Using weather to set the scene in your novel

One of the first things I do in the morning, after getting up and grouching at the day, is check the weather. It’s going to have an impact on my day, from what I’m getting dressed in, to where I’m writing after work.

Do you consider what the weather’s like in your book? I imagine that it’s not something that you want to go into too much detail, of course. The weather’s fodder for boring small talk, after all. It’s nothing that anyone wants to write about unless it’s deadly.

But then, what about the fact that it’s one of the first things we check up on in the morning? If it’s so boring, why do I check that before I check the Penguins score?

Because it has an impact on my day, that’s why. And it’ll have an impact on your characters day, too. At least, it probably should.

Setting the time of the year

As the season’s change, so do our lives. In the winter, we’re celebrating warmth. We bundle up, go skiing, watch movies at home and make stews. When it’s summer, we go camping and swimming. We eat lighter foods. We garden.

Your characters lives will be different depending on what time of year it is. Are they getting ready for a Winter holiday? Are they plotting to overthrow the king while preserving vegetables in the fall? Are they falling in love while planting in early spring? All of these things help give a sense of realism to your book.

Making things harder, or easier for your characters

If your character needs to get through a mountain pass, they’re not going to get too far in the winter. If they accidentally start a fire in the city, it’s going to cause more damage during a dry summer month.

You get the idea. The weather can be a mild irritation, a huge inconvenience, or downright deadly depending on what’s happening in your book.

You can absolutely use this to your advantage, especially if things are just a little too easy for your characters right now. (Things should never be easy for your characters.) So maybe your character needs to get errands done, and they’ve now got a flat tire. Maybe it should be raining while they have to change their tire. Just to make it a little worse, and kick them when they’re down.

Mirroring, or contrasting your characters emotional state

One of my favorite lines from the second Men In Black movies is when Kay (played by the amazing Tommy Lee Jones) says to the character we’re just now realizing is his daughter, says, “It rains because you’re sad, Baby.”

That line hits me, not just because of the one moment of human emotion in it. (I mean, I could write a whole post about that. It’s the one time in three movies we see Kay. We see his emotions falling out. Maybe we even see real regret, for this child that he didn’t ever get to know. That he now has to send away for the good of a planet he’ll never get to see. Is that why he never tried to raise her? Because he knew she’d have to leave and he’d never see her again? Those movies don’t get enough credit.)

Anyway, it makes rain something more than just water falling from the clouds. It becomes symbolic of tears, both those of Laura and her mother on the day that she died. Perhaps Kay’s as well.

But in Broken Patterns, Lenore and Victor share their first kiss in the pouring rain. She’s just tried to fire him because she can’t stand that she’s falling in love with him. Instead, he begs her not to send him away, and they share their first kiss, terrified and excited. In this scene, I used the rain as a misdirection. Hopefully, upon first reading it, a reader will believe that he’s about to leave her life.

Do you have to start every new scene with a description of the weather? Of course not. But it’s one of the many tools you have at your disposal. So you should learn to use it effectively.

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