Friday, August 20, 2010

Those Dark and Stormy Nights

It was a dark and stormy night...Sir Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton, may have been overly melodramatic with this pearl of fiction, but it wasn't a bad idea. The weather can be a great way to set the mood of your story or provide complications to the plot. One blogger listed a number of ways the weather can be used symbolically, such as:
  • Rain: cleansing, renewal, mixed emotions, depression
  • Thunderstorm: anger, danger, strong emotion
  • Blue Skies/Sunshine: hope, happiness, absence of trouble, purity
  • No Wind  or humid: stagnant, unable to  move forward, smothering
  • Windy: change, things moving too quickly to grab onto
  • Snow: inner coldness, sadness, cleansing, covering the bad, a quiet calm, purity
  • Blizzard: overwhelmed, trapped, helpless
  • Fog: unknown, fear, confusion, foreboding danger
Despite Elmore Leonard's famous rule "Never start a book with weather," it has been done successfully by several authors. He went on to explain that its use should be related to how the weather affects the characters in the story.

Hurricanes have been particularly useful to mystery writers. Randy Wayne White's Dark Light, a Doc Ford mystery, involves the retired CIA agent in the aftermath of a Category 4 hurricane that ravaged the Florida coast. Others have used the massive storms to create havoc for their protagonists.

Thunderstorms, snowstorms, floods, and heat waves have provided backdrops for novels. If you're using one of these meteorological wonders, though, it's best to do some research to make sure your facts are right. Strange things happen during these storms, but sometimes they're a bit too strange to make it in fiction. If you've never been through a hurricane, it's a good idea to talk to someone who has. Of course, everybody has a good thunderstorm tale.

Have you read any good weather-connected books lately?

Chester Campbell


Mark Troy said...

My favorite weather opening is from Joe R. Lansdale's Sunset and Sawdust. "On the afternoon it rained frogs, sun perch and minnows, Sunset discovered she could take a beating good as Three-Fingered Jack." As the paragraph goes on, we learn that Sunset is being beaten and raped by her drunken husband, whom she kills as a cyclone destroys their house.

A lot of Lansdale's books involve weather, since most of them are set in East Texas where weather is either a blessing or a curse but never inconsequential.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I love putting fog into my books--it is so eerie. Where I live, when the Tule fog rolls in sometimes you can't see more than a few feet ahead. Scary to drive in--wonderful to write about.


Morgan Mandel said...

Weather can definitely set the mood in a book or a movie. What's even more eerie is when something horrible happens in broad daylight on a bright sunny day. It doesn't seem right.

Morgan Mandel

Mike Dennis said...

I just finished reading THE COLD KISS by John Rector (2010), an excellent novel set in the Midwest during a fierce, unending blizzard.

By the way, the opening line is, "It was just starting to snow when we pulled off the highway and into the parking lot of the Red Oak Tavern."

The opening breaks at least two of the so-called rules. It starts with weather and uses the word "was".

Oh, my God! Let me put this book down right away! Somebody tear it from my hands before I become further contaminated with rule violations!!

All this BS about rules serves only to remind me yet again of Somerset Maugham's great quote: "There are only three rules of writing. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."

And as good a writer as Elmore Leonard is, that would include him.

We would all do well to remember Maugham's quote.

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Jean Henry Mead said...

All of my novels have severe weather in them: rain, flooding, fog, snow and blizzards. Weather can be a great antagonist.

Jean Henry Mead said...

All of my novels have severe weather in them: rain, flooding, fog, snow and blizzards. Weather can be a great antagonist.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

You can put weather in.

And then take it out when EVERYONE in your local writer's group tells you how you can't open with the weather.