I know many people see the word seasonal and they automatically start making a mental list of holidays in their mind.
While seasonal can mean holidays, it can also just be a place in the year. While we mark big holidays, both secular and religious, and can use them to place a reader in a specific locale or culture, such as a July Fourth picnic and fireworks extravaganza to place a scene in the United States or a Chanukah celebration to place the family gathering within a Jewish household, there are other seasonal elements independent of these that can help fill out the world where your tale unfolds.
Not that large scale celebrations can’t be important, but not every story happens at Christmas.
And sometimes you don’t need a literal fireworks display.
Sometimes it can be an explosion of flowers as the first of the backyard trees comes into bloom. It can be the first leaf falling in the autumn, or the first snow. The first summer day when the thermometer recorded triple digits might be of use to you as you write. And of course it doesn’t have to be the first of anything. It can be the last, it can be the eighth, it can be the only or one of the innumerable.
There are a few things you might want to remember about using seasonal elements. The first is that they have been used a lot and there are a lot of cliches. Now this isn’t to say that you can’t use a cliche, but you want to be aware that it is one and either use it deliberately or shake things up a bit.
Let’s take winter.
I have heard this sentence a million times. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Either way I am sure you will recognize it.
The winter was bleak.
Now there is no reason the winter can’t be bleak. It is a season of cold where most of nature has closed itself off and is waiting for spring to rejoin the world. But instead of saying the winter was bleak, use the thought of bleakness. Has the color been pulled from the world leaving only stark black bony tree limbs clawing at an empty sky? Does the wind blow down from the mountains pushing through you and stealing hope along with any warmth you managed to carry from the fire within the cabin? Is the ground solid and unforgiving, echoing with a dull thump with each jarring footstep?
Instead of merely claiming the winter is bleak, use the specific elements to show it and re enforce the emotions of your characters.
Of course the winter doesn’t have to be bleak at all. Just because other people have used it in such a manner doesn’t mean you have to.
The unbroken snow bank can raise a feeling of hopefulness as your character looks out on the blank canvas the snow has created of the vast field behind the house. They can see in it the fresh start they hope to make and the fact that their future is theirs to write. Why should the new green shoots of spring take all of the hopefulness in the world?
Of course they can also be terrified of an uncertain future as they stare at the vast unbroken sheet. That might suit your character and story better. And depending on how you wrote them it could cause them to retreat further into themselves, stuck in place and unable to move forward or it could galvanize them to action. The empty whiteness of the snow covered field could make them want to make an impression, they could run out into the snow just to see their footprints leave a mark, just to prove they were there and that they exist. And then this feeling can spill over from the snow to the actual plot line.
Each season has a myriad of markers both natural and manmade. You can use them as they have been used before or shake up a bit. They can show the mindset of your character and even help justify later actions.
Is someone who sees the unbroken snow bank and has to step into it just to prove they were there going to react the same way to a situation as the man who loves the clean unbroken look of the snow and wants to keep it as pristine as possible for as long as possible? Maybe or maybe not.
How a person views some of these seasonal elements can show your reader what type of person your character is and justify later actions, making them seem more in character for them. Is your character someone who always sees the worst in a situation and only sees the spring flowers in terms of the allergies they bring? Is your character someone eternally hopeful who thinks of the bare trees as sleeping and dreaming thoughts of spring? Are they so consumed with a thought or idea that everything around them, nature included is somehow warped and leaning towards their main focus?
Something to think about, no?
in additions, their reactions and how they change throughout the story can also reflect the changes in them.
Say you have a story that starts with a character who hates christmas. Your tale takes him on a journey and at the end he loves Christmas.
Well, at the beginning he is not going to react positively to the day that stores decide that christmas carols need to be pumped continuously through retail spaces. It used to start the day after Thanksgiving, now I think that day is around Halloween. Whatever day it is, your character isn’t going to be happy about it. Of course along the journey he takes, those songs could spark memories that let us see why he hates christmas, his shifting reactions playing into his changing emotions and at the end he could even sing along with the carols, the songs reflecting his new found love of the holiday (and mental settling of old events).
It’s a simple example (and I’m sure one that has been used many times before) but it does give you a sense of how you can play around with those seasonal markers in the world.
Just as building descriptions can place a reader in a scene, so can the seasonal ones. They can draw your reader in and flesh out your world making it more complete. And the seasons can be so much more than snow on the window sill and flowers in the garden. The seasonal elements can be reflections of thoughts, emotions or themes. They can be very useful tools in a variety of ways. Take a look at your character, the plot, the story and regardless of genre, there are places where a little seasonality can help you out. It is a tool well worth having in your writing arsonal. It doesn’t have to be used all the time, but occasionally when writing, sometimes it helps to think seasonally.