I was stumped. While writing A Shadow on the Snow, my YA mystery, I knew I had to describe the weather. The mystery is set in mythical, rural Marlin County, Ohio, during the winter. The weather had to be mentioned. But except for a few key scenes, when the weather added to the plot, my descriptions seemed lifeless and pointless. After wrestling with the problem, I came up with a solution on how to take advantage of the weather in a setting.
More Than Just Scenery
I wrote in my previous writing tip, “Maximize a Setting”, how an ice-and-snowstorm plays a critical role in a chase scene in my novel. But what about the weather in a scene where it doesn’t directly affect the plot. Unlike in a movie, which automatically captures whatever background is behind the actors, I had to deliberately add descriptions so readers could imagine where the characters were interacting. But descriptions as mere descriptions seemed worthless. Could I have the weather assume another role?
Setting the Mood
I decided to use the weather to set the mood for the novel. In the opening chapter, when my main character Rae is feeling good about life, the day is cold but dazzling with sunshine. As she investigates who is stalking her, the weather grows more dismal and oppressive. A breakthrough comes after the snowstorm. The weather is sunny again. Then it grows bleaker as the story proceeds to the climax, which takes place on a foggy evening.
Once I’d given the weather definite purpose, I found it much easier to write.
An author who wrote about the weather very effectively to set the mood is Melville Davisson Post. I’ve reviewed his short stories featuring the detective Uncle Abner, who solves mysteries in pre-Civil War West Virginia.
Other Ways to Use the Weather
- It can remind characters of a previous event, and I can work in some backstory.
- It can reflect the mood of the main character. A main character bent on revenge can travel through scenes in which the weather becomes increasingly violent.
- It can reflect the relationship between characters. The course of a marriage could be charted by the weather. If a couple gets married on a stormy day, that can foreshadow trouble to come. Or if the weather was perfect on their wedding day, the couple holds on to that memory when they run into trouble.
What books have you read that to took advantage of the weather in a setting?
What a great way to incorporate weather and give it meaning! You’ve inspired me to be more deliberate about this in my writing.
Thank you! Movies sometime use this kind of technique. In a review of the western “The Naked Spur”, author Danny Peary says the director Anthony Mann used “his landscape as more than a backdrop: as the terrain because rougher and the stream [the characters] follow becomes more turbulent, the tension among the characters increases.”
That’s really cool!