Weather is quite possibly the most common conversational topic, at least in the United Kingdom.
It also contributed to one of the most widely quoted opening lines;
“It was a dark and stormy night”
But can weather do anything else to your fiction, other than setting the scene, or giving characters something to talk about?
It’s funny because “they” always recommend that you don’t open a chapter with the weather. But I actually think that weather can be a super important part of your world-building, scene setting and even character development!
Here are 3 ways you can use it in your fiction.
1) Really pay attention to the weather around you and how it affects you
In her 52 Dates for Writers, Claire Wingfield asks you to write nothing but a weather diary for a week. When you really stop and pay attention to the changing weather, you’ll begin to notice how different it can be from moment to moment, not just hour to hour.
Focus on the language you use, and try not to say the same thing every day. Be as inventive as possible. Think about the effect of the changing temperature on your mood, how the colours alter in different types of light, and the way people relate to one another.
You’ve just created an awesome resource that you can refer to when you’re writing a story. You’ll have a good grasp on the effects different weather types have on your characters because you know how they affect you.
Which leads us nicely on to…
2) Focus on how the weather affects your characters.
Different people react to weather in different ways. Personally, I love a good thunderstorm. I get excited at the first sign of a snowfall. I get grouchy when it’s windy, and I love the smell outside after a rainy spell.
But that doesn’t mean my characters will. My bounty hunter Grey O’Donnell doesn’t like rainstorms because he lives in the saddle. Rain means different things to both of us.
Wingfield advises that you write or rewrite a particular scene in which the weather reflects your protagonist’s mood. Does it cheer them up? Make them sad? How does that reaction affect how they relate to other people or their job? The Lord of the Flies is littered with examples where the weather reflects the state of affairs on the island.
Next, do the same where the weather is in contrast to the mood. Is your character joyously bounding around in the fog? Or is your protagonist gloomy on a brilliant, sunny day? Is this more or less difficult than the first exercise?
It’ll let you explore why your protagonist feels the way they do – if a sunrise makes them sad, or they love blustery gales, then you can explore the reasons behind that.
Finally, write a scene in which the weather causes a major conflict. How you choose to do that is entirely up to you, but remember that it could be a conflict with the environment, not just between characters. Maybe you’ve hit writer’s block and you’re not sure how to move forward.
Raymond Chandler once advised that, at this point, you should “have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand”. Why not have a storm break overhead or a sand storm roll in?
While you’re writing, see if you can actually take out the weather references, or word them in such a way that you’re left with a mood, rather than a weather report.
3) Ask yourself how weather affects your world.
I’m not even going to mention Waterworld. Oops…too late…
But look at Mad Max: Fury Road. The weather played a crucial role since the absence of rain contributed to the dry, hot, dusty environment.
In post-apocalyptic narratives, the weather often becomes the quickest way to show the devastating effects of whatever apocalypse they’ve gone for. Acid rain, dusty deserts, floods, sand storms – they’re all obstacles you can throw at your character.
But then look at Gothic horror. Think about fog-soaked London, misty moors, endless rain. The fog in The Others was crucial to keeping the characters inside their rambling Channel Islands house. Unearthly fog also contributed to the general sense of unease at the climax of the third series of Penny Dreadful.
The atmospheric conditions can give you a great way to explore the world you’ve built in a less obvious way. After all, it’s an easy way to add mood or atmosphere to your world. Unnatural conditions imply an unnatural cause!
So there you have it! 3 cool and easy ways to use the weather to explore your characters, build a new world, or even add plot points.
Over to you! How else might you use weather in your fiction?
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