Summer Weather as Writing Inspiration

Summer weather with its high temperatures, higher humidity, and long days of full sun has settled into the Buckeye State, so my post for July’s Writing in Time is summer weather as writing inspiration.

Heat + Humidity = Crime

Most people will agree that when humans get too hot, we get irritable. That tendency has inspired many mystery writers to set stories during heat waves. Or to put it another way:

“Did you know … more people are murdered at ninety-two degrees Fahrenheit than any other temperature? I read an article once — lower temperatures, people are easy-going. Over ninety -two, it’s too hot to move. But just ninety-two, people get irritable.”

from It Came from Outer Space

In The Lady from Shanghai, a film noir from 1948, a married couple and the husband’s law partner are sailing along the coast of Mexico, heading for San Francisco. They stop for a picnic, and in the sweltering heat, fire barb after barb at one another, revealing more and more of their natures. The sailor they’ve hired to pilot their ship tells a story of how he witnessed a feeding frenzy among sharks. He’d never seen anything more awful until this picnic.

I can use the rising temperatures and humidity to mirror escalating tensions between characters. The ultimate confrontation could take place on a sultry night when not even darkness relieves the heat.

Thunderstorms

Or I can have a sudden thunderstorm appear at the climax as characters clash. In temperate climates, summer thunderstorms usually appear in the afternoon and evening as the heat builds through the day. They are usually brief and violent, a perfect setting and symbol for characters battling each other.

In Watership Down, a fantasy about the lives of wild rabbits in England, a turning point in the story comes when the heroes engineer the escape of several does from a tyrannical warren. The good-guy rabbits have installed one of their own in the warren as a double-agent to help the does escape. As this buck plots to leave the warren with the does, the threat of a thunderstorm builds in scene after scene, so that when the buck and the does make a break for it, so does the thunderstorm, with the tyrant of the warren and his officers in hot pursuit.

Long Summer Evenings

My family recently had the opportunity to stay in a cabin at Shawnee State Park. On the first evening we were there, the sky held white clouds and the sunlight lingered until after 9 p.m. Those kinds of evenings draw me into them. I want to linger too in the soft light.

Summer evenings can be a relaxing way to conclude a story, especially if the main characters have suffered through a lot of trauma and deserve a quiet conclusion. A still summer evening can also provide a contrast to the storyline.

In the mystery short story “Inquest” by Loel Yeo from 1932, an inquest is held in the country home of a wealthy man who has just been found dead. The coroner is trying to establish if the death was suicide or murder. As the August evening grows darker, the verdict seems more and more likely to be one of murder.

For more ideas on how to use July was writing inspiration, click here for my post from 2019.

How can you use the summer weather where you live as writing inspiration? What stories have you read that used summer weather in a memorable way?

Fishing as Writing Inspiration

With the warmer months here in the Buckeye State, my youngest, the Fishing Fanatic, begins watching the weather for chances to enjoy his favorite sport, pastime, and hobby. Funny how a parent can become interested in a subject just because her kids are. Not that I’ve taken up fishing. But I’ve gone out enough with the Fanatic to tell you about how to use fishing as writing inspiration.

Humor

Wouldn’t a book about a mom who has no interest in fishing and has one misadventure after another as she tries to support her kid and his love of the sport be hysterical?

I could write about the mom diving into murky waters to rescue a runaway rod, wading a river to unhook a snag, wrestling catfish, and crossing to a far shore through freezing water in October.

Now that you know what my life has been like for the past two years, take what inspiration you can from it. When I mix nature, animals, and weather into a story, I have the freedom to create all sorts of funny disasters.

Suspense

The last paragraph above can also apply to adding suspense and tension to a story. The unpredictable quality of nature provides many different kinds of problems for my characters to face.

Fishing as writing inspiration for suspense has another great advantage. It gives my characters an excuse to break out of their normal routines as they head out on a fishing trip. Then I can dump them into unfamiliar settings peopled with hostile characters.

I love film noir, a style of movie making that flourished in Hollywood from 1940-1960. Several movies land their characters in trouble because they are going on a fishing trip. In The Hitch-Hiker, two men are taken hostage by a homicidal maniac. In 5 Steps to Danger, the main character’s car breaks down, and he accepts a ride from a woman with a complicated past and bad guys on her trail. In Act of Violence, a WWII veteran suspects his less-than-heroic act in a prisoner of war camp is catching up with him when he goes on a fishing trip and spots a man in a boat who isn’t dressed for fishing.

Another great thing about using the fishing trip is that I don’t have to know much about fishing. All the trouble can occur on the way to the fishing destination before my characters ever make one cast. Although it would be fun to include the fishing aspect somehow. Such as a criminal, who is on the FBI’s most wanted list, purses two fishing buddies, who stumbled across his hideout in the mountains. With the criminal after them, the buddies have only the contents of their tackle boxes to use as some kind of defense.

Family or Friendship

The bond that can occur during fishing is a wonderful way to explore family relationships or friendships of characters.

A grandfather, who loves fishing, can’t interest any of his grandchildren until the most unlikely one falls in love with it. Two very disparate characters chance upon each other at a secluded fishing spot and begin a friendship.

For more ideas on how to use June as writing inspiration, read my post from two years ago.

Could you use fishing as writing inspiration? What other summer sport might inspire your writing?

Last Day of School as Writing Inspiration

This year, in the U.S., the last day of school for kids was in March or April. Yes, we have online learning, but I think the parents are looking forward to the end of it more than the kids are. Spending two hours on assignments at home is so much easier than spending six and a half hours in a school, not including drive time. The last day of school as writing inspiration can kick off all kinds of stories, whether I write about a traditional last day or how it appears in 2020.

Humor

By the last week of school, everyone involved, parents, teachers, students, and administrators, are done. Now they all mark time until the final day. A story about all these different kinds of characters, straining to hold it together until the final bell on the final day has a lot of comic possibilities.

My kids’s school system offers a lot of fun activities during the last days, such as camp, field day, and egg drops. Any outdoor activity with kids is ripe for a story of misadventures. When I helped with my oldest’s field day in kindergarten, one boy began screaming when he received a bloody nose during a game. I walked him up to the nurse’s office. When I reminded him that his class was now probably at the bounce house, he pulled himself together and rejoined his class, bouncing with the best of them.

If you aren’t familiar with an egg drop, it’s usually a challenge issued in junior high or high school. Teams are instructed to build a contraption that will prevent an egg from breaking as the contraption is dropped from greater and greater heights. Eggs, kids, and heights. I don’t really need to say more.

Nostalgia

When I was in junior high and high school, I noticed a change during the last few days or even weeks. Everyone relaxes, at least a bit. The teachers know they can’t teach any more. The kids know the teacher have lowered their expectations concerning learning. My mom would ease up on our night time routine.

As the evenings in May grew long and golden, I could sense the finality of what was happening. I didn’t want to repeat the school year. I came to hate school from the time I was in eighth grade. But it did seem like a time for reflection, looking back and looking ahead.

This thoughtful time is suitable for a story about a student who has regrets or maybe wants to accomplish something before the year ends, a teacher facing retirement, or a parent whose youngest child is finishing high school.

Beginnings and Endings

As I write this post, I realize that the last day of school can start a story or end it, but I don’t see how it could come in the middle. It just doesn’t feel right.

As a story starter, it can set the tone for a summer of misadventures, mysteries, adventures, or self-discovery. As an ending, it can wrap up a story that began with the first day of school or highlight how characters have changed during the course of the story.

For more ideas on how to use May as writing inspiration, visit my posts on graduation and other May holidays.

How would you use the last day of school as writing inspiration?

Dad Sent Me: an Easter Story

I post this story every Easter. It’s what Easter means to me. I hope you enjoy it and enjoy a blessed holiday from our Heavenly Dad.

*****

 I am trapped.

The boulder is heading straight for me. I can’t escape.  What good would it do anyway?

I’ve ended up in this exact situation before, too many times before, so why try to get away?

It’s my own stupid fault.  I finally get that.

There’s nothing I can do.

I huddle down. How much will it hurt this time? I can’t take much more pain. I am so sorry. So very, very sorry. Not that that matters.

I’m knocked to the ground.  But not by the boulder.

A man, a stranger, shoves me out of the way. I twist around to him. The boulder smashes into him and shatters into a pile of rubble, burying him.

I gape. I stare. Why would a stranger save me?

The pile moves. Flinging off the rocks, the man stands up.

I splutter, “B-b-but how?  But who?  But why?”

Brushing off the dust and dirt, the man gives me a huge grin and answers all my questions with one sentence.

“Dad sent me.”

Spring Weather as Writing Inspiration

In temperate climates, spring weather means one certain thing — anything can happen at anytime. If I don’t want it to happen, it will. This unpredictability provides fertile ground (yes, it’s a joke) for spring weather as writing inspiration.

Character Development

One of my favorite descriptions for a character appears in the short story “Naboth’s Vineyard” by Melville Davisson Post.

Describing a young woman “.. with an April nature of storm and sun.”

The young woman confesses to murdering her employer because he sent away her fiancee.

I can create a character with that kind of extreme temperament. When he’s happy, it’s as if the sky is pure blue, filled with larks singing arias. When he’s sad, he feels like there’s a steady, unrelenting downpour in his soul.

A character with a hair-trigger temper is like a sudden spring storm. I once described a character with a temper like a tornado. “You never know where it will land and how much damage it will do.”

Setting

The weather makes a wonderful setting for heightening tension between characters. Two characters who don’t get along find themselves stranded in a rural area due to flash flooding or a tornado. They have to work together to survive. Depending on how I want to resolve the story, the weather can get worse and worse as the characters’ dislike for each other grows into hatred. Or the weather can improve as the characters figure out how to help each other.

If I want my story to have a happy ending, it’s hard to beat setting the conclusion on a brilliantly clear spring morning or a quiet, cool spring evening.

Plot

The changeable weather is a perfect way to create believable plots twists. A gang of crooks pulls off a daring robbery. As they make their getaway, a storm ruins their escape route. What do they do?

The amateur sleuth figures out who the killer is when they are alone in a remote location. The killer realizes the sleuth is onto her. She tries to kill the sleuth, but he takes off. A storm or flash flood complicates the sleuth’s escape and the killer’s pursuit. What do they do?

For more ideas on how to use April holidays as writing inspiration, click on my post from 2019 and 2018.

What is spring weather like where you live? How would you use spring weather as writing inspiration?

Boredom as Writing Inspiration

I stared at my sheet of notebook paper, completely dry of inspiration. March had defeated me. I needed an idea for how to use the month as writing inspiration, and I came up empty. March is such a boring month. I’d already written about Lent, St. Patrick’s Day, and March Madness. I could think of nothing else, so I hit on boredom as writing inspiration.

That sounds like an oxymoron. Writers don’t want to bore readers. But boredom can serve storytelling as a comic element and character motivation. I just have to write it in an entertaintng way so that while my characters experience boredom, my readers do not.

Comic Possibilities

Author Patrick F. McManus wrote several short stories focusing on boredom. He exploits the problem as a way to propel his characters into comic situations.

Mr. McManus shared my loathing of March. He uses the boredom of the month for his humorous short story, “Brimstone” from the book How I Got This Way. As a teenager and outdoorsman in rural Idaho, he laments how he can’t hunt, fish, or camp during the miserable muddy weather of March. His sole hobby is staring vacantly out a window. When a deputy sheriff arrives at his house looking for someone in his family to guide him to a neighbor’s shack, the teenager’s mother forces him to go with the deputy. The rest of the story relates how March and its mud can thwart even the long arm of the law.

In “Another Boring Day” from the same book, eight-year-old Pat and his best friend Crazy Eddie can’t find anything to do on a summer day. They’ve already built their own scuba equipment, constructed an airplane, and dug a pit for wild animals. When they tell their mothers about their boredom, both women grow alarmed. If the boys find a solution to their boredom, their parents will become unbored very quickly, too.

Character Motivation. Part 1

If I need a character to make a radical change in her life, boredom is a perfect engine to steer my character onto a new road. In many books, tragedy forces characters to change. While we all face our share of tragedies in this life, most of us won’t lose a spouse to a drunk driver, have a fiancee dump us for our best friend, or have a child murdered.

But all of us have faced boredom. This universal problem should make a character wrestling with it instantly relatable to readers. When I worked at a public library, I found myself trapped in a meeting with two supervisors who were locked in opposing views like the Zax in the Prairie of Prax. My boredom grew to such a level that my only hope of escaping with my sanity was to broker a peace treaty. My director complimented me on finding a solution. But I had acted out of self-pervation. I didn’t want to go mad at twenty-seven.

I can use a meeting like that to instigate a character to quit his job and try a new career. A bored, stay-at-home mom volunteers at an animal shelter, meets new people, and finds a new passion. A teenager stuck babysitting younger siblings all summer makes friends with an elderly neighbor. Boredom is a plausible reason for all these characters to try something they normally would not.

Character Motivation, Part 2

Although amateur detectives are an old tradition in the mystery genre, getting them involved in a case in a believable way is difficult. A character’s boredom is a perfect excuse to start them snooping.

The classic example of this is Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window from 1954. A photographer is laid up with a badly broken leg in his small apartment during a hot summer in New York City. Out of extreme boredom, Jeff begins watching his neighbors who live in the apartment building across the courtyard. He notices the unhappy marriage of one couple. When the wife disappears, he’s convinced the husband has killed her. After the police refuse to investigate, Jeff enlists the help of his girlfriend and his part-time nurse.

I can turn any of the suggestions from the previous section into a mystery. The stay-at-home mom meets another volunteer, who seems troubled, at the animal shelter. That volunteer later turns up a dead. The teen and elderly neighbor are suspicious of a family who has just moved onto their street.

How would you use boredom as writing inspiration?

Leap Day as Writing Inspiration

For this unique event, here are some unique suggestions for using leap day as writing inspiration.

Speculative fiction

Such an unusual day seems ready-made for inspiring speculative fiction. In the thirteen-book series, The Notebook of Doom by Troy Cummings, Alexander Bopp’s leap year birthday proves pivotal to the plot as he and his elementary school friends battle monsters in their hometown. The first book starts with Alexander moving to Stermont right around his birthday. The importance of his birthday isn’t revealed until the last book. Mr.Cummings uses this plot point cleverly and brings a cohesion to his series that I don’t always find in middle-grade books. The Notebook of Doom is a lot of fun for second and third-grade readers.

The rarity of leap year should signal something rare for the characters and plots of speculative fiction. Perhaps a character discovers her special power on February 29th and is at her most powerful on that day. A particular magical phenomenon only occurs on February 29 or during the leap year, and various parties try to take control of it.

To give a story an Indian-Jones flavor, two groups, one good and one evil, are attempting to discover some powerful object that is only accessible on February 29th. Once they find it, they must use it during the leap year. After the year is finished, the object becomes dormant.

Mystery

I’ve encountered two stories in which leap day was a crucial clue. In one short story, of which I can’t recall the title, an old diary is proved to be a fraud because the person who supposedly kept it had an entry for February 29th, 1900. Leap day occurs at the turn of the century every 400 years. 1600 and 2000 had leap days, but not 1700, 1800, and 1900,

In a radio episode of “The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” from the 1940’s, a Scottish nobleman waits for his inheritance, which will happen on his twenty-first birthday. Because he was born on leap day, he is 84 years old but has only had twenty actual birthdays. A key plot point, again, is the fact that 1900 did not have February 29th. The nobleman must wait until 1904 to celebrate his twenty-first birthday.

Here’s another approach: greedy relatives contest the will of a wealthy woman because she instructs her lawyers not to make its contents known until the next leap day. Why the condition? A relative plays detective to uncover the answer.

Or a small town had a notorious murder committed on February 29th. Legend has it that the ghost returns every four years. The town’s tiny police force is strained to the limit dealing with an invasion of ghost hunters. When one ghost hunter turns up dead, the cops have to figure out if there’s a connection between the old murder and the new one.

Other Genres

In a romance, a couple meets on leap day. Events and their own flaws tear them apart, but on the next February 29th, they have a chance to reunite. Another idea is for a couple who met on leap day to hold a special celebration every four years, and the story charts the development of their relationship on those days.

For a family drama, a tragedy on leap day still haunts the survivors years later. On another leap day, a character somehow brings peace to the family so they can move on with their lives. Perhaps the family had a misconception about the tragedy.

For more ideas on how to February can inspire your writing, check out this post.

How can leap day as writing inspiration ignite your writing?

Writing Tip — Writing in Time: Winter Weather as Writing Inspiration

The weather is the villain any writer can take advantage of. It’s even better that a human one. It doesn’t have to have a logical motivation for its nastiness. It can betray a hero at any time, and the author doesn’t have to devise an explanation. If the hero can survive or outwit the weather, he looks even more heroic. Here this puny human has triumphed over all the power nature itself could dish out.

Winter conditions bringer their own unique stamp to villainous weather. I am writing from my experience of living through winters in the Buckeye State. If you decided to write about winters based on your location, be sure to take advantage of any features peculiar to your area.

Treacherous driving conditions — It doesn’t have to be a blizzard to be dangerous. A storm that dumps a lot more snow than predicted can catch your protagonist off guard, challenging her nerves and skills. When my husband and I were dating, he was driving home from a date and got caught on the highway after a layer of ice coated the road. As car after car spun out around him, he realized if he kept a slow pace, 25 mph, and didn’t touch his brakes, he would make it.

That setting would be ideal for a character wrestling with some problem. The experience of driving under those difficult conditions and getting home safely makes her see that she can overcome the problem with steady persistence. In such a story the weather is both a villain and if not a friend, at least an assistant.

Snowstorms —  Stranding a character in a storm can lead to revelations about himself, like the treacherous driving conditions, but how about snowstorm as a humorous villain?

A few weeks before Christmas, my family attended a party hosted by a good friend. It was so icy when we left that night, that I joked my friend might have to let people stay over if they didn’t leave soon. What if that happened?

A couple host a business Christmas party at their house in the country. Some colleagues they like, and others they cannot stand. When icy road conditions force everyone to stay the night, everyone in attendance must learn to tolerate each other. Or not, depending on what humor the author wants to use.

Snow days — This is another situation in which the weather is both villain and friend. As a parent, I love days off from school as much as my kids. That’s one less day to race around. Since I work from home, it’s not as stressful as for two parents who both work outside the home. A humorous story could be written about the juggling two parents do to get to work and take care of their kids on a snow day.

A snow day is a wonderful setting for a middle grade mystery. Because both parents work, the oldest child, a teen, is responsible for watching her siblings on a snow day. The younger brother and sister meet with friends in the neighborhood and solve a mystery by the end of the day.

What other stories have you read or would like to write using winter weather as writing inspiration?

 

Writing Tip — Writing in Time: Winter Solstice as Writing Inspiration

summer-solstice-1474745_1280With all the frantic activity associated with Christmas in the U.S., we Americans tend to overlook all other significant dates and holidays in December. Yet the winter solstice is the reason we celebrate Christmas in this month. Both the history and nature of the winter solstice makes for a rich vein of writing inspiration.

Many ancient cultures, according to The Christmas Encyclopedia by William D. Crump, figured out which day in the northern hemisphere had the shortest amount of daylight, all without the help of computers.

Babylonians, Syrians, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and pre-Christian Celtic and Germanic tribes celebrated this time of year. Egyptians commemorated the birth of Ra, the sun god. Babylonians and Syrians saw the solstice as a symbol of returning fertility to the land. During the Celtic and Germanic holiday of Yule, noisy celebrations warded off evil spirits that roamed in the darkness.

In a brilliant move of counter-programming, the Catholic Church decided to celebrate Jesus’ birth in December and compete against pagan holidays. We still use some of the pagan traditions and have given them new meanings based on Christianity, like lighting candles and decorating with evergreens.

The juxtaposition of the most hours of darkness and the happiest holiday on the Christian calendar makes a great symbol for the journey of a character. As December grows darker, the character experiences more and more adversity, hitting bottom on the day of the solstice. Then on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, hope is restored.

For speculative fiction, a villain reaches her most powerful state during the winter solstice. The hero, whose powers are at their weakest, must come up with a way to stop the villain from taking advantage of the solstice.

How can you use the winter solstice as writing inspiration?

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