My favorite story for the month,Watership Down, gave me the idea for this prompt. The author had to describe nature from the point of view of rabbits. How would you write about nature from another animal’s viewpoint? How does water feel to a fish? An otter? How does a bird experience air currents?
Pick an animal and share what you think would be a unique challenge in writing from that viewpoint.
The best way I know for setting the mood with nature in my writing is to experience nature myself. That’s why I’ve visited the location of my novel, so I could get first-hand observations of the natural world in which my characters live.
Being out in nature often changes my mood, usually for the better. But to write about it, at some point, I have to stand back and analyze the experience. Here are two ways to pick up on how nature affects moods.
What’s my first impression?
Often, a natural setting changes my mood before I realize how it did this. If I walk outside my house at night and instantly become uneasy, I may have to stop and think what exactly has produced the anxiety. Is something out of place and it makes me uncomfortable? Is there an unusual stimulation — sound, smell — that disconcerts me? Once I pinpoint the cause, which is usually nothing serious, I appreciate my surroundings.
What’s my last impression?
Sometimes, an outdoor experience is so all-consuming at the moment it occurs that I have to leave it before I can reflect on it. For me, that usually means I am enjoying myself. I love sledding, but I would ruin the fun if I put on my writer’s hat and tried to take mental notes about it while I was sledding. At home, at my desk, is the time for analysis.
Once I have a storehouse of natural experiences to pull from, I can apply those experiences to my characters to reveal qualities, quirks, or weaknesses about them.
One fun way for setting the mood with nature is to have the same character affected in opposite ways by the same aspect of nature. In my novel, my main character loves early morning runs, but after staying up most of one night, he finds the calls of the early birds irritating during the following morning. Or you can have nature set opposite moods in two different characters. A night hike through the mountains terrifies city person while her rural friend finds it invigorating.
For a writing exercise, use the picture above. Create two characters who experience the mist on the lake in two different ways.
How do you use nature to set the mood in your writing?
Shortly after I was married, I finally got around to reading Watershed Down. My dad had always been a big fan of it, and I remember seeing an animated movie based on it when I was a kid. I distinctly remember how mean the bad guys were. I’m not sure why it took me so long to try it myself, but once I did I was hooked. Few novels held my attention from beginning to end, but this one not only held it but refused to let it go. I couldn’t wait to get back to it when I had to take a break.
You wouldn’t think a book about rabbits in Great Britain trying to establish a new warren would be so engrossing, but it is. Ten bucks set out from Sandleford Warren when Fiver, who is a seer, convinces them that something horrible is going to happen to their warren. The bucks, led by Fiver’s brother Hazel, endure many hardships, including “elil”, the rabbit word for animals who attack rabbits. They also encounter a warren that is really just a place for people to fatten up rabbits.
The buck survive to found a warren on Watership Down and turn their attention to getting does. This problem leads them to confront General Woundwort, the tyrannical chief rabbit of a warren run like a military dictatorship. This warren is overcrowded with does who are willing to leave, but the General, greedy for power, won’t let them.
Hazel, his second-in-command Bigwig, and the other bucks hatch a plot to help the does escape, which ultimately leads to General Woundwart launching an invasion of Watershed Down.
I chose this book for my month on writing about nature because Richard Adams so wonderfully combines the rabbits’ natural instincts with his world-building. Mr. Adams has invented a mythology, complete with well-known tales, and a language for his rabbits. He gives most of the rabbits distinct personalities. Hazel is the sure and steady leader. Fiver is the high-strung seer. Bigwig is bluff, big-hearted, and the best fighter. Blackberry is the smart one with the most ingenious ideas.
But he also has them act like rabbits. The bucks need does. The overcrowding in the General’s warren is so bad that pregnant does reabsorb their kits. Rabbits only swim if they must and dislike getting wet.
The bulk of the story takes place in May and June, and Mr. Adams’s descriptions of the countryside are so vivid, I can almost smell the dirt and budding plants. One way he does this is by being very specific in his descriptions.
“Only a few fading patches of pale yellow still showed among the dog’s mercury and oak-tree roots.”
“A hundred yards away … ran the brook, no more then three feet wide, half choked with kingcups, watercress, and blue brookline.”
When Bigwig is sent to help the does escape from the General’s warren, a storm is brewing, making all the rabbits nervous. It breaks just as Bigwig and the does make a break for it.
What stories have you read that use nature in a way you love?
Since I recently had a unique experience with wild animals on a walk near my house, writing about wildlife encounters seemed like a suitable prompt because my theme this month is nature.
Last week, I went on an evening walk on the road I live on. We live in the country, the road is not heavily traveled and parallels a river. I was enjoying the coolness of the evening beneath the shade of the towering trees when I glanced to my right and found a skunk staring at me from the ditch beside the road. It was less the five feet from me.
My heart ramped up its pace but my feet, fortunately, did not. Keeping the same gait, I crossed to the other side of the road and continued walking. The skunk stayed on its side of the road. I couldn’t remember, from watching nature programs with my kids, the range of a skunk’s spray. Still, as I head north, I breathed a sigh of relief.
That’s when I saw the second skunk. One the same side of the road as the first skunk, maybe a hundred feet away, it was also snuffling about in the ditch beside the road. I stopped and stared. Should I risk passing the second skunk and finish my walk? What if there was a third? And how would I get home? Walking home the same way seemed foolish, and the only other route would take a long time.
But if I turned around, I’d still have to pass the first skunk. Being only a few feet from it hadn’t scare it, but I didn’t want to test my luck again. To be completely safe, my only choice was to plunge down the river bank and make my way from through snarls of invasive bushes and poison ivy. Since the evening was cool, I was wearing pants and a long-sleeved blouse, which would protect me.
Digging my tennis shoes into the muddy bank, I hiked south. It crossed my mind that there could be skunks along the river bank, but I decided to follow the theory that the skunk you see is more dangerous than the one you imagine.
The river bank proved to be the safest route. I returned home, muddy but unskunked, much to the relief of my family.