Time of the Season

I just wrapped up the rewrite on my next novel (BAD TO THE BONE, May 2009), the events of which take place from Halloween to New Year’s (bookended by big parties, of course).  It got me to thinking about seasonal choices I’ve made in the past, and how in determining setting, the question of when can be just as important as where.

Sometimes the plot determines the when.  In the example above, the major holidays marked important turning points in the novel. (Besides, who among us hasn’t wondered how vampires celebrate Thanksgiving?  Don’t answer that.)

But other novels, I’ve noticed, simply took place during a particular season because that was the time of year in which I began the book. That doesn’t mean the season was irrelevant to the final work–I hope that every element resonates with the story on some level.  In these cases, it just happened not to be a major factor in the initial plot evolution.

Do you incorporate our society’s holidays into your work and put a new twist on them for your characters’ unique world and attributes?  Or does that reek of “A Very Special Episode of [cheesy sitcom]“?  What about invented holidays and festivals?

More generally, how do you choose the time of year in which to set your novels? Have you ever started writing a novel set in one season and then changed it when you realized another would serve the story better?

Finally, I want to wish everyone a belated and advance Very Happy [insert your holiday of choice]!

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  1. 1. Joe Iriarte

    What’s your name? Who’s your daddy?

    ::shakes fist::

    Damn you for sticking that in my head!

    My first novel–my trunk novel, and hopefully my only complete trunker–was set in in a spacer society. There were passing references to festivals that don’t exist on Earth of today–both festivals the spacers came together to celebrate, to facilitate courtship and genetic diversity, and the meaningless festivals of those silly dirtsiders. But I didn’t really mention seasons. I’m not sure if there was a single scene that was planetside.

    Another novel I began but them realized I didn’t have the skills yet to carry off was set in a very vast spacefaring but planetary based conglomerate of civilizations. I put a lot of time into developing the cultures of three or four different species, including holidays and seasons and stuff. I can’t say yet how well I wove it in, because that novel is still in my future.

    The novel I’m getting ready to start shopping around is a contemporary fantasy. I made the entirely arbitrary choice to begin the events of the novel on April 4, though I never stated the date. The calendar was just for my personal use. So I have brisk days and occasional unseasonably warm days, and, eventually, rainy days. I also have, in the background, baseball season underway, but still early enough that every fan is optimistic. Well, except for Royals fans, anyway, but my book’s not about masochists. ;) I’d say the book just as easily could have been set at any other time of year, though the baseball is something two of my characters bond over. But it could have just as easily been football or Star Wars conventions, neh? But having made that choice, the season becomes important insofar as there are frequent references to what’s going on. I just wanted there to be a sense that the story takes place in a larger world, and that that world is a realistic one. I did tend to let the weather on the day I began writing a scene (though not the temperature) be reflected in the weather in the scene. I couldn’t think of any reason not to, and it insured that I didn’t, say, set my story in a modern America where it never *rains*.

    I don’t think it’s [necessarily] cheesy to have Christmas or the Fourth of July or something be a significant event in the lives of your characters. I’m going to guess that a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself what your motives are. If it’s, “My character is Christian, and so Easter would be meaningful to her. She would go to church, and she would think about the choices she’s made lately, and so forth,” then I think that’s perfectly legitimate. If it’s, “I’d like to get more people to realize that Easter is actually a far more important holiday than Christmas is; maybe my book can be a vehicle for good,” . . . that way lies cheesiness.

    IMO, of course.

  2. 2. Jean Marie

    Oh, I’m all about the holidays if they help the plot or say something about your characters. The 25K “vomit draft” of my YA vampire fantasy concludes in DC on Halloween, because that’s when everybody takes their masks _off_.
    Can’t wait to read BAD TO THE BONE.
    Cheers and smiles,

  3. 3. Jeri Smith-Ready

    I do the calendar thing, too, for my contemporary fantasies, and for my epics, I just put “Day 1″ or “Day 35″ on the appropriate index card for the scene. It drives me crazy when things don’t fall on the correct day of the week. Even though I know 99.9% of readers wouldn’t notice, I still find myself shuffling scenes to keep it chronologically honest.

    I love your example of the background sporting events to round out the world and make it feel real. And hey, if the Rays could go to the World Series, why not the Royals?

  4. 4. Tom Gallier

    I’ve used holidays in my urban fantasies. I had my MC American vamp tell a Russian vamp it was Anti-Christmas, where instead of giving presents vampires take them away so everyone is miserable. It took him a while to realize she was joking. Other than that, I have them making plans for Christmas or Thanksgiving, and even had the Thanksgiving dinner in one novel. Oh, and the one I just completed for NaNoWriMo ended on April Fool’s Day, so I incorporated that.

    I am rather obsessive about everything falling on the right day of the week/date, too. Even of the reader doesn’t know what they are. But in some novels the day of the week is important.

  5. 5. Adam Heine

    I’ve been paying attention to seasons in my current novel. It’s an alternate Earth, but I’ve matched the seasons to where I live (Thailand – so there’s hot, cold, and rainy). Since I made that decision, I’ve tried to be careful about keeping the timelines and weather accurate.

    I only just started thinking about holidays. I haven’t thought about days of the week at all. So much to do…

  6. 6. Tom Gallier

    Also, with my stories, I know what day, what city and what time everything happens…so I go to a weather history site and make sure the weather is correct, too. Is that just too OCD?

  7. 7. Adam Heine

    Tom: Yeah, it’s OCD. But I also think it’s really cool!

  8. 8. Jeri Smith-Ready

    Jean Marie: DC in Halloween is pretty scary to begin with. ;-) And I like the term ‘vomit draft.’

    Tom: Aw, too bad Anti-Christmas isn’t real. Sounds like fun (for a vampire, anyway).

    Adam: I think it really helps convey the passage of time when you depict the changing seasons.

    Tom: It’s funny–WICKED GAME takes place (subtly so) in 2007, and there’s a pivotal scene on July 4th. When that real life day came around, it poured rain. I decided to ignore it (especially since the book was already in rewrites). ;-)

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