Friday, March 14, 2014

March's Gifts to Writers

March is the month of whimsies, contrasts, and change. Consider the Ides of March, the day Julius Caesar was murdered in 44 B.C. Contrast that with the merriment of St. Patrick’s Day just 48 hours later, when liquid spirits flow freely and the “wearin’ o’ the green” identifies those of proud Irish descent worldwide.

What about the weather? In Colorado, March can send six inches of snow to cover the ground one day and melt it with sixty degree temperatures the next. In several areas of the country, early-blooming perennials peek through the ground, only to be snowed upon or frozen before they have a chance to blossom forth in all their glory. Whether it comes in and goes out like a lion or lamb, only one thing is certain: March is most predictable in its unpredictability.

What does March teach us about writing?

First, we are inspired not to write predictable stories. (Can “predictable” be a synonym for “boring”?) While groundwork for events that affect our characters needs to be laid, it can be subtle enough that the reader (and character) gasps—at least figuratively—when the unexpected occurs.

In our “whodunit,” is our bad guy/his motive obvious from the start? Or do we keep our readers and characters guessing while we drop occasional tidbits to create a firm foundation for what will transpire? This is essential if we are to avoid a disenchanted “where’d-that-come-from” response among our readers. Remember our goals to write a great book and to build a fan base—we want our readers waiting eagerly for our next book. This means our present book had better be interesting, compelling, engaging, and memorable.

Second, how do we incorporate March’s contrasts into our stories? Think of scenes and characters as colors as the month progresses from winter’s starkness to spring’s vibrancy. While black and white offer the greatest contrast, life rarely comes in black and white. Gray areas in myriad shades abound. Yet gray is nondescript to the point of blandness. Do you like colorless characters and bland scenes? Will your readers? Think color.
  • Red: energy, strength, power, danger, passion, love
  • Orange: enthusiasm, happiness, encouragement, creativity, fall, harvest
  • Yellow: warmth, cheerfulness, energy, instability, cowardice
  • Green: growth, harmony, freshness, stability, healing, rest for the eyes, money
  • Blue: depth, trust, loyalty, wisdom, intelligence, faith, truth, heaven, masculinity
  • Purple: wealth, extravagance, dignity, independence, ambition, luxury, mystery
When you envision and write a scene, you can promote its connection to your readers by using “Technicolor.” It’s not necessary to describe every detail of the colors you “see,” but use the feelings they represent to charge your scenes and your characters with life, reality, and a spectrum of emotions that keeps your readers turning pages.

Is this “living color” contrast really necessary in building your story? Consider how you feel when
viewing a black and white photograph of a stunning sunset and then the same scene in rich, colorful tones. How about a battlefield littered with bodies? Black and white photography cannot bring the horror of war to the viewer as vividly as can a color picture that shows broken, blood-soaked corpses and sanguine puddles where lives have drained from breathing, viable people like you and me onto the unfeeling ground—the same ground that may, ten years later, host a laughing child running through daisies and wildflowers. Use color to bring contrast to your scenes and hook your reader.

Finally, let’s revisit weather as it vacillates from warm to cool, windy to still, freezing to stifling, and interferes with plans, changes abruptly, gives life, and brings danger and death. The circle of life can be compared to the seasons, beginning with the birth of spring on March 20 and ending with the death imposed by winter. Use these changes to inspire you as you write stories that come full circle and promote character growth.

Instead of bemoaning the unpredictable whimsies and contrasts of March, consider the gifts they bring to those who listen to the month’s often blustery commentary on life. Translate those gifts into your writing.

How do you use the lessons of March (or other months or seasons) to enhance your work? Do you construct your stories in living color to bring contrast to your readers? How do your characters change throughout your books?

Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at


  1. Thanks for this timely piece, Linda. I'm editing at present, and it's good to have the reminder to use as many of the senses as possible, and to remember the weather. My characters tend to drive the story, but they're all colourful, so I must try to include some of those colours as I go along tweaking here and there. The current work is a fantasy, set in an alternative world, so the months are also made up, but it's good to have the reminder that things change with the seasons. Thank you.

    1. You're welcome, Stuart. Change is part of our reality. If we (or our characters) don't change with the times, we may be likened to dinosaurs — and we know what happened to them. On the other hand, characters who refuse to change can bring challenging (terrifying, antagonistic, etc.) elements to our stories.

      Color is a commonality, be it literal or figurative, that can transport our readers into our characters' worlds, wherever those worlds may be. When reading a fantasy, I have found that literal color helps me to visualize alien characters and places and to "go there" in my head. And while seasons denote change, they also hold the promise of sameness as they return with regularity each year. I wonder what would happen if they didn't...

      Love your comments, Stuart. Thank you for stopping by. :-)

  2. Living in Colorado, where it was 4 degrees with 8 inches of snow on Tuesday and in the 50s yesterday, I thing you've used an excellent example, one which shows us that things can go back and forth as they move forward. Straight lines are boring, too.

    1. Also living in Colorado, I agree. And boring is the last thing we want to be when writing a story! Thanks for sharing, Terry.

  3. I like a little unpredictability in a character, but not so much that the character is always out of character. :)

    1. Good point, Diana. Totally predictable characters are boring; but as you say, the unpredictability needs to stay within the parameters of the character's personality profile.

  4. Good reminders here, Linda. Thanks.

    1. You're welcome, Elspeth. I always appreciate reminders to help give my characters and stories depth and color, and that need seems to grow with age (mine). :-)

  5. This is great, Linda! I have to keep reminding myself to include as many of the senses as possible when I'm writing. It really does enrich the story and helps to put you right there with the character.

    1. Exactly, Heidi! That's what propels a good story into memorable for the reader. :-)


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