Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere

Teasing Spring

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Guess what? We’re halfway through winter. It’s all downhill from here. Oh, I know the East Coast is getting slammed by snow and sleet, and I know the West Coast is getting hammered by the Pineapple Express (why does that make me think of Hawaii?). Here in the upper Midwest we’re enjoying some above-freezing temps. On the local news, they keep talking about wanting more snow, since we’re about a foot short for the season (and that has nothing to do with my height 😉

I’m good with less snow this season. Really. And I got out to enjoy the sunshine and near-40 degree temps yesterday. It feels like spring, even though I know we’ve still got the rest of February and all of March yet to go before spring arrives. And we can get some nasty weather in the next couple months. Not below zero, bone-chilling, OMG-will-we-ever-thaw-out weather, but the oh-crap-freezing-rain-with-six-inches-of-heavy-wet-snow weather.

Which leads me to the question (through a few detours and roundabouts) of weather and setting as characters in your story. Setting is often a backdrop for the main story, a place to host the characters and their actions. And often the most the setting does is anchor the story in a place we may or may not be familiar with. I just finished the last Hollows book by Kim Harrison. Cincinnati is Rachel Morgan’s home–well, a portion of it. The city is a bit more than a backdrop, but doesn’t figure into the story so strongly that the whole story can’t be picked up and moved somewhere else. J.D. Robb’s In Death series is set in a near-future New York City that lends a bit more than a backdrop; the story really needs to live in a chaotic metropolitan area. I suppose Los Angeles or San Francisco would work, but the weather does play a role in the story, and there’s not much snow in winter in LA.

Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum lives in Trenton, New Jersey, in a neighborhood called the Burg. The setting plays such an integral role in the story, since that’s where Steph grew up, that relocating the story, I think, would also encompass some character changes. It’s the neighborhood rather than the actual setting that feeds the story. Many stories are like that, tied to the setting by virtue of the main character’s history with the place.

Consider Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang. Now think of them someplace besides Alaska. Yeah, doesn’t really work, does it? The setting, both location and weather, are integral to the stories. Imagine Robinson Crusoe on one of the tiny islands at the southern tip of Chile, or on one close to the British Isles. Or Stieg Larsson’s trilogy somewhere other than Sweden. Doesn’t quite work, especially with Larsson’s work. The attitudes of Swedish society about women are integral to Larsson’s work, and the weather is another factor, primarily in the first book.

In your writing, is the setting a backdrop, or more of a story-shaping force? Would your characters behave the same way in a completely different location? What about the weather aspect of the setting? I think of weather because, well, we are still in winter, and the coasts are each dealing with less-than-pleasant versions of it. I believe Poe used weather often to set the mood of his works. You can use the setting, including the weather, to set the tone of your story, as Poe did. I had a story published (and got actual real money for it as opposed to contributor copies) I wrote as an exercise in setting story mood using description. It’s a dark, gloomy night, or it’s a quiet, respite of evening. The rain can be forboding, or washing the world clean.

Use the weather as a muse. Consider how the setting, and your descriptions, can change the whole feel of a story. Try it out. Pick a setting and describe it in a way that creates a bit of dread. Then take that same setting and describe it in a way that brings out a bright, upbeat feeling. The similes and metaphors you use are powerful tools in creating that atmosphere.

Oh, and my Week 1 word count is 13,137 words. Still on course for 50k by the 28th. Happy writing!

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Author: Julie Holmes, author

Pen name: J. M. Goebel A fiction writer since elementary school (many years ago), and NaNoWriMo annual participant for a decade, I've been published in small press magazines such as "Fighting Chance" and "The Galactic Citizen". Currently I have two polished novels ready for the world and a number of others waiting their turn. I write adult mystery with extrasensory elements, mystery with a touch of romance, contemporary fantasy, and epic fantasy. In real life, I am a technical writer with a family of two teens, a wonderful hubby, one cat (what writer doesn't have cats??), two dogs, four chickens, and more chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits than any garden should have to deal with. My garden, our "au natural" hobby farm, and Ma Nature's annual seasons are some of my muses.

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