This winter has taught us Easterners, especially New Englanders, a lot about snow and about the very pleasurable peaceful feeling one gets as we watch the “snow falling on cedars,” barren trees and the landscape in general. For me, at least, it replaces the drab and dreary with a kind of heavenly beauty. And then when the blue sky and sun emerge, it’s like being kissed by your favorite grandparent and told to go play outside – sledding, skating, etc.
But describing those feelings, which is at the heart of settings, can be a more complicated thing. How do you translate the peacefulness of snowfall into the scene of a novel or memoir? You want to avoid being overly sentimental, and yet true to the emotion and beauty of it.
This brings to mind two novels in which snow played a significant role and from which we can learn a lot about setting: Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson and Snow by Orhan Pamuk. I highly recommend reading them, not just for setting but other reasons too. These two authors, one in the state of Washington and the other in Turkey, use snow to great effect. Pamuk’s character contemplates the snowfall and gets the same sense of peacefulness that I do when watching it. And in Guterson’s novel snow casts a veil of mystery around events. Of course! Snow is a veil, isn’t it? In reality, but also metaphorically.
Obviously, not everyone greets snow with the same enthusiasm (as me!), for some it’s a curse. I imagine that many people in large cities see it in exactly the opposite way. For them, snow signifies hardship: everything from the difficulty of finding parking, to having to shovel or plow the snow from sidewalks and streets, to the layers of clothing required to stay warm. (Have you ever tried to push a baby buggy down an icy, snow-covered sidewalk or street?)
In any case, experiencing what you want to describe can assist you in your writing of settings. Sitting quietly and letting the experience wash over you might help when you face the computer and begin composing the scene in which your character exists. Close your eyes and remember. Better yet, as the snow falls write down your impressions. Don’t worry about making your prose perfect or beautiful or flowing. Just write down the visuals, the feelings, a few metaphors, and then when it’s time to write that scene turn back to your journal and crib a few lines.
And if you’ve recorded the event with some photos, pull them up on your computer or smart phone or out of your drawer and experience that moment again by closing your eyes and remembering...