Seasonal Settings and Establishing Tone

Autumn fern on Lyth Hill

If you’re ever stuck for ideas when writing, I find getting out into the world is a sure fire way to get the inspiration flowing. Writing feels flat when it’s not informed by reality, whether it be literary, science fiction, fantasy or paranormal erotica.

In the UK last weekend felt like the last of autumn slipping into winter. I spent it visiting my family in Shropshire. As we often do, we went for a walk on nearby Lyth Hill, which I have photographed and mentioned in posts before. It’s a lovely spot with some great views and the weather was chill and fresh with low mists, ruddy leaves, the works. I looked about me and felt something stir and it wasn’t long before I saw a new scene for my next project play out in front of my eyes.

The weather, the season, the people passing by or the mood you are in can go a long way to stoking your ideas, fleshing out concepts or even turning the direction of your narrative all together. My next big project (I’m hoping to be able to release details of my current Big Project before too long, though still waiting on feedback, bear with me!) will most probably be a scifi novel. I already have the bones of a story, a few new characters and a couple of scenes mapped out. The next big job will be writing a plot and character breakdown to rope all these disjointed story seeds into something resembling a satisfactory narrative.

Foggy Shropshire

But that’s later. Right now I want to inform the tone of the novel, the sort of taste it will leave in the mouth and define the style and voice. It’s an incorporeal and indefinable yearning, but it’s there. You may not think tramping about a chilly and remote hilltop in rural England would inform the narrative tone of a new science fiction novel, but I find that anything that produces feelings can help set a mood. And I felt a quietness up there, a loneliness and a contemplativeness. I was one tiny thing in the vastness of everything, one small life in a world so much bigger than me.

This is something a character could easily feel when torn by the conflict of their circumstance. It may not be provoked by the same situation, but I can still use that feeling to enhance and inform the experience of a character.

I guess what I’m driving at is this: even if you’re writing a post-apocolyptic shoot-em-up, and are therefore not likely to find many locations that will resemble the physical setting of your story, there will be places out there that generate the feel you’re after. You may very well surprise yourself and end up looking at a scene, a character or an idea completely differently.

Get out there and wander. Think about the smells, the feel of the weather on your skin and the way the light revealed or hid things from you. You can hardly help to make your characters, voice or settings more real when you use mood and feeling to inform them.

And if it’s absolutely bucketing down and you can’t find your galoshes, music is a close second to this experience. I have talked about music and writing many, many times before (there are too many posts to link to but I suppose the main one is here). Music for me is The Great Mood-Setter. I had a playlist for the writing of my last book and I plan to make another for the next with a darker feel. I have already chosen a lyric I want as the quote at the beginning of the book.

Dad likes photographing the view too

So if you’ve hit a road block, or you’re wondering what to do next or how to develop, fill yourself with feeling from the world around you: from its weather, seasons, people and music. I defy you not to be inspired.

On that note, #FlashForFriday (my fortnightly routine of producing a new flash fiction or short story every other Friday: read past ones here) will return next week on the 29th, informed by this atmospheric and wondrous season.

I shall leave you with a track that will feature on my next novel’s writing playlist, a piece of music I can’t help but visualise scenes to, and let you wonder what may come of it. Enjoy.

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13 Responses to Seasonal Settings and Establishing Tone

  1. M. C. Dulac says:

    You have inspired me to run out the door right now! 🙂

  2. Nice essay on — well, living! There’s nothing like experiencing places (and, oh, OK, other people) to get a novel moving. I set part of my first novel in the California desert, and the best thing I did was spend a lot of time there to get the feel of it. In fact, I think a trip to the desert came before I had the book in my head!

    • Fantastic! You’re absolutely right – creating the feel is half the battle. Escapism through fiction is no good unless it feels real. I contradiction maybe, but the whole thing with fiction is you like to believe its real. You’re getting into another world. If it’s flat or unbelievable, you won’t want to explore very far. And actually visiting places, like you did, gives you an undeniable edge 🙂

  3. D. James Fortescue says:

    We had a cold-as wind ripping through the suburb this morning, but it has now subsided, replaced by warmth and the clicking of crickets. Hmmm, cricket… any interest in The Ashes?

  4. H. Ken Abell says:

    Your writing about writing is just as wonderful to read as your fiction. You inspire me to go out my door more… even if it’s all grey and gloomy.

  5. Pingback: Awards Season! | M. C. Dulac

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