We’ve all watched with horror
what the weather has done to the East Coast just now. All of us who weren’t
actually there, suffering, that is. It’s got me to thinking about weather. I
have a problem with one of the things writers are warned about: Never start your book with the weather.
sure you can do this badly, and maybe enough writers have done so that the
warning came about. But you can do it well, too.
Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky
On an exceptionally hot evening
early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged in S. Place and walked slowly, as though in
hesitation, toward K. Bridge.
Towards the end of November,
during a warm spell, at around nine o’clock in the morning, a train of the
Petersburg-Warsaw line was approaching Petersburg at full steam. It was so damp
and foggy that dawn could barely break; ten paces to the right or left of the
line it was hard to make out anything at all through the carriage windows.
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
London. Michaelmas Term lately over,
and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November
weather. As much mud on the streets, as if the waters had but newly retired
from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a
Megalosaurus forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up
Those are two of my favorite
authors and they may not be yours, but I don’t mind following in their
I consider the weather extremely
important. It dictates what my characters are wearing, how they get around,
what noises they’re hearing and seeing, even what they’re smelling when it
rains, and in the aftermath. It needs to fit the season. If I set a book in
October, my characters have to be conscious of the fact that Halloween is
coming, and in many places the weather will be making a major shift that month.
Hemingway agrees with me. He said,
"Remember to get the weather in your
god damned book - weather is very important."
There is a problem, though.
Weather can be verrry borrring. Just listen to back-to-back news programs where
the weather is talked about for five minutes on each show, whether or not it’s
doing anything at all. Also, it’s such a pervasive part of our lives that it’s
too easy to use clichés in descriptions. You’ve heard this: “Everyone talks
about the weather, but no one does anything about it.” The fact is, everyone
DOES talk about it. “How enough for ya?” “We sure could use the rain.” “How
many inches did you get?” Those are common ways to greet each other in Texas.
It’s hard to find something new to say about sunshine, rain, snow, and wind.
But you can do it!
I like to tie the weather to one
of two things. Either what’s happening in the plot, or to my character’s mood.
Sometimes it can be used for contrast, sometimes to underline. And sometimes
you can bring on a tornado or a storm or a drought and make it part of the
How do you use weather in your
writing? Do you think it’s important, or of secondary importance?
All other pictures are from