Writing Tip — The Eclipse as a Setting

wallpaper-1492818_1280If you were anywhere near the path of the eclipse yesterday, I hope the weather and your circumstances allowed you to enjoy it. I wasn’t in the path of totality, so all I experienced as a slight darkening and cooling, like on an overcast day. The most notable difference were the crickets chirping like it was evening in the middle of the afternoon.

Eclipse for Crime Fiction

If I was using the eclipse for a setting, it would have to be a backdrop for something momentous. It’s too unusual an event for just mundane occurrences. A murder can take place, or the revelation and capture of a master criminal.

Speaking of crime, my husband noticed something at a business meeting yesterday. The meeting was held at a building with security at the entrance. The building emptied for people to view the eclipse at its height. Then everyone reentered the building. So many people came in at once that the security guards didn’t bother to check I.D.’s.

With that in mind, in a crime story, an employee can smuggle in accomplices when the crowds return to a busy office building after viewing the total or near-total eclipse. Then they commit their crime later in the day. Or have a crime planned for site in the path of totality when the criminals know employees will be outside for several minutes.

Eclipse for Speculative Fiction

surreal-2290472_1280Researching the myths surrounding eclipses might provide fertile ground for a story. The site timeanddate.com list many of them. Interestingly, most ancient cultures describe the eclipse in terms of some creature eating the sun.

I could write a story about a certain group of people whose special powers only work when they stand within the path of a total eclipse. They spend their lives traveling the world, from eclipse to eclipse, so they can use their powers, some for evil, some for good.

Or a villain is going to unleash some horrible power but can only accomplish it in the path of totality and if the eclipse is visible to him. The heroes know this. The day of the eclipse, the heroes and the villains watch the weather and race up and down the path trying to get into the perfect position.

I like the idea of this story a lot because I could work in the specific date and real locations that were in the path of totality. It would give a veneer of realism to a fantastic story. I also like the idea of the chase, and the characters racing around in numerous vehicles as the villain hunts for the right weather and the heroes hunt of the villain.

What ideas do you have for using the eclipse as a setting?

Writing Tip — Writing in Time — July and Independence Day

sparkler-839806_1280America’s birthday provides a fertile field of ideas for a writer. The celebration can serve as a backdrop for exploring America’s history, politics from local to national, and values. Since I have mostly lived in small towns, I have experienced the holiday with all the charm and wackiness inherent in a celebration which isn’t trying to do anything more than salute our nation and entertain neighbors.

Because of holiday parties, themes of family and friendship can be addressed during the Fourth of July. The movie Junior Bonner depicts the fracturing of a family during the local celebration in Arizona.

With family parties in mind, July, as well as June and August, can also be the setting for a family reunion. Comedy or tragedy, a family reunion provides limitless avenues for a writer to explore with themes of love and hate, retalliation and redemption and forgiveness, secrets buried and secrets unearthed.

thermometer-1917500_1280My own novel The Truth and Other Strangers is set in July, shortly after Independence Day, primarily because it is more plausible for the kids to succeed in the con they are pulling if they aren’t in school. But I also like July for it’s extreme weather. In my novel, the weather is very hot and humid, adding another layer of oppression to what my main character already feels from his family and the people in his county.

The heat, humid or drought-producing, makes July a great setting for crime fiction. The quote below came from 1953 science fiction movie It Came From Outer Space, but it seems better suited to a crime movie:

“Did you know … more people are murdered at ninety-two degrees Fahrenheit than any other temperature? I read an article once — lower temperatures, people are easy-going. Over ninety -two, it’s too hot to move. But just ninety-two, people get irritable.”

Hot weather seems to fray nerves and stoke tempers until characters snap and commit crimes they haven’t had the courage or anger to perpetrate during more pleasant weather.

The summer months are also vacation months. Vacations offer as much potential for storylines as family reunions. A vacation forces characters into new, unusual, or even dangerous situations, which can be written with any attitude from low-comedy to high tragedy. A road trip can mirror the internal journey the character takes, so it works as a symbol of change.

How do you experience July where you live and what stories does it suggest to you?

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