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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Controlling The Weather in Your Manuscript

Who says you can’t control the weather? You can in your manuscript, and what’s more, you can use it to enhance the mood, guide the plot, or boost the climax.

The weather plays a part in our daily lives: what we wear, how we plan events. The same can be said for your characters. They, too, can notice the temperature outside, what the sky looks like, how the air feels. Your characters’ observations ground them (and the reader!) in the setting, and add a layer of realism to your story.

The weather can also be symbolic of an underlying theme: Rain can symbolize sadness, despair, or new life; a blanket of snow may represent a feeling of stagnation, or hibernation; wind and storms often denote foreshadow a violent event; fog or mist are often the prelude to a revelation or another important event; moving clouds often represent change; thunder, the voice of God or gods, and so on.

For example, in “Dracula”, Bram Stoker chose London’s rainy, foggy climate to enhance his Gothic novel. Count Dracula can control the weather, creating mists to hide his presence. When he arrives in England, one of the worst storms ever recorded takes place, which, incidentally, he created for his grand entrance.

In “The Great Gatsby”, F. Scott Fitzgerald used the weather to chart his character’s moods—rain for tension, sun for laughter. Daisy ultimately has to choose between going away with Gatsby, or staying with Tom—on the hottest day of the year. The weather perfectly connects with the conflict.

On a more contemporary note, Stephenie Myer successfully created an eerie atmosphere when she chose Forks, Washington for the setting of “Twilight”. The rain (even of the freezing variety) is a backdrop in the story, providing a feeling of chilly foreboding. Bella moves from her comfort zone in sunny, hot Arizona to the constant cloud cover and rain of Forks, symbolizing her progression to a much more mysterious world.

In science fiction and fantasy, the sky is the limit when it comes to adding weather to your manuscript. When you are world building, the weather becomes a crucial element, and you are in control. Volcanoes, floods, earthquakes, wind, rainbows, and lightning are magically yours to command, and vividly express to your readers.

On a much grander scale, many writers use weather as an “event”. In “State of Fear”, Michael Critchton used global warming as the backdrop for the story, wherein the main villains are environmentalists. In Stephen King’s “Dolores Claiborne”, the tension of the story mounts as a total eclipse of the sun looms. Of course, this type of writing can be tricky; research is key.

Whatever the weather, don’t forget to add a splash of rain, a mysterious fog, or a perfect, sunny day. Used appropriately and imaginatively, weather will have a huge impact on your story.

How’s the weather in your manuscript?

Cynthia Watson is in the query process for her first novel, WIND, a Young Adult Paranormal Romance, while writing the second book in the saga, SAND.

Cynthia lives just north of Toronto, Canada, with her Cocker Spaniel, Symon, and five rescued cats.

Cynthia blogs at: http://cynthiawatson.blogspot.com/
Follow Cynthia on Twitter: http://twitter.com/CynWatson


Scott said...

I love to incorporate the weather in my projects . . . which all take place in/around Nashville, TN. Luckily, Nashville has some crazy weather - 80 degrees in December some years, and 20 other years. So I'm able to play with the weather quite a bit. Then, there's the heat and stifling humidity of summer. Oy!

Amie McCracken said...

This is rather apt for today since Christine is hosting a Rainy Day Blogfest at her blog
and we all have scenes with rain!

salarsenッ said...

I especially love to use weather to set an underlining tone, a setting. It's always there, yet not in-your-face.
@Amie, I just read a few of those. Good stuff.

Indigo said...

Mine begins in Autumn idyllic scenery and robust colors. As the story progresses the weather turns cold and gray - into a snowy tempest that chills you inside and out.

As in life the weather is never predictable. (Hugs)Indigo

Tere Kirkland said...

Heh, my current novel is set in New Orleans, so the weather is ALWAYS a factor in what's happening. If I can use it to establish tone as well as setting, even better!

Great post!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I also use weather for the purpose of mood. The trick is not to be cliche when you use it.

Stephanie McGee said...

It's usually hot, if they're on earth, or non-existent because they're in space.

I do agree that weather can be so utterly key in setting the mood. And it's the one thing I always forget to think about.

Julia said...

A very informative and creative narrative for budding writers and old pros. I just finished reading Stephen King's Dreamcatcher and the whole climax of the story took place in a raging snowstorm to signifying a hefty death toll. Well written.

Suzi McGowen said...

Sadly (or not) my WiP takes place in Southern California. In summer. At night.

There is no change in weather.

Shannon said...

I've used temperature more than proper weather changes. I don't think there's much in the way of rain or heavy wings in my tale but I differentiate seasons by heat waves in summer and cold winters spent by fireplaces.

Cynthia Watson said...

Thanks for all the interesting comments! Hope the weather is good this weekend for everyone!

John Capraro said...

Done well, weather can play an important role in a story. You have to be careful, however, when using it to tie into a character's emotions, or you'll wind up with what's called the Pathetic Fallacy. As Nancy Kress states in her book, Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: "The trick is not to make the immediate weather in a given scene an exact and detailed parallel to a character's emotions." Used with a light hand, the weather metaphor can work well.