Everyone always complains about the weather – do your characters? Or do they sail through the pages in blissful ignorance of the climate? Weather conditions can be a big part of a scene, adding impact in many different ways, from subtle to tsunami.
Weather is related to the climate range in your setting, so it is an important first step to nail down the area that you have set your story. Is it a tropical oasis, a concrete jungle, a hydroponics unit in a space ship, or an alien planet? Once you have determined the general sort of climate, then a bit of armchair travelling might be required. Pick a place, and google the temperature and rainfall variations, asking yourself questions such as:
Do they have seasons? For those living in an area with four seasons, it may be hard to describe a wet-dry variation of monsoonal tropics, with the humidity, insects, rainfall and possible flooding often associated with this climate. What does too much rainfall mean? Crop failures? Insects? Leeches? Flooding? Landslides?
Equally, many areas have the storybook four seasons with snow in winter and hot dry summers, with the gorgeous leaf changes of Autumn, and the new growth in Spring. Not all the world has this sort of picture perfect weather, so that is worth remembering. Is the snow a good thing, bringing joy to Christmas, or is it a danger, blocking roads and making driving hazardous?
The details of weather are often enough to indicate what’s going on. The hot day making sweat wet shirts stick to skin, the humidity that droops a hairstyle, the sleet that drives cold deep into the bones. Will they seek shelter from a sandstorm or torrential rain? Or are they so deep in thought they don’t notice? Often small details like these are enough to add something extra to the scene, grounding the characters in their environment.
But we can go further. Does the weather start to affect the characters? Will the brave heroine be terrified of thunder because her Father died from a freak lightning strike? Can the hero Bear Grylls the mountain, or will he need rescuing like Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser – by gorgeous damsels that provide an interesting interlude on a frozen mountainside in Fritz Lieber’s tales. In Modesty Blaise (Silver Mistress) by Peter O’Donnell, she uses the villain’s preference for warmth against him, and a man she could never defeat in normal combat is weakened and defeated in an epic and eerie fight deep underground. An adroit placement of a clue early on will make these scenes come alive when the secret terror becomes reality.
Even a memory associated with a weather pattern may provide a part of backstory that illuminates a character. In ‘Eye of the Needle’ by Ken Follett, the main character is paranoid about people recognising his face, as you probably would be after some years as a sleeper spy. In a dramatic scene he has to outrun encroaching waves and a storm, in a race he had not run since a youth, which triggers a memory of a victory photo, the very photo which has proved his undoing. It is a potent scene, and the author weaves weather and emotions together very effectively.
Moving into the realms of fantasy, we have the opportunity to endow the weather with magical or supernatural elements or motives. Piers Anthony has an ongoing angry cloud Fracto in the Xanth series, which causes trouble and the occasional comic relief in many of the books. Tolkien also uses both the blizzard and the direction to give an ill feeling to the very air, and also drive our heroes into the path of an even darker danger. Narnia was ensorcelled into the depths of a never ending winter. Stephen Donaldson in the Thomas Covenant series used the change of seasons as an integral part of the plot, as magic and evil distorted the natural patterns into a diabolical parody of normal. But he went further, not only the weather twisted, but he showed how the people managed and adapted and survived, and then the reactions of people who knew that this was not the norm. Adding another layer to this complexity, the main character Linden Avery had an empathic connection to the weather.
Science fiction can be a fine area to experiment with weather. Are the patterns similar to Earth? Or does a planet with 90% ocean coverage have different weather? How about a long line of active volcanoes? Is the weather now under human or alien control? How has the plant life adapted – and how do people react? In Heinlein’s ‘Red Planet’ the two boys save themselves from the extreme cold of a Martian night by using their knowledge of the local plant habits and sheltering – but it is a close run thing, adding tension and excitement. Another aspect would be the reaction of people getting off a ship with its sterile controlled temperature. Is the planet weather bracing or scary or annoying with all the sand in the instruments? Is the weather too perfect – because it is controlled like the people by an unseen super computer as in the Star Trek episode “The Apple”?
So a writer can make the weather a driving part of a scene, in which case it is most likely that it would be first written this way. However in the editing stage it is worth gently brushing in touches to add depth and interest. Drag your readers into the scene with their own memories and experiences, and make them sweat or shiver along with your characters.
In the meantime, click and have a read of Druid’s Portal