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How Seasons can Strengthen a Novel

I was reading Jim Butcher’s novel “Proven Guilty” a few weeks ago. Within the plot, the main character, Dresden, struggled against the summer heat as he weaved through the plot. I found the element interesting. In fact, in one scene Dresden left without his shielded trench coat due to the heat then wound up vulnerable in a battle with a monster. I started thinking about this and realized most books are without seasons. The authors may describe certain regional elements. For example, if characters are in Louisiana they will discuss the humidity and if the characters are in Arizona they will discuss the bright sun. But nothing is given in extremes.

In fact, most season books I can think of are theme related: Christmas joy or Halloween horror. One seasonal movie “Valentine’s Day” centered on that particular holiday. I’m not sure why people believe seasons have to relate to holidays. The only reason I can think of is that the holiday is the center of the story they want to tell. With the Valentine’s Day movie, the theme was obviously how couples and singles deal with the glamorous holiday. Yet, I remember reading a mystery by Marry Higgins Clark called “All Through the Night,” that was centered around Christmas time. This is the first book that was not focused on Christmas in the Santa Clause or Meaning of Life type stories. Yet, just like in Butcher’s novel, it added a flavor to the story.

I think, as writers, we are missing the power of seasonal elements. Sometimes the worst things we have to face as humans—the most destructive “monsters”—come from natural elements. In Butcher’s novel, the choice of wearing a protective coat that will compound the already unbearable heat and leaving it behind against ferocious villains is an interesting one. When he leaves it behind, the reader understands. When he decides to take it along and suffer the heat after a gruesome battle, the reader understands and sympathizes. Such a simple act, and yet it heightens conflict. In Marry Higgins Clark’s novel, the story centers around a woman separated from her child seven years ago. Solving this mystery around Christmas only heightens the emotion of the plot. What was once simplistic and ordinary became captivating.

I think writers stray away from seasons for a simple reason. Nobody wants to read a book with Christmas in it outside of December, so the time of publication becomes important. Likewise, readers may not want to read about summer heat while cooped up by a winter storm. Yet, I think seasons are still important for a few reasons. First, they provide added conflict. Second, they can help the setting—an Arizona summer is vastly different than a Louisiana one. Third, in an industry stressing the importance of description, it provides an easy avenue to break up the dialogue.

I think the bland atmosphere is important. But, every now and then, we should venture into seasons and see where it takes the novel.