This week in Europe, the weather has been busier than usual, hitting us with heavy snow and longer periods of sub-zero temperatures than we’re used to. It’s been a time of crises, travel disasters and unexpected fun. How does weather affect our fictional characters and how can we use weather in our storytelling?
Treat yourself to five to ten minutes of free-wheeling, private writing about anything you like: yourself and your week, your characters, your book and what you hope for it, why you write and what you love about it.
When you’re (ahem) warmed up, turn your thoughts to weather. We all live in some sort of weather all the time so let’s think about rain, lightning, storm, strong winds, mist, fog, scorching sun.
Choose one. Hold it in your mind.
- You are walking, moving in this weather. Doing something. Take a minute or two to imagine it through your body. Feel the light in your eyes, the heat or lack of it on your face, air moving around you, how your clothes feel on your body.
- Imagine you and this weather are in a place you know well. Look around this imagined place. Notice how the weather is affecting the place, how people and animals behave in it. Keep scribbling/typing as you go.
- List 5 words or phrases that describe your chosen weather for you in that place. Enjoy being there and let the list take you wherever you like.
- List another five. Be specific. Be accurate.
- Read over what you’ve written – is there anything there that you have ever seen somewhere else (such as ‘raining cats and dogs’ or ‘blowing a gale’)? Score it out. Delete.
- List another five.
- Underline the best 5 of all.
- Which 3 are the best of those five, the most arresting & specific? Those are the ones you use.
You don’t need to go through this each time you describe something – it’s just training – but it is what you’re after. Try the exercise again in idle moments until sifting like this to find the best word comes to you automatically.
Find a chapter or section of your draft, something you’ve written a while back, where characters are busy getting on with the story but there is no mention of any weather. It’s easily done in a first draft, you’re keen to get on with the action and, sitting at your desk, it can be easier to think in terms of indoors than out.
Take a moment to imagine your way back into that chapter, thinking especially about the time and place of it. What would the weather usually be for those characters on that day in that place? Well, it’s time to think up something unusual for them, a bit more challenging – winter sun, sudden gusts of wind, heavy rain – and rewrite your section. I don’t mean just inserting a few words here and there – take the time to reimagine and rewrite your scene with the weather interfering and rearranging things. Weather can bring people together in unexpected ways, make them drop things or run, be late, it can break tension or split up a promising encounter.
Your new weathered version could be the one that qualifies for your final draft, maybe not, that’s up to you. The exercise may well deepen the reader’s experience and help you jump a plot problem or two.
What is your favourite book? If you have it handy, open it anywhere and see how the author uses weather. It’s impossible to imagine Wuthering Heights without mighty gales on the moor and ice around that ghostly window, Pride and Prejudice without muddy walks, Moby Dick without deathly storms, Wind in the Willows with no sunlit picnics or Bleak House without Dickens’ extraordinary description of fog in Victorian London and its court system.
Finally, any time you are outside, take a few moments to notice the weather. Be extra aware of what you see around you: how does it makes you feel and behave, how does the air feel on your face and as you breathe, how do your clothes and footwear feel in this weather, do you feel like dancing and jumping or curling up in bed? Study how it makes other people behave too. And wildlife – one of the extraordinary things about a fresh fall of snow is that even birds fall silent.
Close observation and selecting your best words (editing out the lazy options) are as important to your writing as cracking on with your draft. Have a happy time with both.
After slaying all those monsters last week, I found myself deep in research about epics from Homer to Tolstoy and Rowling. What makes something epic? Where did they originate? How have epics evolved to the present day? Epic writers are the superheroes of storytelling – join me back with them here next week!