The days are getting longer now as winter is slowly edging away.  But when I head out to work at 7:00, it’s often still dark out.  I can’t wait for the dawn to creep closer.  I’m craving the sunlight.

A horse in the mists of dawn.
Horse on the Move at Dawn in Fog

Photo from iStockPhoto.  Image by David Arment

When I was in the Army, I had to do what was called CQ—charge of quarters.  Once the workday ended, I and a sergeant manned the desk in the commander’s absence.  The duty lasted 24 hours, and it was always hard.  Once night settled in for a stay, my brain wanted to shut off.

Readers need a sense of light to establish time in the story.  Obviously, it has to be in the story right up front, since time is a big part of the setting.

Ways to Establish Light

Sunrises/Sunsets: This is an instant time marker for the time of day.  But the colors themselves can be powerful tools to show emotions and settings.  Blood red sunset (locations known for vivid sunsets; time of year); pink sunrise (romance).

Shadows: This fits in with the time of the year.  I remember walking on Virginia Beach in May in the early morning and watching the waves spill over my long shadows.

Night: Moonlight or stars are a great way to establish night.  When I was riding back to Denver during Superstars, we had the full to our right and it was mesmerizing.  We watched it all the way up to the airport.

Interior Lighting: Don’t forget that a room has light, too. A fluorescent light buzzing too brightly to an oil lamp smoking in a corner.  This one is a lot harder to do in every scene because it’s not as vivid as seeing it outdoors.

What are some other ways of establishing light?

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