Monday, August 1, 2011

When Weather Turns Bad

Weather Check: Warm and muggy. Hopefully we'll get some thunderstorms this morning.

I've been noticing a terrible trend in weather lately. It seems to be turning against people--mostly main characters. As I read some YA literature and especially manuscripts, I keep coming across phrases like, "She opened the door and the heat assaulted her."

Now I'm all for personification, but I am starting to wonder why weather has become so vengeful against main characters.

So let me just say a few things about weather.

Don't let your weather become cliche. If you take the time to mention weather in your writing, it better be for a reason. Why does it matter if it is the third day in a row of 100 degree heat? What is important about the fog settling over the village? What does the first rain of the season symbolize? How does the bone-chilling cold affect what happens next?

Take rain. Why make it rain in your book? Well, here are a few reasons: Atmospherics, rain can be mysterious, isolating, depressing, confusing.... Rain can symbolize a cleansing, a rebirth. Rain can be a plot device to force the main character into certain situations. Rain is a great equalizer, it falls on both the just and the unjust, the dead and the living. Rain can restore life. Rain can also bring flood, destruction, exposure and death.

Above all, how does your POV character feel about it? Every description has to be told as it relates to your main character. A character who just moved from Arizona to North Dakota will feel differently about the winter snow and cold than a local.

Sometimes I think writing tips have been so drilled into our minds that as writers we go out of our way to say something the hard way instead of the simple way. I believe that often phrases such as "The heat assaulted her" and "the cold swallowed him" are ways to avoid using the word "was" and not deliberate attempts at personification for literary purposes.

Such wording often feels awkward and forced, especially when the next sentence doesn't relate to the weather at all. It makes one wonder why the heat is so angry at her. And if there is no reason for the heat's unwarranted attack, why phrase it like that?

It's okay to use the word "was" occasionally: "It was so cold my fingers were immediately numb and I couldn't manage the zipper on my coat." Even better is if the the love interest has to move in close to help with the zipper and the cool vapors of their breath mix together. See?! Now the weather relates to the main character, moves the plot forward, and carries symbolic meaning.

So try to remember, weather is never just weather.


  1. The weather is disgusting here. I woke up to dripping windows (not from rain), walked outside, and found out you can't even breathe out there. Didn't stop me from sending my son to swimming lessons, but hey, he's a kid. :)

  2. So true. I recently read a book where a beautiful wedding takes place during a downpour. It wouldn't have been as beautiful with any other weather.

  3. Brooke: That better not be an omen...

  4. Amen. I've read stories where they used the weather as a crutch - and I cringed. But then I've read stories where it's used brilliantly. Love that!

    Also, thanks for helping with the wicked word, "was." I've been so guilty. It's only been in the last year where I've been hacking at it, learning new writing techniques to get them down to a bare minimum. Thanks for your insights!

  5. I read something back in my English major college days about how rain always represents a baptism of sorts. Since then, I can't ever read a book or watch a film and think about how the characters are coming out of the rain somehow refreshed, renewed, or somehow changed. It doesn't always work, but most of the time it fits.