weather is a writer's best friend

7 Reasons Weather Is a Writer’s Friend

7 ways to improve your writing with weatherEver since Edward Bulwer-Lytton slapped readers with his infamous “dark and stormy night” line, writers everywhere have been leery of misusing weather in their stories.

After all, who among us wants a contest for the worst opening lines in fiction named after us?

But avoiding weather altogether is a mistake of its own. Weather offers all kinds of atmospheric, descriptive, and plot-advancing advantages.

Let’s a look at a few.

7 Ways Weather Improves Your Story

1. Sets the Mood

Ever notice how, in a movie, whenever a character receives bad news, it starts raining? Using weather to mirror the character’s attitude and set the tone can strengthen a scene’s emotional impact.

2. Offers Symbolism

To a character at war, snow at Christmastime might make him reminiscent about home (unless, of course, he grew up in Australia). Because weather and its rotation in the seasons is universal, it offers built-in value as a symbolic motif.

3. Raises the Stakes

All kinds of natural-disaster stories are built entirely around the weather’s ability to become life-threatening. You can also utilize nasty weather on a smaller scale to increase the stakes in any story. As April Henry put it in her July 2003 Writer’s Digest article “Build the Thrill,”

Life is complicated enough when the Mafia and the CIA want you dead, but what if you’re also trapped by a snowstorm in an isolated farmhouse without power?

4. Heightens the Tension

Let’s take that isolated-farmhouse-in-a-snowstorm example and say your character knows a serial killer is stalking the woods outside. Thanks to the weather, your character can’t get out—but, of course, the serial killer will want in. Readers won’t be able to look away.

5. Introduces Irony

A beautiful spring morning, complete with chirping birds, set on a muddy battlefield presents a contrast that brings all the details into sharper focus. Maybe your characters falls in love in the midst of a thunderstorm, or maybe they receive that batch of bad news on a sun-soaked beach.

6. Creates an Interesting Setting

Weather has the ability to take a scene from two-dimensional to interactive three-dimensional. It removes the sterility and forces characters and readers alike to feel the places in which they find themselves. Add rain, wind, snow, or humidity for extra spice in practically any setting.

7. Presents Evocative Imagery

In my historical western A Man Called Outlaw, I used a snowflake to not only reference a beautiful image, but to make an important statement about my character’s aloneness. Weather is visually striking, and that’s always an asset to a writer.

***

While utilizing these positive attributes of weather to bring your stories to life, make sure you remember the lesson offered by Bulwer-Lytton. Weather, like most description, is best delivered in small doses, interspersed with the action and dialogue, and offered only when important.

Readers won’t let you get away with long paragraphs describing the rain trickling down the window—but they will appreciate the glittering edge of vibrancy imparted to your story by the proper use of weather.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Have you read a story in which weather was used effectively? Tell me in the comments!

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in iTunes).

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. I love using weather in my stories to illustrate the passage of time. I also love using rain and storms in positive situations and sunny days in negative situations. I love rain storms so I don’t want to contribute to their bad rep. Also, I live in Florida, so the sun usually becomes more of a nuisance than a welcome warmth.

  2. Weather presents endless opportunities, and juxtaposition is one of my favorites as well.

  3. My current story “Way of the Wind” has an semi-allegorical setting, but the physical landscape is very similar to the area around my home. The weather is a very useful tool in it as well.

  4. I’ve always wondered about that line. It gets trashed all the time, yet it’s the same beginning used by Madeline L’Engle in her classic, A WRINKLE IN TIME.

    Nothing current comes to mind, but Laura Ingalls Wilder used weather brilliantly in her LITTLE HOUSE series.

  5. I love this post. I caught up on your blog today. You make some good points on using weather in your writing. Thanks for the tip. Cannot think of a book at the moment, but Titanic was a good example of a movie with weather.

  6. @Galadriel: Finding the familiar in the unfamiliar is one of the most enjoyable parts of speculative fiction.

    @Kathryn: I have a feeling L’Engle used that line on purpose to spoof Bulwer-Lytton.

    @Mom: Yep, Titanic is probably one of the best-known natural-disaster stories.

  7. I’ve never really thought about the weather in stories, so this post has given me something to think about. Great post!

  8. Glad it tickled your thinker. I hope it generates some interesting scenes for you.

  9. I agree about L’Engle. When I read that first line, it sounds facetious to me. It’s a close third person to Meg, after all.

  10. Speaking of L’Engle, she used weather to great effect in the Wrinkle in Time books.

  11. I read a lot of James Lee Burke and many of his stories are set in south Louisiana. When he describes the clouds, and thunderstorms off in the gulf, you can almost feel the mist on your face.
    It adds a lot to his stories.
    Good post.s

  12. I think many of the classic writers – Dickens, Austen, Charlotte Bronte – used weather to great effect in their novels, but they do it in such a way that it doesn’t jump out at you. It’s simply there, a backdrop that isn’t meant to be noticed by itself. “Jane Eyre” is a very good example of that, as most of the scenes take place on rainy days, except for the hopeful ending, which was in sunshine.

    Interesting post, as usual!

  13. @Life: I haven’t read Burke, but he sounds excellent. I’m always impresses by authors who can draw me into their settings.

    @Abigail: “Lighting” is something that’s far too easy for authors to overlook, but personally I find it vital in being able to strike the right tone. My medieval novel Behold the Dawn refused to work until I adjusted most of the scenes to take place on cloudy days.

  14. I use weather in some of my stories, just not in any of them lately. I enjoyed reading your post and I think I might try to use weather a bit more.

  15. Weather is always a fun way to spice up a scene. Have fun with it!

  16. Great post! This is something I’ve been thinking about for the past few months.

    In the category of movies and weather a tornado, is used in both the Wizard of Oz and Seasons in the Heart. The weather pushes Dorothy into an adventure to learn the real meaning of home. In Seasons of the Heart, it forces the patch-work family to work together and bond more deeply.

  17. Both are excellent examples. Wizard of Oz uses weather in a spectacular and destructive way; Seasons of the Heart uses it in a quiet and resolute way.

  18. Another interesting post.

  19. Thanks for reading, Shaddy!

  20. A brief reference to the weather can definitely be a good thing and is sometimes vital to the setting. I can think of several books in which weather has been crucial to the storyline. Dune as one extreme example is centered around the completely dry weather that exists on that world/ It’s a vital part of the setting and storyline.

    It doesn’t need to be referenced all the time, of course, but it certainly helps keep things interesting as the story goes on.

  21. Dune is a great example of weather being used well as an inherent part of a story. The weather in Dune was practically a character unto itself.

  22. Diana Gabaldon has used weather very effectively in creating scenes you SEE in your mind vs FEEL; to this day I have a scene burned in my mind, that I read over a year ago, about snow outside and candles in the windows. Wait, I take that back – I think that scene even made me FEEL cold.

    But mostly, rainy and cold weather to me always just makes me want to curl up with a good book :).

  23. I’m not familiar with Gabaldon’s work, but that kind evocative imagery is exactly what brings stories to life. Would that we could all do that!

  24. Although it has long been overlooked, Virginia Woolf theorized about the use of weather in fiction in her essays and was a master at using it in her fiction.

  25. I look forward to reading Woolf one of these days, and now that you’ve mentioned it, I’ll keep an especial eye out for her use of weather.

  26. When writing, my ideas flow just like how the rain flows. I remember one time, when I came across professional author Delatorro’s book in >>http://bit.ly/eluyUl, my dream to write became clearer. It was a rainy day. =)

  27. Rainy days do have the capability to boost the imagination. There’s something mellow and soothing about the low light and the rhythm of the rain.

  28. In my novel, I use a raging blizzard to strand characters. There is nothing for them to do except sit by the fire and talk about the awful events that happened in the past to their families. How each of their families were forever bound to each other because of those events. When the characters begin to argue after finding out some unpleasant secrets, there is no where for them to go and escape from the truth. Unless they want to leave during a blizzard and freeze to death.

  29. Nice. The blizzard makes the necessities of your story logical and ups the stakes at the same time.

  30. Nice post. I can’t imagine NOT using weather. It is an important part of our everyday life. Unless a story takes place indoors, weather is a factor. It is part of the setting.

  31. Weather is awesome. Nothing brings an outdoor setting to life faster than even a brief reference to the weather.

  32. In the case of my WIP, weather’s actually a key part of the climax. A hurricane, specifically.

    This is why, when I did my worldbuilding for this fantasy story, I had to factor in a climate allowing for the formation of such things. So I have a land that’s Mediterranean-like.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.