Weather Thesaurus Entry: Winter

WEATHER is an important element in any setting, providing sensory texture and contributing to the mood the writer wishes to create in a scene. With a deft touch, weather can enhance the character's emotional response to a specific location, it can add conflict, and it can also (lightly) foreshadow coming events.

However, caution must accompany this entry: the weather should not be used as a window into a character's soul. The weather can add invisible pressure for the character, it can layer the SCENE with symbolism, it can carefully hint at the internal landscape, but it must never OVERTLY TELL emotion. Such a heavy-handed approach results in weather cliches and melodrama (a storm raging above a bloody battle, a broken-hearted girl crying in the rain).

SENSORY DESCRIPTORS:

Sight:

Frost crystals coating branches and exposed metal, breath fogging the air, snow shimmering, skeletal trees, pine boughs weighed down with snow, shoveled driveways, footprints (animal & human) in the snow, snow drifts, houses, cars and buildings covered with white, snowflakes falling from the sky, icicles hanging from the eves,  frost swirls coating the windows, clouds of warm air curling out of chimneys and roof vents, people bundled in thick, puffy coats, colorful scarves and warm mitts, snowmen, kids sliding down white hills, cross country ski tracks, skating rinks, red-cheeked children having a snow ball fight, Christmas lights strung up on houses, wreaths decorating doors, lawn decorations (Santa- themed, lighted deer, candy canes, etc)

Smell:

Crisp, clean air, hot chocolate, ozone, fresh baked cookies and treats, cinnamon, woodsmoke, pine needles, vanilla, road salt

Taste:

Candy canes, chocolate, frosted cookies, molasses, baked pumpkin pie, turkey, soups, chili

Touch:

Cold air against exposed skin, zipping up a coat, tugging on boots and gloves, winding on a scarf, pushing a snow shovel, scraping a car windshield as quickly as possible, mittens growing wet, numb fingers and toes, lips drying, stamping feet for warmth, feeling light snowflakes land in one's hair, blowing on hands for warmth, rubbing hands together, the shock of cold when snow gets in the collar or up a sleeve, tugging down a hat to cover cold ears, the sudden wet and cold of a snowflake melting against the skin, turning the face away from a bitter wind or blowing snow, slipping on ice, struggling to keep balanced or save oneself from a bad fall

Sound:

Winter brings almost an absence of sound--most birds have flown south, leaving only the occasional call of a goose or duck flying overhead, or the roar of a passing car. Wind must be strong to be heard as there are no leaves to resist it. Small creeks freeze over, leaving ice to obscure the burbling water. As such, the remaining sounds seem clearer and crisper--boots crunching through the snow, the sound of one's raspy breath, the rustle of fabric from a slippery outer coat, holiday music, carolers. 

EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS:

Mood:

Using Winter as the time period in a novel provides the opportunity for characters to do some mental housekeeping. As the cold weather forces many outdoor activities to a halt and hampers travel, the mind often slows down and turns inward for reflection. Winter also provides a time when families and friends generally turn to one another for fellowship. However as people keep to the indoors, it can also lead to feelings of isolation and being trapped or confined. If you have characters who create friction, good or bad, Winter is the ideal time to force them to confront one another.

Symbolism:

Winter commonly symbolizes death, hibernation, a period of rest, a time for reflection, endings, purity

Possible Cliches:

Comparing a person's cold demeanor to winter, linking a false winter to an evil force, using winter as a term for the elderly years of one's life

OTHER:

Winter and snow are not mutually exclusive. There are many warmer climates where snowfall does not occur or it happens infrequently. Winter may simply mean a lack of blooming flowers and colder temperatures than normal. Always do research when world building to make sure you understand how the seasons present themselves when writing any contemporary setting. Winter does indicate shorter days, so the hours of daylight are lessened in most locations.

Don't be afraid to use the weather to add contrast. Unusual pairings, especially when drawing attention to the Character's emotions, is a powerful trigger for tension. Consider how the bleak mood of a character is even more noticeable as morning sunlight dances across the crystals of fresh snow on the walk to work. Or how the feeling of betrayal is so much more poignant on a hot summer day. Likewise, success or joy can be hampered by a cutting wind or drizzling sleet, foreshadowing conflict to come. 

21 comments:

Laura Pauling said...

I love the pictures you guys use. Awesome. Winter is all around me now, I can't escape it!

Winter can be very powerful!

Matthew MacNish said...

How timely! Now if only we could get some darn snow down here, in the south.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Love the post, but not winter. It's too COLD here.

Traci Kenworth said...

Brr. Cold is seeping through the door here as I write this point from that big "W" word. Great post!! Will need to use it soon for one of my stories I'm working on, just to get the details right. Thanks!!

Miranda Hardy said...

Great in remembering to set the scene. I don't often read about such things when it could greatly add to the setting.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Ha! This is one season I'm very familiar with (just not right now with our spring like conditions). :)

Jennifer Hoffine said...

Good point about making sure you don't use weather as a heavy-handed link to the character's state of being.

heathermarsten said...

Thank you for your wonderful posts. I often refer to your topics when I'm stuck. I have one more idea for winter. I actually used it in the chapter I wrote yesterday. When snow falls it covers the dingy ground with a layer of white - so snow can also symbolize purity. The Bible verse - though my sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.

SHANNON O'DONNELL said...

Ha ha ha. This is a great one, especially since so many of us are STILL waiting for winter to arrive. :-)

Angela Ackerman said...

Good point Heather--I missed that one. I'll add it now!

Living in Canada, winter is something I have intimate knowledge of. :) Here in Calgary the weather is more mild, but when I lived in Northern Canada, we had a saying--our seasons were 6 months of winter, 6 months of bad tobogganing. :)

Thanks everyone for the comments! Stay warm!

Leslie Rose said...

I love the bare trees in winter. On a walk in the woods last week I saw one last apple clinging to a naked branch. It mesmerized me. The brave little apple who could.

Ghenet Myrthil said...

I've been waiting for you to include Winter in your thesaurus. My WIP begins in the winter and ends early spring. Now that winter has arrived, I should start taking notes. :)

Karen Lange said...

Great stuff! Been chilly here and this sums it all up! Actually getting some ideas too for the WIP as we speak. :)

Shandiss said...

If I could suggest an addition to the Touch category? Extreme cold (-20 and below ambient temp) means that the nose hairs start to freeze together from the moisture in our breath. The sharp sting in the nasal passages is a piquant counterpoint to the slow congealing of the other extremities as they slowly freeze solid. (Poetic words for a harsh reality here in balmy MN . . .)

Carrie Butler said...

Winter is such a daunting, magical force to be reckoned with. (Side note: My last book took place in winter!)

Great post! :)

Becca Puglisi said...

Awesome job, Ange. We finally got a taste of winter in south Florida, and I'm loving it!

Kelly Polark said...

Excellent descriptives.
I can't believe we haven't had much snow here in Illinois. No accumulation yet. And it was 48 degrees today in January! (though I'm not complaining! I'd like a little snow though, because it looks pretty. I just hate driving in it!)

Clarissa Draper said...

Brrr... I'm in Mexico and we've been having really nice weather. In the twenties everyday. However, I heard Calgary went up to fifteen yesterday. Thanks for this entry.

Mirka Breen said...

You came to my favorite season. Winter, as you noted, is the 'interior' season.

Kelly Hashway said...

I just realized it's never been winter in on of my manuscripts. Maybe because I don't like the cold. I should mix things up and have winter make an appearance.

The Golden Eagle said...

I like winter and snow, and I've noticed that I often use the cold in my stories. I should definitely bookmark this post for future reference!

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