The Calm and the Storm: How Weather in Literature Can Make or Break a Story

 

Weather plays an extremely important role in a novel. It provides atmosphere, helps set the tone and setting, foreshadows plot, and indicates a character’s emotions.

Too often we forget how much weather affects us in real life. It influences our mood, health, the food we consume, and the activities we engage in; it sometimes threatens our survival. When the weather takes a turn for the worse, it’s captivating. Whether it’s a hurricane, tornado, flash flood, monsoon, forest fire, mudslide, or an earthquake, the news captures the disaster and people are drawn in.

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However, most days the weather isn’t exciting. More often than not, it’s cloudy, sunny, or a tad chiller than normal. In reality, people talk about those days, but in writing, those days are boring. Readers don’t want winding descriptions of an average day. They want foreboding weather. They want the remarkable.

So, while it’s vital to include weather in your novel, analyze if the weather is important to the scene you’re writing. If it’s a normal day, briefly mentioning that it’s overcast and drizzly outside is enough. Readers will receive the information they require to picture the scene. If the weather is abnormal or symbolic in some way, then show the weather rather than describing what it is doing. You want readers to experience the weather, instead of simply noticing it.

No matter what, avoid clichés. Describing heat rising off asphalt in shimmering waves, how the wind makes the trees dance, of how the sky is crystal clear have been used too often. Clichés make writing vague and unimaginative. You want your novel to portray your story and your characters. You want to engage all of the senses, so that readers know what the weather smells, sounds, and tastes like.

In James Joyce’s “The Dead,” Joyce uses a lengthy description of snow to showcase melancholy and how all worldly concerns recede.

“It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight…. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

Sometimes, less description is more:

In Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita,” Nabokov evokes the swiftness and unexpected nature of how the character’s mother died. Readers can visualize the quickness and the outlandishness of such a death.

“My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three…”

Concentrate on how you want to use weather in your story, and then balance out how much time you spend on weather in your writing. When it’s extremely important, spend more time showing the weather. Make it an experience readers won’t forget.

(Photo courtesy of Jos van Wunnik.)

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