It’s the Time of the Season: How Weather Affects Our Stories

I can remember a lazy afternoon a few years back in my old apartment; I had just finished watching The Sex and the City movie (part I) when I did something I don’t normally do—clicked on the DVD’s bonus features. For whatever reason, I decided to watch the entire movie again while listening to the director’s, Michael Patrick King, commentary. What really struck me was his use of the changing seasons to move the plot along. I’ll paraphrase here, and you don’t have to be a regular SATC viewer to understand the point.

In the beginning, when Mr. Big leaves Carrie on the proverbial altar it is autumn. I remember the characters discussing a September wedding. Simultaneously, we discover that Steve committed adultery, and while it’s obvious that he is deeply sorry, Miranda stubbornly refuses to make amends and begins to plan her new life as a single woman.

Throughout the cold, blistery winter that follows it is clear that Carrie has fallen into a deep depression. The director even shows how she dyes her black—as if to reflect her emotional state. Miranda too, seems to be barely pulling by, and the tensions lead to a big blow out between the two women on Valentine’s Day.

Then spring comes. Carrie has pulled herself up from her own fiery depths and changes her hair back to its normal, lighter color. Miranda and Steve make plans to meet on the Brooklyn Bridge to attempt reconciliation. I can remember the scene where Carrie and Miranda are walking through Central Park—spring has exploded. The trees are full of plump blossoms, petals float through air, and the grass is green with the vitality. Carrie and Miranda have a new way about them—the fog has lifted. The hard times are over.

When I look back at my life, I see that my wildest, craziest memories were during summer. My darkest periods were during winter. My sense of hope was strongest during spring, and my most prevalent transitioning periods were during autumn.

So I got to thinking…how does the use of the four seasons enhance or reflect plot, setting, and characterization in fiction? As a literature major in college I learned that the seasons often stand as metaphors for the following concepts:

The Four Seasons. From questgarden.com

Spring: Conception

Summer: Life

Autumn: Old Age

Winter: Death

That being said, how can we utilize this in our writing?

Spring: This is classically a season of new beginnings, of hope. Perhaps, for one of your characters it is the end of a depressing period (like old Carrie Bradshaw’s). It is a good time for decision making—a good time to fall in love. The mood of spring is renewed energy. What kinds of situations might your characters go through in the springtime? Spring may also be the perfect season for a happy ending—sort of like a restored sense of faith that all is well.

Then again, it might be fun to try and contrast the growing beauty of a spring setting with a struggling character, or an overblown conflict.

Summer: The season of heated romances, vacations, and an overall sense of freedom. While we’re all adults now and often work through summers, but the notion of June through August being a carefree period will never completely fade—it’s morphed into our psyches and it will certainly come across in literature. This is a great season to use if your main characters are teenagers or college students. Summer is an archetypal time for experimenting, doing crazy things, falling in love, and finding ourselves.

On the other hand, summer can come with a good dose of dread. I always think of The Secret Life of Bees where Lily Owens fears what will come with summer’s end, as she may be forced to leave the home of the Boatwright sisters. The truth is, we all wonder how things will change when summer is over Hey, even Don Henley wonders. “Boys of Summer” anyone?

Autumn: This is a beautiful, but often melancholy season. It’s a time where we cling to the past, (again, shut up Don Henley!) or a more favorable time. Vacation is over; reality has returned. In that way, it is a very practical season. Perhaps in a work of a fiction autumn is where certain events unfold that will lead to a period of mourning. A character grows ill, and his deteriorating body juxtaposes the changing, falling leaves.

On brighter, happier note, autumn is a great time to “turn over a new leaf,” and in some cases, it takes on characteristics of spring in the sense that something new is beginning such as, school, college, etc. Plus, you could always milk that whole concept of the harvest.

Winter: For anyone suffering from SAD, this one is obvious. Winter is a phase of harder times. It’s more difficult for the weak, weary, hungry, and war torn. It is fitting to portray a character going through a depressive state in winter (after all, he can always rise up come spring). Perhaps a character who has been jilted, become unemployed, lost a family member, or finalized a divorce could suffer a tormenting winter. He could be on a post-holiday crisis, a period of uncertainly, stagnancy, and hopelessness. Having a winter season in the background for something like this will always be fitting.

Winter is also a hibernation period. Maybe  a mad-scientist type character works on his experiment like crazy during the winter, all holed up in his study only to reveal his masterpiece when the weather begins to turn. Which by the way I believe was the exact scenario in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I do remember a lot of vivid winter imagery in that novel.

This is not to say that a writer MUST make use of the seasons to accurately reflect plot, setting, and characterization. Sometimes it will happen naturally—I’ve noticed that a lot of what I described above indirectly occurs in my own novel. However, I do think seasonal consideration should be applied. As writers we can certainly mindful of this technique. What’s happening in the background at any given time is important. And hey, so is weather. Otherwise we wouldn’t talk about it so much!

Do the four seasons play a role in your writing?

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13 Comments

Filed under Books and Literature, Characters, Description, Plot & Structure, Prompts & Writing Ideas, The Setting, The Writing Life, Writing Process, Writing Tips

13 responses to “It’s the Time of the Season: How Weather Affects Our Stories

  1. You always help me see things in a new light. I haven’t really thought of using the seasons to influence my writing, other than for the more obvious details. Could drive both characterization and plot. Thanks. 🙂

  2. I just happened to be editing a scene where the Harvest Moon is featured, so your post is quite relevant right now! 🙂 Much of my story takes place during the rainy fall season so there definitely seems to be a sense of winter and endings there. But then, as I like to turn things on their head, rain is also the beginning of new life as it nurtures seeds in the earth …
    The seasonal settings pretty much happened on their own as I worked my way through first draft, but now I can see there might more to it than my initial broad strokes!
    (And I love ‘Boys of Summer’! It was also covered by the Ataris recently.)

    • Yes, I remember that Ataris song. Haha. I never looked at rain that way. Interesting. In some ways rain can be a respite–a time to wait for nature to do it’s work. My seasonal turns have happened on their own as well. I think it’s just something that’s always in the background. In real life we’re always affected by weather, etc. So it only makes sense to include it in our stories.

  3. Seasons definitely affect and play into my writing. I tend to write melancholic stuff in the fall, humor in the winter (in Minnesota, that’s about six months of the year), happy and hopeful stuff in the spring and summer. I enjoyed reading this post. Thanks.

  4. Lovely, Katie. Weather & climate are so personally affecting and they play such a role in my WIP, but I hadn’t considered them deliberately. You’ve given me something to ponder!

    • Thanks Julie. I know what you mean. It’s a natural thing that happens when we write. I think it’s amazing how long weather imagery and symbolism have been playing a role in literature. It never dies.

  5. Great post!

    I’m using seasons just a bit differently in my HR. Although the arrival of winter comes with major decisions and struggles for my heroine, it also provides opportunities for force-the-MCs-together snuggle time as a means of survival. It doesn’t have to be spring for love to bloom. 😉

    • No, it doesn’t! You’re right! I think the use of seasons is what we make of them. But it is important to include them in the background…I know I’m affected by a rainy day…I assume my characters are as well.

  6. They do from the standpoint that whenever it’s nice outside I find it hard to write. Since Colorado has about 330 sunny day a year it’s a bit of a problem. =O

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