Weather Thesaurus Entry: Moonlight


WEATHER & Earthly Phenomenon are important elements in any setting, providing sensory texture and contributing to the mood the writer wishes to create in a scene. With a deft touch, weather can enhance the character's emotional response to a specific location, it can add conflict, and it can also (lightly) foreshadow coming events.

However, caution must accompany this entry: the weather should not be used as a window into a character's soul. The weather can add invisible pressure for the character, it can layer the SCENE with symbolism, it can carefully hint at the internal landscape, but it must never OVERTLY TELL emotion. Such a heavy-handed approach results in weather cliches and melodrama (a storm raging above a bloody battle, a broken-hearted girl crying in the rain).

SENSORY DESCRIPTORS:

Sight:  

The sight of the moon changes depending on time and phase of the moon. If the sky is clear, among the starlight the moon may appear full (a ripe, pale disk), three quarters full,  a half moon (a meringue cookie broken down the middle), or a crescent (waxing or waning, depending on the phase, like the end of a fingernail or a sickle shape). Cloud cover or fog can obscure the moon in a haze or make it appear to have a halo of light around it. Depending on the fullness of the moon, moonlight can cast definitive shadows and soft white light down on the landscape below, or little light at all. Occasionally the moon is visible during daylight hours and any moonlight is negated by sunlight.

Smell: N/A

Taste: N/A

Touch: Moonlight has no touch. Some liken it to 'cold' light, but technically this is because of the cool night air, not a quality of the moonlight itself.

Sound: N/A (A special note: wolves do not specifically howl at the moon. The roots of this belief come from Mythology and legend. However, wolves and other canines are nocturnal, so hearing yips and howls under moonlight is a common occurrence in the right geographical areas.)

EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS:

Mood: Moonlight can offer the sense of danger in a scene for many reasons. First, most activity occurs during daylight, and the evening hours are when shadows form, predators come out to hunt, and those who do not wish to be seen can move about. Also there is an air of forbidden energy with moonlight, as normal human sleep cycles occur during this time, and so to be active in moonlight goes against the natural order we've predetermined as a society. This creates mystery and intrigue. If people aren't tucked safely into bed during night hours, what are they up doing...and why? Because of these nighttime notions, romantic liaisons can also be made more powerful with moonlight, but take care not to create a cliche.

Symbolism: Moonlight symbolizes a spectrum of different things. One of the strongest is Romance and Forbidden love.  It also symbolizes individual freedom and purity, especially in the feminine sense, and figures into beliefs on fertility. Because the moon itself controls the Tides, moonlight is reflective and often linked to the flow and ebb of human emotion...making it a strong descriptive ally to enhance the emotional power of your scene!

Possible Cliches: Tying wolves or werewolves to the moon and moonlight; the undead & moonlit cemeteries; virgins being stolen away in the moonlight; lovers meeting in the moonlight

OTHER: As stated above, the strength of moonlight depends on cloud cover, season and phase. Moonlight appears stronger in winter because of the snow's ability to reflect. See the link above for more information.

Don't be afraid to use the weather to add contrast. Unusual pairings, especially when drawing attention to the Character's emotions, is a powerful trigger for tension. Consider how the bleak mood of a character is even more noticeable as morning sunlight dances across the crystals of fresh snow on the walk to work. Or how the feeling of betrayal is so much more poignant on a hot summer day. Likewise, success or joy can be hampered by a cutting wind or drizzling sleet, foreshadowing conflict to come.

30 comments:

Laura Pauling said...

I love that picture. I just want to snow shoe or X country ski across that scene! Thanks for all your work! Awesome!

Nisa said...

Weather can be such a powerful tool. It evokes a lot of emotion in its own right. Lovely post!

Becca Puglisi said...

That is an awesome picture. It's been years since I've seen moonlight on the snow. And I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't know that wolves don't howl at the moon. Thanks for the info, Ange!

Creepy Query Girl said...

Moonlight scenes can do so much when done well. This was an awesome break-down! Thanks!

Kelly said...

Excellent entry. And I absolutely love the silhouettes created by moonlight. Nature at its best.

Angela Ackerman said...

I love the moonlight too. It's like a time where you can be alone with your thoughts, or one with the world. :)

Thanks all. And Becca, I totally had to look this factoid up when I was poking around on the net for moonlight info. Haha!

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Matthew MacNish said...

You guys are always so thorough! That is an interesting fact about wolves.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Love the picture. And love the part about virgins being stolen away in the moonlight. Wow, what books have you ladies been reading lately? :D

Colin Smith said...

Another aspect of moonlight is what it does to the world around us, i.e., changes colors, and makes us see the world in a different way. How many times have you been somewhere at night that you normally only see during the day, and it seems different, almost unrecognizable (and vice-versa, seeing somewhere during the day you only usually see at night)?

I am reminded of part of a poem recited on The Moody Blues 1967 album Days of Future Past:

Cold-hearted orb that rules the night,
Removes the colors from our sight:
Red is grey, and yellow white--
but we decide which is right,
and which is an illusion.

Lisa Gail Green said...

He he. Virgins being stolen away in the moonlight... *snicker* Sorry. One of these days I'll grow up!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I love the specificity you included with this, Angela (ie: the details of sound and touch...)

Shannon said...

Love this post! Great job at pointing out the cliches, especially a girl crying the rain. :)

Thanks for sharing this.

Marsha Sigman said...

Ummmm...now I need to go back and take another look at my moonlight scene by the lake.

Heather said...

Great point about the appearance of the moon depending upon the phase. The moon can add so much to a story, love this!

SP Sipal said...

Love the picture as well. For the moon, I also like to think about the goddess imagery. Would pagans dancing under the moonlight be cliche as well? :-)

Charlie Pulsipher said...

The interesting thing about moonlight is you can easily mold it to fit symbolisms that you design for it, especially in scifi and fantasy. I'm currently using dual moons to form a connection between religion and one of my character's two toned irises that also have something to do with her ability to see other's memories. Moonlight can take on so many varying colors and shapes.

Michael Offutt said...

So basically, you're saying "It's a dark and stormy night" has been done before.

On a more serious note, I agree with you in that caution should be used when employing weather to set the mood and/or define characters. However, you can say that about most things. There's a lot of writers out there, and the collective unconscious is going to have similarities from story to story. A well-read person is going to have difficulty being continuously amused because they will see things that are similar between works.

kathrynjankowski said...

Another great post! I had a Tarot reading in one story that used the Rider-Waite Moon card to represent unforeseen perils. Wonderful symbology, until I realized that the Rider-Wait deck was created in 1909 and my story is set in the late 1500s. Gah!

Jeff King said...

Yes, a crisp autumn night illuminated by a fool moon, is a perfect night indeed.

I'll be using this one for sure, thx.

Jemi Fraser said...

I love moonlight! There's something magical and special about it :)

Carrie Butler said...

I ♥ moonlight! One way or another, it always seems to show up in my work. :) Great post!

Christina Farley said...

There is something magical about moonlight. Love this!

Rachna Chhabria said...

I just love this post, Angela. It was especially very timely for me as I am planning my series where I hope to use night time (especially moonlight) a lot. I am now aware of which stereotypes to avoid falling into.

Stacy said...

Moonlight is a great trick to use, and I loved the picture you chose. It encompasses all the positive traits you mentioned:)

Angela Ackerman said...

You all know how cool you all are, right? *steeples hands* Excellent.

Martha Ramirez said...

What a beautiful picture! Love this post. Love the moonlight. Lots of great tips to add. Thank you!

Leslie Rose said...

Gorgeous picture. The moon has such personality the way it always draws our attention. I also feel on moonless nights that something important is missing.

thepatientdreamer said...

Wow! I love the moonlight time of the evening. Thankyou

Cedric J. Sims said...

Perhaps moonlight could be used to symbolize loneliness. Or solitude?

Katie Darden said...

Moonlight is "cold" light because it is reflected and is not a result of a thermonuclear reaction as the sun is. The sun puts off heat/warmth because it generates the light. The moon only reflects the light that shines on it.

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