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?

Writing Tip — Writing in Time — July and Independence Day

sparkler-839806_1280America’s birthday provides a fertile field of ideas for a writer. The celebration can serve as a backdrop for exploring America’s history, politics from local to national, and values. Since I have mostly lived in small towns, I have experienced the holiday with all the charm and wackiness inherent in a celebration which isn’t trying to do anything more than salute our nation and entertain neighbors.

Because of holiday parties, themes of family and friendship can be addressed during the Fourth of July. The movie Junior Bonner depicts the fracturing of a family during the local celebration in Arizona.

With family parties in mind, July, as well as June and August, can also be the setting for a family reunion. Comedy or tragedy, a family reunion provides limitless avenues for a writer to explore with themes of love and hate, retalliation and redemption and forgiveness, secrets buried and secrets unearthed.

thermometer-1917500_1280My own novel The Truth and Other Strangers is set in July, shortly after Independence Day, primarily because it is more plausible for the kids to succeed in the con they are pulling if they aren’t in school. But I also like July for it’s extreme weather. In my novel, the weather is very hot and humid, adding another layer of oppression to what my main character already feels from his family and the people in his county.

The heat, humid or drought-producing, makes July a great setting for crime fiction. The quote below came from 1953 science fiction movie It Came From Outer Space, but it seems better suited to a crime movie:

“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.”

Hot weather seems to fray nerves and stoke tempers until characters snap and commit crimes they haven’t had the courage or anger to perpetrate during more pleasant weather.

The summer months are also vacation months. Vacations offer as much potential for storylines as family reunions. A vacation forces characters into new, unusual, or even dangerous situations, which can be written with any attitude from low-comedy to high tragedy. A road trip can mirror the internal journey the character takes, so it works as a symbol of change.

How do you experience July where you live and what stories does it suggest to you?

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑