Saturday, April 23, 2016

How Does the Weather Affect Your Writing? by Victoria Chatham

Our Round RobinTopic this month asks have you noticed how weather is used in writing? How have you used weather in your writing? Drama? Mood? Revelation?  
I can never think of writing weather related scenes without recalling the oft-quoted line ‘It was a dark and stormy night’. The quote may well be remembered, but perhaps less so is the rest of the sentence.

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

This is the opening to Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1830 Gothic novel Paul Clifford and what a scene it conjures up, especially with that wind ‘rattling along the housetops’. You can bet your last dollar nothing good is coming out of this situation.

In 1983 the English Department of San Jose State University decided to sponsor a competition for the worst opening sentences. They had no idea how popular the response would be. There is now an annual competition with several sub-categories. For the list of 2015 winners check out There is even a Dark and Stormy Night cocktail made from ginger beer and zaya rum courtesy of the Swig Bar in San Francisco. Schultz had his cartoon character, Snoopy, sitting on top of his kennel with his typewriter and starting his novel with that line.

Weather in novels or movies can be a huge catalyst for disaster which in turn creates conflict. Think of the aftermath provided by the hurricanes in the Wizard of Oz and Twister, snow and cold in The Shining and The Day After Tomorrow. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s novel Heat and Dust portrays those elements in India and in the thriller Smokescreen, set in South Africa, heat creates all sorts of problems for Dick Francis’s character Edward Lincoln.

In my own writing I’ve used a bright, sunny day to depict my hero’s sense of well-being. This fact lulls him into a feeling of contentment which is then shattered when he arrives home to find his wife is missing. During the subsequent hue and cry, a heavy rainstorm brings more drama. In viewing a misty autumn morning my heroine muses on the passage of time. The last time she looked on this scene it had been spring time. The use of the weather in each of these scenes enhances or heightens the conflict for my characters and is as useful a writing tool as using the play of light and dark to create interest.

See how these authors make use of the weather in their writing: