You Don’t Need to be a Weatherman…

Posted: February 20, 2019 in The Writing Process
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My favorite “weather event” – lightning!!!!! From Physics World

…but it could certainly help.

Here in the Mid-Atlantic region, we’ve been getting battered by storms of late (though thankfully not nearly so bad as the Northwest or out west in general. There as even snow in Vegas! So much for me moving there to get away from it.).

That got me thinking about weather as it pertains to fiction. Weather is one of those things we may not necessarily think about as obstacles or conflicts but can be extremely useful to the writer. Take your daily commute, for example. You have your routes, you know the traffic and the peculiarities of that particular way to go. Introduce a “weather event” and a simple trip that takes you 15 minutes now becomes an hour-long expedition. Ice coats the road, sending drivers slipping and sliding every which way, and that snaky road you just love to coast down in better conditions now becomes a threat to your life–that drop off of one side becomes all too apparent, and that little bit of guard rail isn’t exactly a bastion against disaster. Snow or rain comes down in blankets that keep you from seeing more than a foot in front of your windshield, erasing the cars, downed trees and every landmark. Suddenly, your normal drive becomes less-than-familiar. A threat, even.

Sometimes, the weather is a major plot device, like the cyclone in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum. Who could imagine Dorothy’s grand entrance into the magical world of Oz by just falling asleep and waking up? That dramatic, threatening cyclone needed to rip her house from its foundation and plunk her down in the middle of Munchkin Country. Many a romance has driven two people together by finding the lone cabin in the woods to wait out the storm. And what good ghost story around the campfire didn’t begin with “It was a dark and stormy night…”, making the chase through the woods all the more precarious when the hapless teens try to escape the Hatchet Killer.

How can you use this in your fiction?

Using weather that makes sense for the setting/genre, introduce it to spice up a scene that needs more tension:

The car’s tire blew out, so now your character has to change a tire. In the rain. With only mud beneath the car that won’t support a jack. And her ex-husband is somewhere out there, driving around looking for her. She might have to abandon the car, having to walk who knows how far without an umbrella, getting soaked to the bone. When she shows up at the only house on that lonely stretch of road, covered in mud and dripping all over the carpet, the farmer’s wife is going to be less inclined to help the poor soul than to wonder what she’s doing out there in the middle of the night.

A bolt of lightning could fry the electronics in his little puddle jumper, forcing the pilot to land in some pretty remote area of the Amazon jungle and have to fight through man-hungry jaguars and fierce tribesmen to get to the missionary outpost and deliver the medications before everyone ends up dead from some virulence sweeping through the natives and missionaries alike.

The squad missed meeting up with the convoy, and have to hoof it across the desert to reach their base, surrounded by hostile actors that could be occupying every town on the way just waiting to take them out, and the untried lieutenant must lead his men across the unforgiving land while a haboob bears down on their position.

Already dangerously remote, the lonely station falls under the deadly blanket of a blizzard that sweeps in and cuts off all communication and air rescue, leaving the scientists to deal with the isolation–and with the alien creature among them, taking them out one by one (okay, okay, that’s kinda based on Who Goes There? but you get the picture).

It doesn’t even have to be “real”. What about in a fantasy setting?

Without warning, a psychic storm broke out over the floating isles, threatening to plunge the landmasses into the abyss and robbing every one of its mages–the only ones capable of keeping them buoyant in the storm–of their abilities, and the only one who is immune to the storm’s fury is holed up in a crystal prison a thousand miles away.

So what is your favorite scene in a work of fiction that leans heavily on weather for its conflict? Or can you think of a scene in any work of fiction that could have been made better, in the context of the work, by introducing some kind of weather event?

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