I’m thinking on this Friday, looking out my window and seeing the glorious colors of Autumn, the explosions of red and orange and yellow – thinking (as my writer brain always does) how that scene fills me with complex emotions. And that leads somewhat surreptitiously to me thinking about craft and story. It’s this sense of life’s rhythm (the changing seasons) that make really good stories… well, really good. Let me explain.
It’s the the explosion of pigment, the sheer magnitude of the surprise from ubiquitous green to a beautiful collage of striking color. It’s this contrast, this turning from the mundane to the spectacular that then turns more metaphysical, philosophical – feeling like hope, joy, anticipation, expectation, even reflection. The transition of seasons creates an effect on us.
But it is more complex than that, isn’t it. The colors are some primal signals to humanity that winter is coming, the long delay and endurance of the bitter cold just around the corner, and this pattern and history and time has imbedded into our DNA (at least in the west) a sense of expectation, preparation, a tinge of urgency for the expected hardship to come. But it’s a limited urgency, a subtle whisper-like fear, peripheral, because Winter does not last forever, and we have learned that buds do come, always come, have and will, an energy exploding from what seemed eternal sleep.
Great narratives, like all great art somehow captures this complexity: the vibrant and hopeful Spring, the brooding of Autumn with its backward glance, the bleak and desolate winter… which once again is surprised by regeneration and Spring. It all depends on where you start in the cycle, but the cycle is life, is real, demands we as artists imitate it. We don’t, of course. Depending on what we want to achieve in our art, depends on what we choose to extract, leave out. Sometimes it’s always spring (Romance novels). Sometimes it’s always winter (some realism and horror). But many genres capture the whole of the cycle, fleshing out various seasons more than others to effect the audience in a specific way.
If we think of “the seasons” as complex characterization and plot structures in our writing, the key is not which “season” you emphasize, but that you capture them all. Great narratives do that all the time. We call it the rollercoaster or the funhouse or the complex narrative story arc. It all means the same thing. The cycle of the seasons is the cycle of our lives. To imitate it is to capture the true power and nature of a complex life-lived – of which all human readers can relate. To intentionally leave “a season” out is to either claim your reader ignorant and silly – “here, I could have given you a complex gourmet meal, but I’m giving you French fries because it’s all you want” – which is demeaning and arrogant on one level and even useless and harmful on another.Great writing, like great novels are a mastery of the seasons, the emotions that drive our daily lives: hope, fear, delight, desperation, joy, and everything between the spectrum of life and death. Some artists call it antiphony, counter point, others call it binary opposition. However we define it, it is what makes our stories powerful. It’s what elevates something expected and soon forgotten into something quite profound, a character or moment that stays with us – like ancient myth – to our last breath.