Friday, February 11, 2011

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

By Susan
Let's admit it: we've all been knocked out by the recent weather. Regardless of where you are--the Midwest, Northeast, the South, and even us here in The United States of Texas, Mother Nature has iced us, snowed us in, and dropped temperatures to places that well, they just shouldn't go if you live in Dallas.
As much as I'd hoped that snow days would be conducive to writing, I freely admit that no new words of mine hit the page in the past two weeks of our wintry mayhem. With children home from school, a full work load that waited for no weather, and my own inability to focus during the chaos, I did little besides some late night edits. But looking out across the icy expanse did get me thinking about setting the scene and using weather as an important placeholder in my writing.

"Remember to get the weather in your damn book--it's very important," says Papa Hemingway. And he's right. With that said, the original opening scene of my novel spent two full pages on the rain that was blowing over the mountain and into the scene. Was it important? Yes. Was it interesting? No. Good uses of weather set the tone without taking over the scene. Bad uses of weather take the focus away from the characters, plot, and action.
Then again, too little mention of weather warrants another perspective. In a writer's critique group I once frequented, a peer's novel took place during a hurricane. Yet he hardly mentioned the fact that every moment of his dialog was taking place in such a storm. "I didn't want to overdo it on the weather thing," he'd said. Yet by not giving the storm enough credit, he'd forgotten an important thing: if you are using the weather as character, it better well have something to say.

It's a balance, like everything else in writing. Paint the picture in watercolor for your reader--let them fill in the details with their own imagination. Allow the reader to feel the humid blast of summer storm blowing in when your write about the churning sea that sharply breaks on muddy sand. Wrap yourself in autumn, showing your readers the bright October sky. Let them hear the rustle of the crisp leaves under your feet. Give them spring like a gift: wrapped in the blossoms and budding of the earth spilling open.
And if you must make it snow, please leave out the ice- it makes the roads treacherous here in ill-equipped Texas. Instead, chill your reader with the plush powder of Colorado and warm them with cocoa by the fire.
Don't leave the weather out. It makes life like cardboard. But don't overdo it either (ahem, Mother Nature? You overdid Superbowl week juuuust a little bit.)
Remember the weather, as Hemingway says--and create a richer manuscript. What would we do without it?


  1. I rarely write about the weather because someone once told me, "We've all experienced a good thunder storm. You don't need to talk about it for pages at a time." But I've come to learn real people love to talk about (complain about) the weather. That doesn't mean characters should do it, but it means they should be aware of it, too. The struggle is finding the balance.

    Sorry you've been pelted with snow. I might be the only one to say this, but we'll take some!
    <>< Katie

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Katie. I grew up in a place with seasons and have often wished for more winter over the last 9 years that we've lived in Texas. But after the past two weeks, I'm done! Winter is great, but for me, I like it best in small doses.


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