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Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Weather or Not by K.M. Rockwood

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?


“Remember to get the weather in your god damned book – weather is very important.”
― Ernest Hemingway


“We 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?

 

 

 

 

 

11 comments:

Annette said...

I always have weather as an obstacle in my books. Maybe it's because I grew up in a farming family where weather guided each day's work and we watched the weather forecast even if we didn't listen to any other parts of the nightly news.

Jim Jackson said...

Weather is usually a minor factor in my writing, occasionally it rises to the level of essential component. However, in Cabin Fever it takes the level of character, perhaps more relevant than many.

Debra H. Goldstein said...

it is funny - sometimes it becomes important, but often I forget about it. Reading Annette's comment, I see how th e weather aspect was ingrained into her life. For us, it was merely rain today? Take an umbrella.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Weather plays a role, though I have to remember to include rainstorms after a run of sunny days.

Molly MacRae said...

I love that passage from Red Wind, K.M.

Including weather in my Highland Bookshop Mysteries has been a lot of fun. There are so many names for types of rain and fog, and each with their own personality.

Kait said...

Wonderful blog, Kathleen. My books are set in South Florida. Weather is definitely a character – and sometimes a villain – in the stories.

Shari Randall said...

Amazing quotes, KM, such inspiration! I'm a New Englander, so though the weather changes daily, the biggest factor for my characters is the change of seasons. Those seasonal changes always play a role.

Marilyn Levinson said...

I occasionally mention weather—either as a reflection of my protagonist's mood or quite the opposite.

KM Rockwood said...

Annette, I grew up near the ocean. While my family weren't fishermen, I remember how focused so many of our neighbor followed the weather. In my head, I can still hear a serious radio voice intoning, "And from Cape May to Block Island..."

Jim, I remember the opening from Cabin Fever. A weather-centered scene if ever there was one.

Debra, sometimes the weather is a main feature, sometimes it does reduce to the "should I take an umbrella" status.

Margaret, the weather is always there, Sometimes in the forefront, sometimes in the background.

Molly, it's fun to play around with weather in our writing.

Kait, I can only imagine the impact weather has on your books set in Florida, especially now in hurricane season.

Shari, the seasons are equally important.

Marilyn, when I think of weather contrasting with events, fictional or otherwise, I remember the beautiful blue skies over Manhattan on 9/11.

Jennifer J. Chow said...

Interesting post! I don't intentionally put weather in, but sometimes it does add to plot, providing a more detailed setting or extra intrigue.

KM Rockwood said...

You're right, sometimes it just seems to fit.