A hike I went on in the mid-April had me thinking about the way the early spring’s bloom can evoke pleasant feelings and inspiration. So, I decided to take a deeper look at this. I’ll cover all the seasons in separate posts, starting today with winter.
Gray gloom or white paradise?
Winter does not spark pleasant emotions in many people. In cities and often the suburbs as well, it’s usually gray and gloomy. Countless cars and pedestrians will walk down any snow that manages to survive the city’s warmth into ugly grey mass.
Without getting away from that, it’s hard to see winter as something else.
As with any aspect of storytelling, the setting matters. Maybe more than ever, and more than with any other seasons. As said above, urban setting will most likely end up with the ugly, unpleasant aspects. Once you get somewhere the winter has free reign over the landscape, you might see its raw, harsh beauty – but you need to be willing to see it. To see past the biting cold (more so if it’s windy) or the almost blinding brightness should it be a sunny day. Winter gives nothing without effort.
And that exactly is the point.
Having a character face perils magnified by the winter weather is a way to show resilience and persistence. Being able to find something good in the harsh winter is something not anyone is able to do (I know this well just by knowing my family) and can be a distinct trait of a character. Maybe a character can find a lover’s embrace way more emotional in winter, when the warmth of their feelings contradicts the weather – or just love winter sports. Maybe they enjoy solitude and the winter resonates with that as they walk through the snow-covered landscape when most would stay at home.
Or, you can decide to focus on the small things – the longer preparations as the characters need to wrap themselves in more layers of clothing, and possibly the discomfort if those layers don’t fit well. You can also try to focus on the nature-made decorations: icicles, the frosty drawings on windows, snow-covered trees…
The end, or a new beginning?
Another aspect of a setting is the culture. You can see winter as something that symbolizes the end – it’s long after harvest, the bare trees can evoke feelings of sadness, dread, loss, or surrender.
Yet, it can also be a symbol of new beginning. The winter solstice can be taken as a day of hope, waiting for new life to return in spring – after it passes the darker days. It can be a time of rest, a moment of respite before taking the fight to an enemy.
Whichever of the above you choose (if any, because you don’t have to, of course) is a way to show more about the setting and culture, how the people perceive the natural cycles and what feelings it evokes in them. having someone with a different approach than the majority and showing the reasons (maybe through the points I mentioned in the previous section) is something you might explore…
The chances to show this might be even better in case you’re writing a fictional society. As said above, the way the see the winter is a major point. The Winter Solstice is a day that might show that more than anything else – something that might be the turning point towards the better.
If you’re writing fantasy or historical fiction, it might be a chance to show the hardships – a time when it’s hard to hunt and when you can’t just grab berries from the first bush you see while in the woods. Being caught in a blizzard can be life-threatening experience for a character unprepared for it, without clothing warm enough; more so in times when there’s no GPS and it’s down to the character’s sense of direction to find a shelter or die.
This is it for today. I’ll welcome your thoughts. Have you found inspiration in winter? Did you use the winter to hinder your characters – or to give them unforgettable memories, whether good or bad? Feel free to share!