Writing Tips at GarySpeer.com

Tips for writers and musing about writing and life

Do all Russian novels take place on dark, chilly nights?


Suppose you have a novel with a scene that takes place outdoors. Now suppose you were given the job of turning that novel scene into a play — how would you approach the lighting of that outdoor scene? Would you light it as near dawn, near twilight, bright sunlight, dark night?

I thought about this when I was reflecting on some of the novels I’ve read, which reminded me of the love/hate relationship I have with Russian novels and Russian novelists.

Do all Russian novels take place on dark, chilly nights?

It started when I was in high school, I think. I read “Crime and Punishment” and “The Brothers Karamazov” by Dostoyevsky and “War and Peace” by Tolstoy. (All right, I don’t think I ever finished “War and Peace,” but I might have.) Looking back on these Russian novels sometime in college, I realized that in my mind’s eye, I had pictured every page of every Russian novel as taking place at night.

Now I’m pretty sure not every scene in all those pages of Russian novels took place at night, but the whole combination of subject matter, characterizations, descriptive narration, the whole package, made me “feel” that it was always nighttime. To this day I cannot pickup a piece of Russian fiction and start reading it without feeling like the sun has gone down.

How do you picture the world in which you’re writing a scene? Is the wind blowing? Is it sunny or cloudy? Are your characters splashing through puddles or ducking hail stones? Are they laughing and running down a brightly lit beach — or are they huddled together in front of a bay window watching the moon rise over ice and snow?

Be subtle, but be as clear as you can, regarding light, darkness, day, night, weather, etc., when you write your fiction. Don’t go overboard and get lost in the details. But don’t leave me feeling like the story’s all taking place on a dark, chilly winter night.
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