by Janis Patterson
As you probably know, I'm out of the country now, enjoying my Very Big Trip, so I'm reprinting one of my more popular blog posts from not-too-long ago. I'll be back in October and remember, I'll be writing about the VBT in my newsletter, in case you want to subscribe! There's a sign-up box on my website.
Picture a bright blue sky glowing with golden sunshine and dotted with friendly, fluffy clouds. Now picture dark grey looming clouds hanging so low you can almost grab a handful of them, while an icy wind scours the land with frigid teeth.
Which would you think of as setting for a lighthearted romantic comedy and which for an angst-filled mystery where terrible things lurk just under the next breeze?
Admittedly, those are two extreme examples, but weather does affect our perception of genre and tone. Now before you jump all over me crying that so-and-so did a terribly horrifying story set on a sunny beach or a rom-com in a storm-lashed castle, I will agree with you. There are always those writers who can take a trope and turn it on its head with great effectiveness. A truly skilled writer can do almost anything – as all of you skilled writers know – but the stormy rom-con and the sun-drenched murder have been done so often that they are almost tropes in themselves.
It’s a lot harder to take a pleasant, sunny location and make it a place of crime, apprehension and horror. I say let your setting work for you – sometimes. Never do anything exactly the same way every time. Keep your reader on her mental toes. And let’s face it, it’s easier to ratchet up the tension in a dark and shadowy place where who knows what is lurking in that lightless corner we must traverse, just as it’s delightful to see the hero’s eyes crinkle in appreciation on a sunny beach. Proper use of the weather can almost turn it into a character in and of itself, and give both depth and foreshadowing to your story.
People have certain expectations and reactions to the weather. I say use them, or, if you use them in reverse, do it whole-heartedly. One of the most romantic scenes I’ve ever watched was the end of the old movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s, where George Peppard (a singularly interesting bit of casting) and Audrey Hepburn find the cat and declare their love in an ugly NYC alley in a pouring rain. Switch upon switch upon switch.
On the other hand, most readers have certain expectations; I’m a firm believer that as writers, especially genre writers, we don’t have to re-invent the wheel. At least, not every time.