A bit of history: weather was largely ignored in novels until the late Eighteenth century when more weather was added to stories. This was a consequence of the Romantic movement & the heightened appreciation of nature that went with it. At the same time, an interest in the individual ‘self’ and how this affected the external world arose. These both led to weather being more and more used in novels/stories.
Use of weather in writing is, however, a frequent trigger for the effect called ‘Pathetic Fallacy’.
Pathetic Fallacy is the projection of human emotions onto phenomena in the natural world. It’s often overblown & self-indulgent but can be effective if used carefully.
A simple example of this is: “The weather added what it could to the gloom.” Weather doesn’t consciously add anything, it’s weather, not a human.
As writers we invent any weather we want to create a mood or setting, drive the plot, show the passage of time, to describe a character.
Movies where weather is significant:
The Crow – raining all the time, represents death, unfinished business.
Edward Scissorhands – snow at end represents purity, cleansing, forgiveness.
Bladerunner – rain sets the mood from the very beginning.
Let’s look at an example of how one weather-related event can be used in a number of ways: Autumn Leaves.
Leaves falling/colouring: jumping in piles of raked leaves metaphor for childhood, innocence
Leaves – raking them = a teen chore, perhaps one of first adult responsibilities = loss of childhood, growing up.
Leaves – walking thru an Autumn forest = perhaps with a friend or lover = joy, beauty, love.
Weather for Character Description.
Weather is used as a metaphor to describe character: you can have a sunny disposition or a stormy countenance.
“I am alive, and drunk on sunlight.” – George R.R. Martin, A Storm of Swords
“You always have my attention. When you’re in the room, you’re my sun.” – Kate Meader, Rekindle the Flame
Remember how weather affects humans: many suffer from SAD during the winter months. Extreme weather can make us more empathetic (ie tip the pizza delivery guy extra in story weather) or bring out our selfish side ie hoarding food & water during a tornado. Studies show violent crime rises during heat waves. Keep the real effects of weather in mind when writing characters.
Use of Weather To Drive the Plot:
Weather can be used to move the story along, the actual presence of weather driving the plot.
The movie LA Story – the weather is one of the main elements that moves the plot.
The novel Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck – taking place in 1930s America during the Dust Bowl, the dust, dryness, heat, and sun all add to tension and a present a physical obstacle to overcome.
Steven King, The Mist short story – the mist blocks the characters’ views, muffles sound, and forces the characters to act in ways they might not otherwise.
The Tempest – Shakespeare – the storm drives the plot.
Rocky Horror Picture Show – the rain causes Brad & Janet to seek shelter, kicking off the entire story.
Austen’s stories – weather has an important practical bearing – causes panic, stops anyone visiting for potentially weeks, traps people together in potentially awkward situations.
The Wizard of Oz – a tornado starts the whole story, kills the witch, makes Dorothy an enemy, and adds another element to the entire story of a girl wanting to get home.
As you might expect, it’s mostly bad weather that drives a plot.
Use of Weather to Set the Mood
It can be a very powerful tool, guiding the character toward the emotions we want them to feel (and by extension, the reader as well).
“The morning sun in New Orleans felt like it was trying to make a point, convincing the old world to believe something new.” Hunter Murphy, Imogene in New Orleans
“I understood that he left me at the end of his long life just as naturally as the leaves fall from the trees.” Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
Mood using Pathetic Fallacy: “Dark & pregnant clouds gave birth & fist-sized stones of hail hammered the earth.” Michael R. Fletcher, Beyond Redemption
“It rained toads the day the White Council came to town.” Jim Butcher, Summer Knight (Rain doesn’t HAVE to be water…)
The last quote uses weather to foreshadow – weather used this way usually foreshadows something bad but not always. In Narnia, the thaw foreshadows Aslan’s return, which was a good thing.
Use of Weather to Show the Passage of Time
The seasons passing and signs of each season illustrate time passing in a very classic long-range way (like the image of calendar pages flipping from a wall so often seen in movies). Seasons can, however, also show the passage of short amounts of time.
“The month of August had turned into a griddle where days just lay there & sizzled.” Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees
“Fall whispered through the window this morning, ‘Hello, I’m here.'” (Another example of Pathetic Fallacy here) Eileen Granfors
“The winter was blasting its cold winds of dire portent into the tender face of springtime.” Stefano Benni, Margherita Dolce Vita (even more PF in that one!)
Use of Weather as a Weapon (especially for Sci Fi/Fantasy writers)
Zeus used lightening-bolts, Storm from X-Men harnesses the weather, Thor can produce lightning and thunder: as long as it’s realistically worked into the story, anything goes with these genres.
Use all of the senses to describe the weather to make the scene more real. Sight of leaves, smell of rain, feel of cold.
Avoid direct emotion-to-weather clichés like a crying character in a rainstorm or quaking with anger as thunder rages. There are more subtle ways of doing this – avoid mirroring & instead show the character’s reaction to the weather.
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Copyright K Evans 2022