Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Snow and Trees
In addition to my NaNoNovel, I'm working on the third Kyndred book, and one major obstacle I have with this one is the setting for one of the early chapters of the novel: snow and trees, trees and snow. There are mountains (background) a road (lost early on) and one cargo truck (ditto) but that's about it. During the length of one chapter I have to move my characters through a setting in which there are no other people, vehicles, houses, towns or any sign of civilization.
This is the sort of place I think of as a non-setting setting, and it's one of the toughest to write because it seems like you have so little to work with. It's always tempting to start adding in things into this bleak landscape to remind the reader that the characters are still on this planet: critters (wild), caves (abandoned) and cabins (ditto) would be my first choices. But a magical distraction or solution to their immediate problem doesn't serve this story, so I have to work with what I have: snow and trees.
Fortunately I've visited several remote areas during winter, and I know I have a bit more than snow and trees to work with. There is the sky, various forms of natural light, water (streams, lakes, ponds) rock formations, animal tracks, and remnants of earlier passages (some hikers don't seem to know what trash cans are.)
Cold is always touted to mute the senses, and it does restrict my sense of smell, but I've found it also sharpens my hearing. You'd think a setting of snow and trees would be pretty silent, and it can be, but there's also the wind, snow falling, birds, echoes, etc. If you're in thaw weather, you hear water dripping, rushing, shifting debris and cracking as solid surfaces break up; if you're in a freeze you hear branches snapping, drifts collapsing and this odd crunchy sound ice-covered objects make when they rub together. In such places you also tend to regularly hear your own breathing and (occasionally) your heartbeat.
I find visuals help, too. I regularly go over and search Landscapes 2.0 for inspirational pics using keywords like mountains, snow and winter. Often photographers find things in otherwise deserted landscapes that are beautiful, poignant and even astonishing.
Once I put together all my visuals, notes and ideas, I found I had quite a bit more to work with than just snow and trees. But I'll admit, I'm glad it's only for one chapter. As much as I like snow and trees, I like great big fireplaces, warm snuggly quilts and huge steaming mugs of hot chocolate even better. So will my characters.
How Setting Influences Story by J.C. Hewitt.
Fun with Setting by PBW.
Image credit: © Luminis | Dreamstime.com