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?

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts: Who are Your Favorite Book Characters?

bookw-1012275_1280May’s theme is all about characters, my favorite aspect of writing. All my stories are character-driven. Once I know my main characters, I can run with my plots and settings. Reading about characters who touch me or with whom I identify inspires me to develop my own.

I have lots of favorites, but these are some of the characters I visit over and over again.

  • Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson
  • Archie Goodwin of the Nero Wolfe mysteries
  • The rabbits of Watership Down
  • Jeeves and Wooster by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
  • Montague Egg by Dorothy L. Sayers

So who are your favorite book characters?

Writing Tip — Food as Writing Inspiration

foodw-2879403_1280Food, like music, is a universal language. Everyone, and every living thing, must ingest some kind of food to survive. Regardless of genre, all writers can us food as writing inspiration.

Historical Fiction

Historical fiction has the difficult job of making readers understand a time that they know little or nothing about. Writing about the food of a time period is one way to help readers connect with those distant eras. Because her novels are set during the American Civil War, my friend Sandra Merville Hart tests early American recipes on her website “Historical Nibbles”. Describing food in a historical story tells a lot about a character’s class, ethnicity, and wealth. The lack of food is also a critical component in many historical periods. In Sandra’s latest novel, A Musket in My Handone of the reasons two sisters disguise themselves as men and join the Confederate army is because Union troops keep raiding their farm for food, and they are barely surviving.

Speculative Fiction

In many ways, speculative fiction is similar to historical fiction because other genres introduce readers to unfamiliar worlds. Some worlds in speculative fiction are so alien that writing about the food the characters eat makes it seem not so strange after all. In Watership Downwild rabbits in England try to survive while establishing a new warren. Food is always on their mind, and writing about how they think of food draws readers into their world.

Romance

So much of romance centers around food — couples get to know each other going out to dinner, grabbing a cup of coffee, planning a meal where they will meet each other’s families. Liking the same food can be a symbol for showing how well a couple is matched. And if they have very different tastes in food, that can be a symbol that all is not well in their relationship. How they interact through a meal can be a comment on the relationship. In the classic movie Citizen Kanewe watch the disintegration of Charles Foster Kane’s marriage during a montage of breakfast scenes. When they are first married, he and his wife sit right beside each other, chattering away. As the years pass, they sit further and further apart until they sit at opposite ends and eat in silence.

Crime Fiction

Since I write crime, I have first-hand experience with working food into my narrative. A good way to get characters to discuss a problem, and impart information to the reader, is to have them sit down to a meal. It’s a natural way to slow down the pace and have a thoughtful conversation. Analyzing clues during a running gun battle just doesn’t work.

In any genre, a character’s food likes and hates adds a layer of believability or a quirk, like I wrote about in this post. In the Nero Wolfe mysteries, Nero Wolfe’s gourmet tastes are one of the reason he’s a private detective. He charges exorbitant fees to feed his exorbitant appetite.

The Truth and Other Strangers

As I look over my YA Christian crime novel, I realize food is an essential part of my storytelling. My characters eat pepperoni rolls, which were invented in West Virginia, the setting of my novel. My main character  Junior is often hungry, showing the poverty his family lives in. When he thinks a group of thugs has torn up the family’s garden, Junior is worried about how to feed his family. Two discussions of serious events take place during meals.

How would you use food as writing inspiration?

 

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