World-Builder’s Anonymous – How’s the Weather Up There?

Posted: May 23, 2019 in World Building
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If you’re just joining the World-Builder’s Anonymous, you might want to go back to the beginning and start here.

But if you’ve been following along, read on!


Another interesting aspect of world-building I have discovered is the weather.

Weather literally shapes a world – rain feeds rivers that cut through rock over eons, swelling and diminishing to flood and erode. Wind shapes dunes of sand, scrubs landscapes or buries whole civilizations.

When we think of weather with world-building, the first thing that may come to mind is climate on a global scale (Star Wars was notorious for making the entire planet one climate/geological type – Tattooine the desert planet, Hoth the snow planet, Dagobah the swamp planet, Endor the forest moon, that forgotten name of the planet of the cloner people that had a perpetual stormy sea, etc. – which seems incredibly lazy to me). Globally, there are bands all along the globe where certain climates prevail.

Another thing with weather and climate is that it can shape culture. The people of the Brazilian Jungles have a very different way of life than the Bedouins of the desert, or the folk who live in the remotest parts of Siberia. Their subsistence is affected by what is available, which in turn influences what they perceive to be of most importance (which can give rise to which god(s) they worship), which influences their rites, traditions, even things as “mundane” as the way they dress. The light, airy robes of the Bedouin would hardly be appropriate for those in a jungle, where the long flowing fabric would catch on everything and anything as they pushed through the growth. Folk on the cold tundra couldn’t get by with the little or nothing of the jungle tribes, but they’re not going to be growing a lot of the plants by which they can make cotton/linen, so they would gravitate to animals with fur, etc.

I said ‘animals’ and ‘fur’ there, too, which leads into the other thing about weather and climate – it dictates what can survive there. A lizard that thrives in sunlight is hardly going to make it in Antarctica, but that cold inhospitable place is where you can find penguins. Tiny winged critters are going to find it difficult to thrive in areas with high winds because they’d just get knocked out of the sky or battered against the cliffsides – unless they had a very good “pre-sense” of winds coming on and can get to safety before the worst arrives.

If you’re just building a world just to build a world and have fun, then starting with the planet and giving it areas of different or severe weather is just grand. However, if you are building lightly to create the stage for something you are writing, you can easily go too far if you start with the whole world.

Let’s play along using the latter case, building lightly because you’re writing.

Weather can mean ambience. We’ve all heard the “It was a dark and stormy night…” cliché for horror or drama/thriller. As if horrible things can’t happen on a sunny, mild day. (That might make a good shocker, turning the trope on its head, to have the crime/horror committed on what started out as a beautiful Spring day.)

Weather can also be a hurdle to heighten conflict and suspense.

Sheriff JimBob is chasing Bad BillyRoy west to recover the money and bring him to justice, but the bridge that BillyRoy just used to cross is now floating down the river in pieces thanks to the storm that fed the river. And now JimBob is faced with crossing there, going out of his way and getting more miles between them, or stopping to help the family getting swept away in that same river.

It’s also the hurricane threatening Carrie Saylor who defied the others and rowed to the tiny island alone and ended up with a sunken boat and no shelter.

Used lightly, it can also be used to reinforce an alien setting in a fantasy or science fiction story, with radiation or EMP storms being a constant threat, or a methane rain (like on the moon Titan). For fantasy, there could be magical storms, which are magic in-and-of-themselves or somehow mess with the magic in freaky ways.

Weather can be a tool of the antagonist. For stories with fantasy/magic, this is a great gimmick of evil wizards, sending storms and altering normal patterns to cause misery in the land or directly against the protagonist.

Weather can be the primary antagonist itself – think of the disaster novels and movies with the threatening volcanoes, storms, etc. Sure there can be a lot of other antagonists (usually people taking advantage of the disaster or the panic beforehand).

Shows like Strangest Weather on Earth highlight some truly unusual events that could form the seed of a really good story too.

So, what’s your favorite weather event (mine is lightning, as I’ve mentioned before) and how could you use it in your stories? Share in the comments!



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