Welcome to the Witty Nib Writing Club, where we study all things writing and look to hone our craft! This week we look at something I find desperately under-used in fiction: weather.
Weather can do a lot for a story, but a lack of weather is common in stories. I hope this article can convince you to consider the weather in your chapters!
5. Set a Mood
It was a dark and stormy night…
Sure, this may be a cliche beginning and something to be eschewed – even in an ironic manner – but you gotta admit it tells you exactly what the following passage will feel like. The sentence establishes a sense of foreboding, gloom, and struggle.
And you can still use a dark, stormy night to set such a tone as long as you don’t state it in such a straightforward manner. A streak of lightning, low-lying clouds, a drip-drip-drip from the guttering, all ways of getting a mood going.
4. Create a Disaster Story
Disasters create trauma and tension and can be the central aspect of a story. Whether as a force that creates a need to rebuild or as a looming terror that gives characters a time frame within which to act, a storm or natural disaster can create as well as it can destroy.
Even if you’re not creating a disaster story with a storm at its heart, think about how storms and inclement weather may have created a disaster at another time or place in your world. How does this affect your characters now? Are there any lingering fears or lasting national/regional trauma?
A story I’ve recently read that makes excellent use of storms is the Brandon Sanderson series The Stormlight Archives. The storms are semi-predictable, absolutely terrifying, and the character must plan their entire lives around them. It’s a great (if painfully long) fantasy, but I can at least attest that the first book is worth a read and makes great use of weather.
3. Create Symbols and Metaphors
As your main character goes from brooding to passionate, you can change the weather from a gentle drizzle to a thunderstorm. You can go from freezing cold to blazing hot to symbolize the movement of the plot.
Similar to the #5 comment above, weather can be used to represent other parts of your book and complement the way your plots and characters change. Weather gives a sense of feeling you can’t easily replicate without “telling” rather than showing,
2. Enhance Sense of Time Passing
How many books do you know take place in the winter? In the summer?
Many books do show seasons or a single season, but many do not. Many, of course, take place over the course of a couple days or a couple weeks, but several are supposed to take place over the course of years. Seasons are something people can grasp, especially those who get to experience all four of them, and we can feel the passage of time.
The aforementioned Stormlight Archives book has a lot of storms, but the passage of seasons and years isn’t outlined that well. There are no winters or summers, though there is a small season of gentle rain called “The Weeping”. While storms do make a massive impact on the book, weather as a sense of passing time was absent – and I tend to think it would have improved it.
A book (er, series) that does use weather to justify time passage is Harry Potter. Though the asides and descriptions are brief, winter comes and goes during the school year. Summer arrives at the end of every book, and it leaves at the beginning of the next. It helps put the books in line with the passage of time during and between them.
1. Establish Location
I wrote – YEARS ago now – an article about the importance of climate on the shaping of culture. Though things such as natural resources are important to establish culture, weather and the ability to grow crops is also essential for the purpose.
A climate that is wet and warm is entirely likely to have a different set of expectations and celebrations than one that is hard and cold. The puritanical northern colonies planted by the British could not have been so established in the south – and vice versa. The location and environment molded what would happen, even if people were the instruments to make it happen.
Weather is essential to helping to define the location of your book. Are the winters hard, leading to increased time spent indoors, or are the summers long to encourage the gathering of crops? Does rain fall little enough that people can’t live in close quarters lest they risk running out of drinking water? Using weather can help your readers establish, even if only subconsciously, things such as this. Make use of it!
Have you ever mentioned the weather in one of your stories? How did it play into the scene or book? Let me know in the comments!