Hurricane Irma left 94 percent of Naples, Florida without power. It also left them with windless, mucky days and horrendous humidity. As I scrolled through my Facebook feed throughout the two weeks after Irma, I noticed an immediate difference in the posts of those who had regained power (and therefore air conditioning) and those still waiting for relief. I also noticed immediate changes in the tones and attitudes on Facebook the moment someone’s power was turned back on.
Irma illustrates how weather can affect your characters both emotionally and physically, the same way it effects us. (Look at the excitement about summer changing into fall fluttering around in social media posts.) If you are in the middle of a writing project, consider taking a hard look at weather.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Bad weather hinders action scenes. If you write military, pulp, or anything in the action genre, adding in a bout of bad weather can spice up your action scenes and increase tension for your reader. Consider having your hero do a car chase in the rain. Make your army roast in their armor. Snow can hide evidence from your private eye. Sure, your characters will hate you for it, but that’s the whole point of the story…
Weather can affect a story’s mood. If you want your readers to feel lighthearted, give them a crisp fall day or a warm day at the beach. If you want to create something more melancholy, give them rain. Snow can go both ways. Fresh, crisp snow under a blue sky feels far different than sludgy, brown, February snow with a grey sky. Consider using weather as another tool with which you can toy with your reader’s emotions.
Weather will also affect your characters’ moods and decision making. See above. Don’t forget that your characters’ moods will affect their decision making. This is key. Your normally disciplined character might do something rash if he is miserable. Remember in The Hobbit, how the dwarves wandered off the path in Mirkwood? Mirkwood’s weather helped drive that little bit of stupid…
Bad weather creates discord. This might not happen as much in a story with modern luxuries, but if you are writing about characters who don’t have access to central air and heat, you are going to see a little bit of tension. Think of the tension between Scrooge and Bob Cratchet over how much coal to burn to keep the counting house warm. Also, remember that people often want someone to blame when things don’t go right. The Fellowship of the Ring could barely stick together when the weather turned bad, and they had a wizard with them.
Weather can actually be a character. In some stories, weather might actually be the antagonist. In the classic movie Key Largo, a hurricane was one of the villains. Earthquakes and volcanos have also played similar roles. The Who disaster movie genre wouldn’t exist without bad weather.
Including weather makes your story feel real. Your plot may rock, but it’s those little details about your characters’ environment that create the illusion of reality. Think of the reader’s mind as a blank canvas. As you tell the story, you add paint to the canvas. If your story focuses too much on plot and leaves out essential details, that canvas will have a picture in the foreground, but it won’t have anything in the background. Fill the canvas.
How have you used weather in your own stories?