Renowned crime fiction writer Elmore Leonard’s first rule for authors is about weather.
“Never open a book with weather. If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a character's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people.”
He does temper it a bit. “There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.”
Barry Lopez begins Of Wolves and Men with “I am in a small cabin outside Fairbanks, Alaska, as I write these words. The cold sits down like iron here, the long hours of winter darkness cause us to leave a light on most of the day. Outside, at thirty below, wood for the stove literally pops apart at the touch of the ax.”
Raymond Chandler provides another exception in Red Wind. It’s hard to imagine a more effective beginning than what he wrote.
“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”
Weather can be important in a story, almost a character. Would Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights be as effective without the frequent winds and storms across the brooding moors that mirror the chaos of the human characters?
to get the weather in your god damned book – weather is very important.”
― Ernest Hemingway
all know that weather affects our moods. The novelist is in the happy position
of being able to invent whatever weather is appropriate to the mood he or she
wants to evoke.”
– David Lodge
Shetland, with its ever-present, changing weather, is a strong force in Ann Cleeve’s Jimmy Perez series. And it’s difficult to imagine Louise Penny’s Three Pines without dwelling upon the weather.
In addition to acting as a character, weather is a strong part of the setting of fiction, especially if it is extreme. In Jack London’s To Build a Fire, the freezing weather is the key element.
It can affect character. Who among us is immune to the beauty of a bright summer’s day, even if at times it is in such contrast to our mood that it evokes anger or despair? Fictional characters have similar reactions.
Plots must respond to weather. Agatha Christie used weather to good effect in her classic country house mysteries.
Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s beginning to Paul Clifford is a well-known example of using weather to begin a story. Perhaps it’s a good example of the point Leonard is making.
“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”
Do you find weather to be a minor factor in your writing, an essential component or a character as relevant as any other?