Saturday, February 3, 2018

Winter Can Be Wonderful...or Deadly

by Madelle Morgan

On a sunny Saturday in mid-January, I walked along a trail by a frozen lake and thought about what I'd say in this post on the topic of writing a novel with a winter setting.

I was visiting my mother who lives by Lake Simcoe, located between Toronto and Muskoka, Ontario. The lake was dotted with dozens of ice fishing huts and people enjoying the unseasonable above-freezing temperature. Warm sun had melted snowdrifts on the ice surface, making it easy for families to walk their dogs or pull children in sleds. Skidoos and four wheelers zipped at top speed between the ice huts.  

All were enjoying a beautiful, spring-like day.

Ice fishing huts on Lake Simcoe, Ontario

What's Wrong With This Picture?

I experienced very strong déjà vu, because I'd described a similar winter scene in my newest release, Seduced by the Screenwriter, set in January in Canada.

Exactly like the Muskoka winter carnival scene in my novel, snowmelt poured from underground streams into the lake. Lake ice had melted and retreated from land, leaving narrow stretches of open, very cold water.

Drainage pipe emptying into Lake Simcoe

I watched a mother and a little girl in a pink snowsuit walk across the lake ice. In my novel, Lilly, a little girl in a pink snowsuit, wanders onto dangerously weak ice and has to be rescued.

Mother & daughter in center of photo

The coincidence iced my blood. Life imitating fiction? Yikes.

Weak Ice is Deadly

Canadian winters are becoming warmer on average, with more thaws and fewer weeks-long stretches of frigid temperatures that thicken ice. Snow cover reflects the sun. Bare ice absorbs the heat of the sun, and melts. In consequence, Canadians are falling through weak ice more frequently. During my January visit, the CBC news reported that a snowmobiler died in cottage country when he fell through the ice.

Catrina, the heroine in Seduced by the Screenwriter, is a former police diver who was traumatized during a recovery dive. When a snowmobiler falls though weakened ice and drowns in the frigid depths, Catrina must face her worst fear for the sake of his family.

Grim stuff, eh?

Obviously Seduced by the Screenwriter is significantly darker than the fun-filled romantic romp that is Caught on Camera, the first book in the Hollywood in Muskoka series.

And it's because I set Catrina's story in winter.

In winter, everything is frozen and dead, like Catrina's heart. Long, dark nights represent the dark night of the soul. I subconsciously linked winter to Catrina's emotional struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  

Winter Symbolism, Motifs & Games

The freezing cold at the beginning of the novel symbolizes Catrina's emotional state. The story moves through time from the dead of winter, through the spring thaw, to the summer HEA in parallel with the opening of Catrina's heart.

I carefully selected songs for the Seduced by the Screenwriter YouTube playlist to reflect Catrina's emotional journey. The images in the YouTube music videos add another layer of symbolism and reinforce the motifs.

For example, several videos have a water motif, which connects to and reinforces Catrina's turbulent love/fear emotions about being underwater. She loves diving, in fact belongs in water like a mermaid, yet fears it. That dichotamy is reflected in the name of the Toronto, Canada band Mermaids Exist versus their lyrics in this song.

The video of Demi Lovato singing Stone Cold has both water and winter elements that perfectly mirror Catrina's emotionally devastation in that particular scene of the novel.

I also included a music video that showcases the winter sport of curling, for the benefit of readers who are unfamiliar with the curling game that is described in the chapter Getting His Rocks Off. Curling rocks, that is!

Winter Awards Season

Setting a Hollywood-themed story in January allowed me to include a plot point about the Golden Globe Awards that intensifies pressure on the screenwriter hero.

I'm Canadian. I love winter. I really do. However, I intend to stay off the ice.


Madelle is the author of three romance novels set in Canada.

Her debut romantic suspense, Diamond Hunter, is a free read for Kindle Unlimited subscribers. Buy the paperback or ebook at | | | 

Caught on Camera, a romantic comedy, is available at Amazon, Kobo and iTunes. Buy the ebook or paperback at | | | 

Seduced by the Screenwriter, a steamy contemporary romance, is a free read for Kindle Unlimited subscribers, and is $0.99 through February, 2018. Buy the ebook at | | |

Subscribe to Madelle's occasional newsletter at for a free short story and to be alerted to new releases and paperback giveaways.


Judith Ashley said...

Wow!!! You have really demonstrated the power of setting in this post and in "Seduced by the Screenwriter." How eerie to have some many pieces of your story show up on your walk and in the news. Gives me goosebumps!

Sarah Raplee said...

Thank you as always for an informative post, Madelle!

Deb N said...

Madelle - WOW - enjoyed this post -

I wrote a novella years ago (still not edited and published), where the heroine's son is kidnapped by the villain and falls through the ice. Luckily the hero and heroine rescue him. One of my writer friends in northern Maine gave me some great pointers in writing the story. I do have to say, with warmer climes, I too worry about those ice-fishing shelters every time I cross the bridge near my home.

Maggie Lynch said...

Okay, tell us the truth. Your psychic. Right? :) Love how you demonstrated weaving mood, themes, and setting together in a story. Those are behind-the-scene techniques that most readers don't notice consciously but their subconscious ups the tension and that is what makes for a great read.

Madelle Morgan said...

Thanks, Maggie! That's what I was going for.

I attended a Jennie Crusie workshop on motifs at RWA a few years ago, and it really resonated with me. I even put the Caught on Camera motif on the cover - the bridesmaid's bouquet.

As for being psychic, well, unfortunately every winter the Canadian news reports on people falling through lake or river ice so that's where I got that part of the plot. The pink snowsuit coincidence really threw me, though!