Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness, is the opening line of one of my favourite poems, To Autumn by Keats. I love the autumn, it’s my favourite season. I recently visited Exbury Gardens, somewhere I’ve been to a few times but haven’t previously seen in the autumn. It was glorious. My head became filled with ideas for poems, a short story and using what I was seeing, hearing, and smelling in a scene in my latest work. It was inspirational and such visits are something as a writer I value as part of my toolbox.
Autumn glory at Exbury Gardens
Creating mood and a sense of place is essential to enable a sensory experience for your reader, to allow them to feel close to the action. Getting out and about, taking notes and pictures and taking in the feel of a place, then infusing this into your work will add authenticity to any writing. This works whether it be fiction, poetry, non-fiction, letter writing, in fact anything where you are able to recreate a reflection of your experiences.
When I’m writing a scene, I imagine the action as if it were being played out in a film. Scenes informed by my experiences help me to paint a vivid picture. It’s not necessary to go into detail, that could slow the pace, it depends upon your plot and the specific situation your protagonist finds themselves in. By using real experiences writing comes alive. To take advantage of this you need to be aware of and use the senses.
Sight, what is your character seeing? This isn’t necessarily about describing the scene in front of them, it could be that they spot something intrinsic to the plot. It’s about noticing things. In my schools’ workshop on a sense of place, I suggest to the students that to be a writer, you need to be an observer and make a note of what you experience or what catches your eye – or ears. I’m sure every writer is like me and always keeps a notebook with them. I also take plenty of photographs, easy to do these days with smartphones which take great pictures. Try revisiting a place at different times, the same picture can vary so much season to season and even between day and night.
In a blaze of autumn colour, but what is it like in the springtime?
Sound, essential for mood, who doesn’t react to the music in films and dramas? You almost know what’s coming by the sound effects and the music being played. With the written word sounds also play an important part. When out and about I listen not only to nature, but to life itself. Think about how so many commented on the silence created by the Covid 19 lockdown, when there were no aircraft and the road no longer hummed with traffic. People themselves offer real thoughts and observation, snippets of real-life conversation, tone and accent that can be overheard and jotted down then used somewhere. My favourite listen-in comment was a gentleman talking to two ladies, sitting on a bench by the sea. He said, contentedly. ‘As long as the sun comes up in the morning and I’m there to see it, I’m happy.’ What a sunny outlook and one I can use for the right character at the right time. Nature also plays its part, just a mention of an owl’s twit-twoo or a seagull’s squawk, will tell your reader what time of the day it is without mentioning it.
Smell. My favourite smell in the autumntime is of burning leaves and wood, this distinctive aroma to me says cosy and homely. Take notice of even the most basic of scents. The ground itself smells different when it’s wet from dry, as does an animal. Smells are useful, they can bring back memories. For me, the smell of pipe tobacco reminds me of my dad and my grandad. A lake smells different to the sea. These put a character in place, whether past, present, or future.
Touch is a brilliant way to portray feeling. A delicate brush against the skin, a thump on the arm, holding a hand, the touch of lips, a kick, a breeze. Stroking a cat or a dog, a wasp sting. Seasons can affect touch, for example a metal seat will feel different in the winter to what it will in the summertime. Touch can be sensual or sinister, a great tool!
Oak with lichen has contrasting textures
Whilst food and drink can be used in writing for all kinds of situations, settings, poisonings, trysts and more, food and drink isn’t the only source for Taste. Some years ago, there was a winter where we had a very cold spell where the gulf stream pushed arctic air all the way to the south coast where I live. I recall going for my daily walk, there was a beautiful, cloudless blue sky but bitterly cold. The thing I noticed was how the air tasted. It was so pure, like drinking cold clear water. Sweet, bitter, sharp, sickly, there’s great scope in the sense of taste. Taste can be traditional and seasonal.
Good enough to eat, eye catching enough to give your murderer ideas!
Using the senses in writing is an essential tool, and getting out and about and enjoying sensory experiences can inform and improve your writing. Seasons offer differing aspects of the same senses if you make yourself aware. Next time you visit somewhere, take note.