Friday, May 17, 2013

Weather - Or Not


by Janis Patterson
Last night we had some terrible storms around here – tornadoes touched down all over the area, baseball sized hail, lots of destruction, and (worst of all) several people died. Fortunately my home and family was spared any real damage – a thorough drenching, small leak in the garage, some greenery down – but it was frightening for a while. Just listening to the area’s tornado sirens going consistently for over half an hour and hearing the trees slapping against the house was nerve-wracking enough.
Which brings me to my topic – weather. Do we ever really realize how much weather is a tool in our books? Yes, you can write a creepy mystery set in a nice suburban villa with brilliant sunshine, balmy breezes and the sound of children laughing in the yard next door. It’s been done, and done well, but to my mind it makes the story lose something. There are those who say the very normalcy of such a setting increases the tension, but I’m not one of them. My mind (no comments, now!) tends to discount danger inherent in bright, sunny days.
How much more disturbing is the low-hanging overcast sky, the shadowy house which no amount of light seems to illuminate completely, the wind scratching at the windows, a driving rain…
Perhaps less-than-perfect weather, night, darkness, shadows all ignite a feeling of unease in a primitive part of our brains. What we cannot see we cannot be prepared for. We are all hardwired to fear the unknown something that lurks in the dark. Did you have monsters under the bed in your childhood? I did. Did I every see them? Nope, but I knew they were there just the same. Sometimes, if I’m working on a particularly intense book, or it’s a stormy night and I’m alone in the house, they might still be there. I’m not going to crawl under and look, either!
Sometimes having an active imagination can be a curse.
Conversely, it’s very difficult to have a lighthearted comedic story set in that same dank and drear house – or shadowy urban alleyway – under lowering, stormy skies.
There’s a cliché opening that Bulwer-Lytton used in the hyperverbal Victorian era – “It was a dark and stormy night…” Once I was beginning a new project (a Gothic mystery) and had the story pretty much pat, but could not get the beginning started until I really used “It was a dark and stormy night…” after which the story just rolled. When the book was finished I did go back and change it, not wanting to be an object of fun, but for my own personal uses it was invaluable. I do wish I could have used it, though…
Writers have a myriad of tools available to them, and the weather is one of the most effective. There’s nothing like it for setting mood and tone.
At least we can control the weather in our books. I would have loved to have been able to last night. 

14 comments:

Elise Warner said...

Using the five senses in our writing helps. the effect the weather has on us as individuals works in our writing. I still think of an early in life crush wheneer it rains. the gardiner that chased me with a scythe on a hot summer day when I was a child.

Brenda Collins said...

Coming from an island out in the middle of the North Atlantic,I can empathize with you on how it feels to huddle in the dark listening to windows rattle as hurricane winds whip around your home. I agree with you that weather can be an invaluable tool in an author's toolkit and recently used a gathering storm to foreshadow approaching danger in one of my stories. Great blog, Janis!

Marcelle Dubé said...

Glad you and yours are safe.

As a Canadian, weather is in my blood. I was just listening to the weather forecast, which predicted 5 cm of snow for a community a few hours north of us. :-( And maybe it's because I'm Canadian that weather acts like another character in almost everything I write. Good post.

Rita said...

SO glad you are okay. I do use weather in my books to increase the tension and but the H&H in 'close' situations.

Dee J. said...

Glad you're okay. I'm still trying to find an old friend that lives in Grandbury. Getting a little nervous... As far as weather... I stuck an awesome storm in Dangerously Close that was a major turning point in that book. Certain events wouldn't have happened without that storm. I love using weather in my books. Probably don't take enough advantage of it actually... (I feel a storm coming on in my WIP. LOL.)

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Janis,

I cringed hearing about the tornadoes in Texas! Really awful. You're right about weather being an important part of setting. And gothic style novels do depend on it.

Beate Boeker said...

You're so right, Susan. Weather is such a deal-breaker for so many things (picknicks, barbecues, weddings ...) and I know that my mood plummets with the temperatures - so no wonder every reader relates to that. Interesting post!

Maryann Miller said...

Glad you were spared, Susan. It is so scary when those storms come so close.

I do like the dark setting sometimes for a scary scene in a book, but there has to be some fresh aspect to the description to suit me. Otherwise it is just another spooky scene set in the rain. I do like the juxtaposition of having something horrible come out of a lovely setting, but again, it has to be done just right. I am getting terribly picking in my old age. (smile)

Janis Patterson said...

Thanks for all the good wishes - the storm was scary. Dee J, I pray your friend is all right. So much of that area was simply vaporized.

Shawn Martin said...

I enjoyed this. It's fascinating how the weather shapes moods. I'm glad the storms missed you.

Sheila Claydon said...

I agree with all of the above but I also find the weather affects how I write in another way entirely. A stormy, cold, wet day has me sitting in front of the computer tapping away non-stop - something I find much more difficult when the sun is shining, the weather is balmy, and everything is begging me to go outside. So as we'll as adding atmosphere to a book, weather is also a useful writing tool as far as I'm concerned:-)

Dee said...

So pleased to hear the storm missed you. Having lived in CA and experienced earth quakes, Florida and got hit by Hurricane Charley, now Malta, Europe and experiencing sand storm from Africa...I know how scary it is. And...great writing material!

Sydell Voeller said...

Susan, I live in the rainy Northwest and I agree with Sheila how inclement weather can inspire us to write. And as you've written, the weather is crucial for mood setting in our books as well.

Nancy said...

I'm late, but so happy you and yours are safe!

I like using weather to deepen mood, and enjoy books wherein the authors uses weather in the plot. Most of the time I see hurricanes used, perhaps because they're more predictable, and the tension naturally rises as the hurricane approaches. :)

Take care, stay safe, and thanks for the super post!

Light,
Nancy Haddock