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Weather in a Story

Discussion in 'Café Life' started by Paul Whybrow, Oct 4, 2017.

  1. Paul Whybrow

    Paul Whybrow Venerated Member

    I've just finished reading a crime novel called Gold, Frankincense and Dust, by a writer new to me, Valerio Varesi. It's the third story featuring Commissario Soneri, and I'll be seeking out the first two investigations, as it's an engrossing mystery.

    The action takes place around Parma, in northern Italy, where the detective probes the mysterious murder of a Romanian immigrant, a beautiful woman loved by many powerful businessmen. Her burnt corpse is discovered beside a fogbound autostrada, after a multi-vehicle pile-up. The cover shows a foggy road:


    [​IMG] The entire investigation proceeds in mist and fog, with the Commissario as lost in his enquiries as he is in trying to find his way around the countryside with visibility down to a few metres. Further confused by a failing personal relationship, he sees spectres everywhere. The author creates a brooding atmosphere where nothing is quite what it seems.

    This year I've read several novels where the weather was as much a character in the story, as the location and the protagonists—ultimately determining their fate. The Tilted World, by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly, made me feel soaked through, as it's set in endless rain of 1927 when the Mississippi River burst through the levee.

    I felt frozen to my marrow reading Butcher's Crossing by John Williams (whose Stoner was recently rediscovered as a cherishable classic), as the hapless hero joins a doomed hunt for buffalo in a hidden valley, getting trapped in a blizzard.

    The deservedly-praised The Dry by Jane Harper is a crime story set in sweltering drought conditions in the Australian Outback where the harshness of living there and the toughness of character it imbues are as merciless as the sun.

    In my own writing, I've made sure that the weather has a role that influences what happens. One of my Cornish Detective investigations takes place in the wettest winter on record, in 2012. The downpour helps the serial killer elude his pursuers, destroying forensic evidence by literally washing it away. My detective finally resorts to a 19th-century solution of tracking down the killer, by enlisting the skills of a bloodhound, whose ability to detect smells, even in heavy rain, is mind-boggling.

    Have you set any of your stories in adverse weather conditions?

    How does the climate affect your characters' behaviour?

    Do you have any favourite books where the weather dominates the action?
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  2. Katie-Ellen Hazeldine

    Katie-Ellen Hazeldine Venerated Member Founding Member

    The Go-Between, LP Hartley - ruled by heat...till the storm breaks; powerfully and numinously atmospheric. Leo is broken by Virgo, calendar wise and human wise, as Marion breaks little Leo Colston.

    Dark Matter, Michelle Paver (and who is her agent? That's how I found Litopia; looking to see who her agent was after reading that book)

    Although with Dark Matter it's more a question of Arctic climate than weather. But weather lights and darkens landscape, and I do love a book where the landscape is a character. What do we live on, but the skin of the landscape and the underlying bones. And then, as with Dark Matter, there are the landscapes where we just don't belong.
    • Like Like x 2
  3. Carol Rose

    Carol Rose Guardian Founding Member

    I wrote a 12-book series on weather control, and the devastating effects it had on Earth, one hundred years in the future. :) :) I do love it when authors describe the weather in a story, as long as it has a bearing on that story.
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  4. Lex Black

    Lex Black Respected Member

    A major plot point in my final MS was that thunder would happen here and there throughout the story (which took place in a seaside city). Sometimes at cliche dramatic moments, sometimes just at random true to the real thing.

    The kicker was that a major reveal and Wham Line was a character pointing out that it isn't, in fact, thunder, and the horrifying event that happened immediately after.

    I've never really been proud of anything I wrote, but that buildup and reveal was pretty close.
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2017
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  5. James Marinero

    James Marinero Venerated Member Founding Member

    Weather comes in to several of my tales, mainly because the MC is a sailor. As @Paul Whybrow suggests, it can give a wonderful sense of place and eeirness (Jack the Ripper and the London fogs comes to mind; then The Hound of the Baskervilles).

    The one story about the weather that sticks in my memory is 'Wyatt's Hurricane' (Desmond Bagley). It's a classic application of Sun Tzu principles as the MC uses the weather as a weapon in a Caribbean revolution. It's still on one of my bookshelves and due a re-read after 40 years or so (gulp!).
    • Like Like x 1
  6. James Marinero

    James Marinero Venerated Member Founding Member

    Can you imagine the arguments (and wars) that would arise if we could control the weather? OK, you probably did already in your series!
  7. Howard

    Howard Active Member

    Here's where I sound like a total whack-a-doodle...
    I love weather in books as I find it has an enormously emotional affect on me in the real world.
    I find rain uplifting, sun calming and wind inexplicably unnerving.
    Storms are mesmerising and I tend to use them a lot in my writing. In fact, it could be argued that my in-development YA series is entirely centred around storms and weather.
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    • Agree Agree x 1
  8. Carol Rose

    Carol Rose Guardian Founding Member

    It's post-apocalyptic, so instead of the politics of weather control, the backdrop of the series is a group of people trying to identify and and shut down the virus that took over the weather program and made Earth uninhabitable on the surface. :)
    • Like Like x 3
  9. Paul Whybrow

    Paul Whybrow Venerated Member

    Attempts at controlling the weather have been happening for decades, mainly through cloud seeding. More recently, there have been sinister theories about chemtrails.

    If this sounds unlikely to you, be aware that governments have already experimented with germ warfare by secretly spraying their own populations:

    How millions in the UK have been exposed to germ warfare by our own government

    Keep watching the skies! :confused:
    • Agree Agree x 1
  10. Amber

    Amber Active Member

    Why describe anything if it doesn't add something? I can have a near direct experience of almost anything, a storm or a different country, anytime I like and don't need to turn to a book for one. So, description has to have meaning and purpose in terms of character development, world building, and/or story.
    • Agree Agree x 1
    • Fishy Fishy x 1
  11. Howard

    Howard Active Member

    Or it can just be good writing.
    I know that is a terrifying concept these days, but there it is...
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    • Fishy Fishy x 1
  12. Amber

    Amber Active Member

    Good writing has meaning and purpose in the context of the narrative.

    Do you have a different definition of good writing?
    • Fishy Fishy x 1
  13. Howard

    Howard Active Member

  14. Amber

    Amber Active Member

    Your definition of good writing isn't clear at all Howard.

    In your responses, you neglected to define what you think good writing might be. You expressed a belief that people might find good writing frightening. You've told me you think my definition might be different than yours.

    How would you define good writing?
  15. Quillwitch

    Quillwitch Venerated Member

    For some genres like horror, or gothic, it´s a must. I love it too! In fact I make an effort to use it in the first pages of my WIP because i´m a rebel.
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  16. Amber

    Amber Active Member

    I didn't know it was a rule not to use weather on the first page. Or, do you mean we shouldn't say, "It was a dark and stormy night...." :) Oh, that's funny and you're right of course.

    I think they also say never to have your character waking up from a dream in the first chapter.

    A lot of the time weather or setting is a character. Or, it helps us learn about the POV character because the POV character's observations, the tone and content of those observations, tells us how they see the world. So, it can illuminate the character's value system. Or, their assumptions. Or, the rules of the world. Or, just their mood ... and mood can be a result of something that happened on the previous page... each word informing the next.

    A lot of times, I don't care about description. For instance, last week I read a scene where someone gave a detailed description of a palace. The description was okay but she used about 125 words when 25 or less would have done.

    But mostly, I don't need to find my way around the palace. Describing which room leads into what room often has very little purpose unless the layout of the house is going to be integral to the story and then please god find a clever way of doing it. Describing a place in excruciating detail has the same affect on me as telling me to go down to the corner, turn right, walk until I pass old farmer Bob's herd of cows, don't trip on the dead tree root he was told to remove by judge Crayton, walk past the ducks waddling into the Old Yeller pond.....

    ....and I've forgotten where I was going because I'm looking at the duck's tail feathers.

    For me the same is true of weather. It needs to have a purpose or its just rain, distracting from the focus of the story, and while one of my favorite things to do is look at rain, my writing will never do it justice. On the other hand, a description of rain which serves a purpose within the context of the narrative, becomes more than rain. It becomes endowed with magical powers.

    In the context of a well written narrative it can say, "The world was washed clean. They can start again." Or, "It never stopped, surrounding them so even distance between their front door and their neighbors became insurmountable. They were trapped with one another."

    So with descriptions, the question for me is:

    • What does it say about the characters world?
    • What does the characters observations say about them?
    • How can I use it to make what is happening sharper, more potent -- better.
    I found out something interesting recently. The smell of rain which we like so much is called petrichor and it's a real thing, not a trick of the imagination. It's what happens when rain hits soil and bacteria called actinomycetes is released.

    I'd like to end the post here but I thought of one more thing.... so.... like Columbo.... just one more.....

    There was a short story in the New Yorker called A Temporary Matter by Jhumpa Lahiri. I only know about it because I helped a student online write an essay about it, not because I get the New Yorker or anything. But the story won the O. Henry award and the book of short fiction it appeared in won a Pulitzer.

    What's interesting about the story is how light is used. To be short and sweet about it, a married couple lies to one another in the light. When the electric company turns off their lights for a number of days, and they are forced to use candlelight, they become intimate again. The sad thing is their intimacy, their ability to tell one another the truth, leads them to truths they would have rather not know. In the story, light doesn't illuminate, it hides. It's a fascinating use of setting and description.
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  17. Quillwitch

    Quillwitch Venerated Member

    Yeah, i´ve heard you should start your story with the weather because who cares, but yeah, if it´s important to the story then it´s a must. Ah yes the old "dar and story night" phrase. I´ve actually written an entire novel around it, twisting it so that the first chapter is actually called that! REBEL!
  18. Chase Gamwell

    Chase Gamwell Guardian Staff Member

    The cyberpunk thriller novel I just started is going to have a world characterized by neon lights and incessant rain. I might not describe the weather constantly throughout the course of the story, but the weather is going to be presented in such a way that the reader is always aware when rain is falling and when the characters are wet.

    For me, rain is comforting, but also provides an element of claustrophobia (probably not the right word, but...). The reason I say this is because most people enjoy rain, but when it's falling, they're usually inside. Or in a car. Or crammed beneath an umbrella. We're always covered or huddled beneath something when it's raining. And the idea of getting wet when you aren't meant to be bothers a lot of people.

    At the end of the day, it might not mean much to the story I'm writing, but there's a mood that goes along with the weather that I hope really sets the scene for the string of grisly murders the MC is going to have to solve.
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  19. Amber

    Amber Active Member

    I imagine it does mean a lot to the story or it wouldn't occur to you to add it. There are lots of ways of looking at rain, and how your characters choose to think about it says something about them and how it manifests in your world has something to say about the world.

    I can't help thinking about the fun we just had with rain in Houston. I'm one of those people who usually loves rain. Since my house never floods, I wasn't scared when the rain first started falling. I had my sliding glass doors open and was drinking wine. But then it didn't stop. Then it was easy to understand how rain can trap you. Not to mention the terrible things which happened to all kinds of people .... even people very close to me.

    In worlds where there is never rain, and worlds where there is always rain (say California vs. Houston) the people there tend to think about rain differently. When I moved to Texas from California, I didn't even have an umbrella. There's always a drought in California.
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  20. Patricia D

    Patricia D Venerated Member

    Weather is important in the book I recently finished - or maybe it's he book I need to edit one more time. Whatever. The book is set in the southern Appalachian mountains in the Spring and weather plays a role in the plot, as it does there in real life.

    My favorite of all the scenes I've written is in Secrets, Lies & Homicide. A mother interprets the sunny day as nature's failure to mourn her murdered daughter. "If this were Shakespeare, the sky would brood and be dark with clouds..." (an approximation, I don't remember the exact words.)
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