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!
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