Sunsets: the Writer’s Choice

Hello SE friends, Gwen with you today, and together we’re going to travel across the country.

Last month I moved from the Midwest to a mountainous area in Arizona. The journey was arduous, but is was also stunningly beautiful. Traveling west, the sun guided the way and as the end of day drew near, the heavens burst into rainbow shades. There were times that I was speechless by the pure majesty.

We all love sunsets. We include them in our stories. We measure time through their visits, create passion in their light, suggest mystery through the shadows. The movement of the sun is very much a part of our writing experience.

But does the sun manifest in the same way across the country, across the planet?

When I arrived in Prescott, Arizona, the sky hung low. It seemed as though I could touch the clouds. And to my surprise, the setting sun burned colors into the horizon that I hadn’t seen before. Vivid colors, almost surreal. And it was this experience that prompted questions and today’s post.

I’ve discovered that sunsets are unique to an area because of several factors, one being elevation. I grew up in the desert, below sea-level. I loved the violet blue evening sky and its fiery orb. That childhood experience, however, is very different from what I now see in the mountains.

Having moved several times, I decided to create a chart to help me visualize the difference in altitude of each city. The markers on the chart below represent the locale and the numbers indicate the altitude of that area. As you can see, my last move is quite different from the other areas where I’ve lived. It’s no wonder the sunsets are different, but I’ve learned that elevation is only part of the explanation.

Photos courtesy of Canva

As I delved into the sunset phenomenon, I quickly realized that there are a number of contributors to the red skies we see – clean air, cloud cover, humidity, and temperature. I’m sure there are other factors as well, but for today’s purposes, I’ll focus on these.

We all know that airborne particulates reduce the light. They also lead to muted or subdued colors. So if we live in a city where there is smog, our sunsets will not be the same as those in the deserts or at the beaches or in the mountains. But interestingly, during late fall and winter, the city skies change. The air circulation shifts and with it, the sun’s display. As pollution decreases, the setting sun becomes more vivid, which is one of the reasons that autumn is a much loved season.

When you describe a sunset in your stories, do you mention the season or whether the sky is clear? I don’t believe I’ve done so, but I suspect I will now.

Let’s look at the other components. The most dramatic sunsets have decks of clouds. Paulo Coelho was correct when he wrote, “Don’t forget: Beautiful sunsets need cloudy skies.” The clouds catch the last red-orange rays of the setting sun and reflect this light to the ground. The next time you watch the evening sun, take special note of the clouds. I think you’ll find that they can transform your twilight experience.

Humidity and temperature also have an important role. It’s the monsoon season in my area. Winds stir slightly towards the end of day and lower both the humidity and the temperature. This helps to enhance the colors and scatter light, and in this mountainous area, they produce amazing blood-orange and pink hues.  

Photos courtesy of Canva

Have you noticed a difference in sunsets through the seasons or as you’ve traveled across the country? This was a first for me. Like everyone else, I’ve always been entranced by the setting sun. But prior to this trip, I hadn’t thought of a sunset as being area-specific. Now I know that when I include a description of the evening sky in one of my stories, I need to pay attention to the locale, the time of year, and the other factors as well.

It seems to me that the sun splashes its glory uniquely across the planet, and we each have a privileged viewing seat. When we write, we choose which sunset we want to capture. We set the tone with color. We build tension with shadows. We craft our fictional world with images, real or unreal.

To close, I want to share a beautiful quote from Mary Balogh’s book, A Summer to Remember. She writes, “And yet day and night meet fleetingly at twilight and dawn … And their merging sometimes affords the beholder the most enchanted moments of all the twenty-four hours. A sunrise or sunset can be ablaze with brilliance and arouse all the passion, all the yearning, in the soul of the beholder.”

Could it be that “the soul of the beholder” is our audience? What do you think? I’d so love to hear.

Thank you for joining me today. Till the next post, happy sunset gazing!  

 

70 thoughts on “Sunsets: the Writer’s Choice

  1. I lived in South Africa for 33 years, km’s from the ocean and the most beautiful sunsets in the african bush. Now live in Wellington, New Zealand right next to the beach and the sunsets? Just as fantastic, but different! 🙌🏻

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    • Wow, Andre, they sound amazing. I’ve always thought New Zealand to be an extraordinarily beautiful country. And your journey is intriguing! Thank you for visiting and sharing your experience. All the best!

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  2. I love using the “between times” of sunset and dawn in my stories. They’re full of magic, Gwen. But I like the science behind it too! I moved from New England to the Pacific NW, and noticed the difference in sunsets – NE with cloudier red and golds. The PNW with that gold sheen on the horizon. Congrats on your move and finding another way to enjoy this beautiful planet.

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  3. Lovely post Gwen. Arizona is a beautiful, and you are so close to Sedona! I love Sedona and I love sunsets. In fact I’m crazy about sunsets. Some of the most beautiful sunsets photos I took were in Arizona. Mexican sunsets run a tough second. 🙂 x

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  4. Sunsets and sunrises are like rainbows. With rainbows every individual sees the same rainbow differently because of their own height.
    Besides elevation – smog changes the color too, I guess you said that when mentioning atmosphere 😉
    Smog isn’t poetic though. I’ve move quite a bit. Mostly NJ, NY, IN now PA – but I’ve gotten to travel to AZ, NM, CA and a bunch of other states.
    Also out of the country… All the best on your settling in, in your new place.

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  5. I love watching sunsets and have noticed the differences in them when I travel…Maine, so different from southeastern Arizona, different from the tropics, and different from own Pennsylvania. When I write sunsets I don’t always stop to consider my setting but I do draw on my memories of those gorgeous splashes across the horizon!

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    • It’s magical, isn’t it? No matter where we are, nature has an incredible way of reminding us of Her beauty. Thank you, Mae, for sharing your journeys and how you use your memories. 💗

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  6. Thank you for the interesting post, Gwen. Yes, i also love the sun. Honestly, the environment for enjoying the sun is important too. 😉 Indeed, you have choosen a wonderful place. By the way, did you know that there is a poet living in Prescott’s German twin town (Zeitz) ? 😉 Here she is (online): christinvonmargenburg.blog/ . Have a beautiful weekend! xx Michael

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  7. I spent years of my childhood in Alaska. I did notice the sunsets were bluer (purple-like) there. Actually, the daylight in general is bluer. I’m in Virginia now, and the sunsets are more pink-orange. It’s an interesting topic.

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  8. My first thought about this was when my wife and I went to Anchorage, Alaska, two years ago. How weird was it to try and go to sleep at 11:00 p.m. when it was still bright out? Answer: Very weird!

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    • I’m with you on that, Pete. My hubby and I traveled there several years ago and experienced the same. I never saw a sunset or sunrise in Anchorage. But when I was there, I kept thinking about the long long winter nights and marveled at the people who call the area “home.” Thank you for sharing your story. Loved it! 😊

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  9. I loved this post, Gwen 🙂 I will always stop and watch a sunset if I can. I never thought about how different they are in areas and why. That was fascinating to learn about. My husband always says our sunsets here are much prettier than in Hawaii. We have purple, pinks, oranges, yellow, and reds, where Hawaii seems more limited to the autumn colors. I will start paying attention to time of year and colors. I do like to create a mood through the sun or lack or in it’s movement. I do love to play around with the sky and colors to set a mood.

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    • Before this last trip, Denise, I never thought about how different the sunsets can be, depending upon location and so many other factors. Like you, I marvel at each one. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and offering examples. 🤗

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  10. So far North of you, I do not always see the sunrise or indeed the sunset. An old fellow now, I need my bed and at this time of year in Scotland I rarely rise for a three thirty AM sunrise nor am I awake for a one thirty AM sunset. Soon, as the seasons change, so dramatic here in the North, I will once again see both. Lol – in December you can can see both (if you are lucky enough that the clouds part) sitting wrapped up, in the space of three hours. Still these natural wonders are inspiring. A Mackerel sky in spring, roiling October skies, where no sun breaks through, brewing heavy weather. Nature is truly wonderful.

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    • How extraordinary, Ray. Thank you for sharing your AM and PM experience with all of us. I was aware of Alaska’s long long days and conversely long long nights, but I didn’t know the day/night rhythm of Scotland. Someday, someday…I hope to visit. Thank you again. 🙂

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      • Ah, tis’ odd I know. I never feel that we are that far North yet we are. Scotland feels, climate wise, in American terms like Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa. yet we are so far North of these places it is often surprising. Almost Scandinavian.

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  11. I am an early riser so I see the sunrise every day. It is a spiritual, mystical, and relaxing time. It is a time for reflection and planning. A time of thankfulness and gratitude that I have that moment and pray that I will do God’s will in whatever moments I have.
    A favorite quote: “Let the beauty of sunrise keep your heart warm.” (Lailah Gifty Akita)

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    • So beautiful, dear Karen. Thank you. We are very much alike. It’s a spiritual experience for me as well, one of great abandonment into ever-present Love. 💗

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  12. What a lovely post. I’ve only seen beautiful sunsets in the places I’ve visited. Maybe beautiful in different ways, but always inspiring. The creepy shadows come later:) And I love those in fiction, too. Glad you’re finally in your new home.

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    • Thank you so much, Judi. We’re currently renting a home and may stay in place for a year. We’ll see. It’s a lovely area, and the sunsets are extraordinary. 💗

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  13. Interestingly enough, I saw an amazing sunset tonight while I was driving Michael home from therapy. During our winters the sky turns a brilliant dark orange at sunset and a dark pink in the mornings. In the summer, the sun seems to just leap into the sky and it goes from dark to light in moments. The sky is dark blue and then light blue. I learned some interesting facts here, GWen.

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    • I’m so pleased you enjoyed the post, Roberta. I’ve never been to South Africa, but I can imagine the brilliance of the skies both morning and evening. Thank you for sharing. 😊

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  14. Great post, Gwen. I love how you approached the sunset and its possible descriptions. I’m not one for taking a lot of time on setting scenes, but you do have a great point: do it right when you do it. Much food for thought. Thank you.

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  15. I have traveled and worked around the world. Each location has its own vibe in a way. Some are great and some are creepy. Thank you for insight into sunsets I never thought of elevations as a factor before today.

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    • Thank you, Ben, for adding to the conversation. I hadn’t thought of elevation as a contributor to the sunset glory until my recent move. Have a great day! 😊

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  16. Such a thought-provoking post, Gwen. I have never given any thought to sunsets appearing differently in different locales. But your observation will make me think about describing sunrises or sunsets in my stories. Thank you for sharing this part of your journey with us!

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  17. Great post, Gwen! I live on the east cost of Florida so we get sunrises more than sunsets, but in the winter months, we can see beautiful sunsets off in the west. In my summer travels, what I notice more than the colors of the sunset is the timing of them. When we are in the northern states, the sun doesn’t set until well past 9 p.m. I can’t recall any beautiful colors, just the slow descending of light. There were times it was almost 11 p.m. and the sky was still light. That never happens in Miami. Lol! I will definitely be more mindful the next time I use sunsets in a story. 🙂

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    • Thank you so much, Yvette, for sharing your experience on the east coast. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how our location affects what/how we see. Have a great day. 😊

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  18. I haven’t gotten too in depth. I wrote a scene in Yak Guy where the sun dipped below the clouds sending a spray of lights across the landscape. I occasionally note the long shadows. Out here the big difference is summer. Fires tend to make dramatic sunsets. There is a mood difference between the word sunset and sundown that we can take advantage of, too.

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  19. I have always marveled at how beautiful sunsets are in the southwestern states such as Arizona and New Mexico, but never thought about what made them different. As a nature lover, I need to pay closer attention to these things as I know they will enhance my writing. Beautiful and thoughtful post, Gwen.

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    • Thank you very much, Joan. I’ve learned a lot through this one trip facing west. I suspect your area has brilliant sunsets. I’d love to see photos. 😊

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  20. A lovely post, Gwen. We’re fortunate to live in a rural setting and appreciate a range of sunsets – all of them beautiful in their own way. The family have taken photographs of the sunsets here from the palest wash of gold behind stark tree silhouettes to the deep pink and blue glory highlighting banks of clouds. I’ll watch tonight’s with renewed interest after reading this – thanks!

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    • Oh, Alex, how wonderful that your family takes photos of the sunsets! Maybe a photo book someday, accompanied by your reflections? I would love to see it/read it.💗

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  21. Lovely post, Gwen. I completely agree with you about the Arizona sunrises and sunsets…they are stunning. I feel the same when I’m at the beach…watching in awe. Beautiful quote by Mary Balogh. Thanks for bringing some beauty to our morning, Gwen. xo

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  22. I’ve seen sunrises and sunsets in urban, suburban, and rural settings in several US states and in a few countries. I’m ashamed to say I never stopped to think about their differences. I only remember enjoying their beauty. I’ll have to be more careful in the future to look for what makes them unique as well as what makes them so breathtaking. I suspect that would help my writing (in addition to making me more appreciative of them for the gifts that they are). Thanks, Gwen.

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    • This was an eye-opener for me and through the experience, I definitely see the skies differently now. Thank you so much, Staci, for adding to this conversation. 💗

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  23. We’ve just returned from a holiday in the Scottish Islands. On our last day on Islay, we had to get up very early in order to catch the 6:50 ferry back to the mainland. Rising at 5:40, we were privileged to see an amazing sunrise over Jura. Our room faced it directly. The colours were amazing.

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  24. Living in the middle of a busy town I seem to be far removed from the beauty of nature. I very often miss seeing the sun go down, or rising for that matter. This past year has changed so much, the way we think or even notice, something I sadly, hadn’t acknowledged before.

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