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05 December 2010 @ 10:53 pm
Seasons in Fantasy  
Cultures around the world are often impacted by their weather patterns. Consider the adaptations of the Inuit people in the Arctic regions, or those within the various Caribbean islands. The Bedouin travelers are as much a product of their desert environment as are the mountain dwelling Sherpas of Nepal.

I happen to live in an area with four distinct seasons and a wide variety of weather patterns in each season. During winter, it might take over two feet in an overnight snowstorm to prompt any mass closures. In many areas where snowfall is rare, only a couple of inches might do the same thing.

To some degree, we are shaped by the weather around us. So are our characters. As authors, the decision for what season to set their story in is an active, conscious choice.

I’m currently working on Book 3 of the Elliot series, Elliot and the Yeti Threat, which takes place in winter. The snowy terrain not only provides Elliot with many of his problems and solutions, it also is the natural setting for the Yeti who is coming after him, placing Elliot at an additional disadvantage.

Here’s what a few other Inkies had to say:

Kate Coombs just completed a MG fantasy set in June “because I have a really gorgeous garden in the book and needed it to be in bloom, and I also have a hungry character with wings who lands in an orchard early in the book, hoping to eat the fruit, but the pears aren't ripe yet.”

Author of The Witchlanders, Lena Coakley, tells of two different cultures warring for dominance, so she wanted seasons to reflect that split. She “decided that the
Witchlands should have only two seasons, and that a dramatic event called
the chilling would mark the beginning of winter. In my book the chilling
occurs near the beginning of the story: purple clouds reach out like
fingers, covering the landscape, and the temperature drops abruptly,
freezing rivers overnight. My two main characters are left to fend for
 themselves in a very bleak and wintery environment, an environment I often
used to create obstacles for them by having them face blizzards, bitter cold
and even an avalanche.”

In The Unnameables, Ellen Booraem “wanted a feeling of mystery and drawing in and impending darkness, so I set it in the fall. I could set the mood for a day by showing how close we were getting to the onset of winter.”

Both of Marissa Doyle’s books have “season” in their titles and are set in spring. She said, “The first is there because it revolves around the springtime London social "Season" when young ladies were on the prowl for husbands...but there's also the fact that it's the spring of my characters' lives.”

Elizabeth C Bunce’s book, , “takes place in winter--specifically, in a mountain castle that's snowbound due to avalanche--and part of the reason I did that was to capitalize on the isolation of the setting and the inability of the MC to physically escape her circumstances, of her being trapped between two deadly dangers: the intrigue inside the castle, and the raging winter outside. It was also the MC's first exposure to real winter and cold, and I found it served as a great dramatic background to her adjustment to this new life she's stolen into.

Here are a few tips to consider in choosing the season for your story:

1. Is your choice of the season mandated by the needs of the plot? If not, are there any symbolic reasons for choosing a season?

2. Within that season, what is the biggest possible weather incident that could occur?

3. If it happened (even though it may not), how would that big weather incident impact the story?

4. How might the story change if you switched to another season?

5. In what ways might the season or the typical weather play a role in the story?

- Jennifer Nielsen
annastanannastan on December 6th, 2010 12:54 pm (UTC)
Great post! I often take the seasons for granted in my writing, but weather plays a huge part in my current WIP so this post was very helpful. I especially loved Lena's decision to only have two seasons - what a great way to make the setting extreme!
mguibordmguibord on December 6th, 2010 01:26 pm (UTC)
Wonderful post. Yes it's amazing to think about weather in a story because, even in real life, sometimes we forget how powerful of a force it can be!
lena_coakley on December 6th, 2010 01:48 pm (UTC)
Really interesting post--and thanks for mentioning my book!
Sayantani DasGuptaSayantani16 on December 6th, 2010 02:32 pm (UTC)
holidays too
Great post! I begin my current WIP on Halloween - not as a stunt, but because the protagonists' birthday is on Halloween (as is mine, well, the day before...). I liked the idea of halloween because it let me spoof on vampires and such, while introducing a new genre of (Indian) monster, but also because the deeper themes of the book are about identity - masks, hiding, dressing up, showing off, performing, these were all really useful ideas to weave in...
Also, as someone said, Fall is such a fun time for that feeling of "something wicked this way comes" - the approaching winter, the shortening days...
When my protagonist gets to the other (magical) land, however, she notices, it's suddenly spring...
ebooraem on December 6th, 2010 02:47 pm (UTC)
I like Marissa's comment about the "spring of my characters' lives." Spring also can be a time of transition, especially for kids...end of school year, possibly a switch from one school to another, plus everything growing and blossoming. In SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS, I chose spring because my MC's family needed to move to a new place for a new beginning, and it made sense that a two teachers and their daughter would move right after the end of school. But it also has that symbolic force.
Lisa Greenlisagailgreen on December 6th, 2010 03:38 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed the post! Yes! Seasons can be of great importance both in plot and symbolism. I've used it in both respects. A wonderful part of world building.
Jenny Gordonjennygordon on December 7th, 2010 11:44 am (UTC)
Fascinating insights - thanks. This topic seems to be a few people's minds at the moment - I posted something similar on my blog the other day.

Winter is a season I find myself returning to as a setting over and again - perhaps it's the themes I write about that lend themselves particularly well to the challenges and the enchanted beauty of the winter. Or perhaps I'm just a sucker for a challenge!
lauramc on December 7th, 2010 03:38 pm (UTC)
I like the question, "How would the story change if you switched to another season?" It suggests that the season might be playing a role even if the writer doesn't intend it to -- because if it didn't, why would a change of season matter?