Friday, September 28, 2012

Time of day in writing

Time of day

As I write this, it's 2:02pm

What does that have to do with writing?

Absolutely nothing.

Well then, what is this post about?

It's about how the time of day affects the mood of scenes throughout the book.

This is going to be another one of those blog posts where you talk to yourself, isn't it?

Yes, yes it is.

*sigh*  Tell the readers about the time of day in writing.

Bossy aren't you?  Very well.  Here goes.

The time of day can have an important effect on the mood of a scene.  This is an invaluable tool for any writer.  As you write, think about what time of day it is in the story and how that might help convey a message of hope, despair, or even normalcy.  Certain times of the day are associated with different feelings.

The most obvious of these are day and night.  It's harder to be scared when the sun is out and there are people around.  On the other hand, nighttime hides danger.  People shrink in on themselves.  You can amplify these feelings by adding details on the time of day or night too.

How will dawn affect the scene?

I'm glad you asked. 

Dawn is generally associated with rising and hope.  It's a new day and all the bad stuff hasn't happened yet.  If you wish a scene to be filled with possibility, start at dawn.  This even works in horror.  It makes the fall into whatever bad stuff you wish to torture your character with even more terrible.

It's a great way to start a book too.  Have the person get up from bed, stretch and smell coffee, or someone cooking breakfast.  No matter how the story goes, you start out with a clean slate.

Dawn is also a great way to end despair and hopelessness.  If the previous chapters have been at night and things are going badly, you can bring dawn about to erase that despair.

On the rare occasion, dawn can actually bring an even greater hopelessness.  If things aren't better when dawn breaks, then you make the negative mood even more powerful.

"Rain Glade" begins at dawn.  You don't have to buy it.  If you want to see a sample, you can just look at the preview of the first page or two to see how I set the mood.

How will morning affect the scene?

Boy, you're good at asking these questions.

Morning is a great way to set the tone of the rest of the book.  The person has had time to drink a pot or three of coffee, they've gone to work, school, or sent the kids off for the day.  This is the perfect time to give the reader details about what's going to happen in the rest of the story.

Let me guess, you're going to tell us about noon next?

Good call!

This is when the gunfight happens.  The sun is beating down, it's hot, people are hiding inside.  Noon is almost always sunny.  Thinking about it, I can't ever remember a book where it was raining at noon, although I'm sure there's a few.  I have one that has steady rain for five days . . . so I guess I can think of a book, but we'll pretend I can't.  Noon is a good time for lunch scenes, obviously.

Anyway, noon is a great time for heat and hiding.  It's excellent for showing how characters are suffering under the whip of a slave master.  It's good to show oppression and tiredness.

What about midnight?

What?!!!  Midnight?  . . . Ohhhh, I see what you're doing.  You're trying to trip me up.  It's not going to work.  Ask me about afternoon instead.

If I must.  What about afternoon?

I'm glad you asked.

Afternoon is very versatile.  You can do just about anything with it.  It's a great time for action.  Something always seems to be happening in the afternoon.  It can be good, bad, or indifferent.  You don't really have to talk about what time it is either.

People have usually been at their routine for a while in the afternoon.  It's a good time to throw a wrench in their plans.  Maybe they don't get to go home.  Maybe there's a fight that's going to happen in the parking lot.

Let me guess, evening is good for dinner scenes, right?

Of course!

In addition to dinner scenes, evening brings the promise of night.  You can use it to create a sense of trepidation in the reader.  This is a great place to start a thriller book.  Something is going to happen, but you still have enough light to describe the characters and set the scene.  Build suspense by telling ghost stories around the campfire.

It's also when people get ready for parties or a night out.  Evening is a great time for discussions and dialogue.


Just one word?  That's it?  You're not even going to phrase it in a question?


*sigh*  Jerk.

Sunset is another excellent setting . . . (pun might have been intended, not sure)  Just as dawn is a great way to start a story, sunset is a great way to end a story.  We've all heard of riding into the sunset.  It works.  It's very romantic.

It's also a good way to add color to a scene.  Sunset has lots of reds, violets, golds and blues in it.  The bottoms of clouds can be pink or lined with silver.  This is a great romantic setting for a kiss.

Oddly enough, it's often as filled with hope as dawn is.

It's also a great time to turn off the lights and begin the scenes of fear in a horror story.

Night is when horror stories occur, right?

Well, Dracula certainly doesn't come out during the day.  He wouldn't want to sparkle . . .

Night is also a time of passion.  People can sneak away in the dark for a tryst.  If you want your characters to go to bed and get it on, this is a good time to do so.  I'll leave the details to you.

But yes, night is when the terror is easiest to write.  Monsters hide under the bed, or in the bushes at night.  You can't see them coming, and when they do, it's always behind you.  Empty parking garages are scarier at night with only the sound of high heels echoing through against the concrete.

It's good for campgrounds too.  The sound of crickets or wildlife can add to the affect.  Jason does his best work in campgrounds at night.  Teens also drink and do drugs, making them act stupid while being chased.

Does it matter if it's midnight?

Most definitely!!!

Midnight is a powerful time historically.  This is when rituals have historically occurred in many cultures.  It's great for moonlight ceremonies or sacrifices.  Any story about New Years must include midnight in it.

What about early morning?

I'm glad you asked. 

A common saying is, "It's always darkest before the dawn".  People are often tired during this time if they're awake at all.  This is when you sneak past the guards because they're not alert.  This is when the horror victim breaks down and cries because they don't think they're going to make it til morning.  It's when red-eye flights arrive if you want an empty airport scene.

It's also one of the least used times in books because most characters are sensibly sleeping during this time.

Would you like to recap?

Yes I would.  That's very considerate of you.

So if a scene just isn't clicking for you, think about what time you have it set in.  Perhaps you can make it stronger by changing the time.  It's always good to add how the light, or lack thereof, colors the scene at that time of day too.  You can add emotion that way.

Anyway,  that's all for now.  I hope you've had a good time. ;)

John H. Carroll

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