Remember that, Faithie-girl.

  • Have a great visit, Faith. I have visions of Blackwater Secrets running through my head as I think of you down there.

  • Thanks David. Today was wonderful and difficult. The French Quarter is alive and improving and parks, streets, and bridges are getting a lot of attention and government dollars, houses with new roofs are everywhere, and street artists and musicians are coming back. But the desctuction is still incredible, and Petunias, my fav FQ breakfast restautrant is closed. Big sigh…

  • It was too hot by the time the sun rose above the eastern mountains to go outside. By noon you sat in the sub-cellar; kept still, kept dark, kept silent. The Dry came early that year, and we lost Drunkard Billy on a Thursday; when he went to sleep on his front porch in the morning, to be found dessicated in the evening. Not enough moisture in his body to keep a roach running.

    Of course, they don’t always have to be traditional seasons. 🙂

  • No, they don’t Alan. My seasons in the Forelands/Southlands world were referred to as the Snows, the Planting, the Growing, and the Harvest. And as you point out, they don’t even have to follow that familiar progression. Cool passage. Very cool. Thanks for sharing.

  • David, they were the traditional seasons, only under an assumed name. 🙂

    In one part of Australia the year is said to come in two seasons, the Big Dry and the Big Wet. The Big Dry taking up more of the year than the Big Wet, and each rather aptly named. Now there you have different seasons.

  • Now a different sort of season could well be…

    The Madness comes with the southern winds, blowing hot off the Lanwin Desert, though the passes of the Witren Mountains, and across the coastal chapparrel. It comes with a gibbering paranoia, and an itching need to know. It brings with it dancing fits and blithering idiocy, and illusions of lost cities and stray beasts. It’s not unusual for traffic on the roads to be halted by the sight of spectral ogres riding ghostly mammoths in caravan; while said ogres stare in great puzzlement at the traffic.

  • Ah, thanks for the clarification, Alan. Yes, I know about the Big Dry/Big Wet. And I like the idea of a “Madness” season.

    You really are remarkably creative. Do you have books in print? And if you don’t, why the hell not?